By Andrew Hood
It’s been more than 10 years since a Canadian has lined up for the Tour de France.
That’s likely to change in 2008 as it’s expected that not one, but two Canadians could be lining up in Brest to end Canada’s Tour drought that dates back to 1997 with Gordon Fraser.
Ryder Hesjedal and Michael Barry are both hoping to earn Tour berths on Garmin-Chipotle and Team Columbia, respectively.
“That’s the goal. I have to ride well and it’s up to the directors about which team they want to take. My goal is to be in good shape and be ready to go in July,” Barry told VeloNews. “I’m always optimistic about the Tour. I think I can be a real benefit for the team, both in the flats and in the mountains, I’m pretty versatile in that way.”
Only three Canadians have ridden the Tour and the pair is hoping to add their names to the list.
Alex Stieda became the first North American to wear the maillot jaune in the 1986 Tour as part of the 7-Eleven team while Steve Bauer, by far Canada’s most successful professional, rode 11 Tours, won a stage and finished fourth in the 1988 Tour, and wore the yellow jersey for 14 days during his career.
Fraser, who retired after the 2006 season, was the last Canadian in the Tour when he rode the 1997 Tour with the small French team, La Mutuelle de Seine et Marne.
After several close calls while riding as part of U.S. Postal/Discovery Channel, Barry is optimistic about his chances for a long-awaited Tour berth with High Road (soon-to-be-called Team Columbia).
“It’s been a goal of mine and I hope it works out,” Barry said. “It’s a dream. It’s everything I’ve worked for. I hope to be there.”
Barry, 32, is back at full health after a hard crash in the 2006 Tour of Flanders and a bout with the flu last year complicated his past two seasons.
“I feel better than I have in quite awhile. I feel like I am getting better all the time. It’s been fantastic racing with the team this year; we’re winning all the time. When you start winning it’s a snowball effect,” Barry said. “Last year was a big struggle for me. This year I feel better than I have in a couple years and I’ve been healthy all season.”
Barry said the team bring a strong Tour squad, with Mark Cavendish in the sprints, riders like George Hincapie hunting for stages and breakaways, and GC hopes with Kim Kirchen and Thomas Lövkvist.
The team is expected to announce its Tour lineup following the conclusion of the Tour de Suisse.
After completing the Giro d’Italia, Hesjedal, 27, is also likely to get tapped for a Tour ride with Garmin-Chipotle.
“Based on the season so far, plus with my experience in some of the grand tours, I think so,” Hesjedal said. “It’s definitely getting to the point to where it’s got to start for me.”
The ex-mountain biker finished his first grand tour with the Giro earlier this month and has been recovering and training to prepare for the Tour.
After wrapping up the Giro, Hesjedal joined teammates David Millar, Christian Vande Velde and Danny Pate for a 10-day respite at altitude 2,200 meters at St. Moritz in Switzlerand.
After a quick detour through Girona – Hesjedal’s European homebase – Hesjedal joined teammates at a training camp in La Molina, nestled high in the Pyrenees.
“The reality of taking the start in France is becoming more and more real as each pedal is turned,” Hesjedal wrote on his blog. “The anticipation is unbearable.”