The inaugural Tour of Alberta will serve as a homecoming – and possible redemption – of sorts for former Grand Tour winners Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) and Cadel Evans (BMC), who've won the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France but have been hit by injury and illness this season.
Hesjedal, the first Canadian to win one of the three-week Grand Tours, is from nearby Victoria, British Columbia, while Evans is returning to the place where he started racing professionally as a mountain biker.
“Reaching all the way back to the last century when I was a mountain biker, I raced a lot here in Colorado and in Alberta – Canmore – a couple of times there, and of course I've got memories of that,” said Evans, who won the Tour in 2011.
“And then north in Banff, it's absolutely beautiful out there. Sorry for the weather conditions that took out the stage there, because of course that would have made the race a little more suitable for me.”
Hesjedal etched his name in Canadian sporting history when he won the Giro d'Italia last year. Although he had never before been to Edmonton, the 32-year-old said he has been anticipating this race since first hearing about it in 2012.
“I've been waiting patiently for it throughout the season,” he said. “And I've been watching it come to fruition, so here we are.”
Just a year after making history with his Giro win, Hesjedal has had a tough run so far this season. Although he finished eighth in Liege-Bastogne-Liege and fourth during stage two of the Tour de Suisse, he was unable to finish the Swiss race. He also forced out of the Vuelta Pais Vasco, Tour de Romandie, the Giro d'Italia and the recent USA Pro Challenge.
Hesjedal gritted his way to the finish at the Tour de France, often attacking in pursuit of stage victories and finishing more than two hours down on overall winner Chris Froome (Team Sky). Now the question is whether Hesjedal has got the fitness to perform during a new UCI stage race in his home country.
“I've been asking myself that for a few weeks, so we'll see,” he said on Monday at the pre-race press conference.
“I obviously haven't felt that great since the Tour de France. It was very demanding race on the backside of a tough spring, going for a big goal of mine and having some bumps after that. But you keep pushing, because that's what we do. I think sometimes I probably should have stopped earlier, but I'm just happy to be here. I'm in good health, and I feel good, so I'll see how the form is on the road and then make the best out of it.”
Fine tuning for Quebec, Montreal and even Lombardia
Evans is also hoping for a little redemption after a disappointing Tour de France, despite taking third at the Giro d'Italia. He's hoping the Alberta race can fine tune his form for the upcoming WorldTour races in Quebec and Montreal – and possibly even a little bit more.
“We're here to get ready for the races in Quebec and Montreal and rolling into the end of the year looking at Lombardia, of course,” Evans said. “During Lombardia we're looking at going next to guys in the Vuelta and so on who will be coming out of that race. I've had a pretty average-to-bad season so far, and so of course I'd like to do a good end of season and make a good end to 2013.”
Watch out for the bears
To make a good end to his season, Evans will not only need to avoid the roadway potholes he pointed out to Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel during Monday's pre-race press conference, he may need to look out for bears as well. Western Canada is known as grizzly country, as Hesjedal and his wife experienced firsthand last week.
“We were training on the left side of Vancouver Island,” Hesjedal said Monday. “And a bear actually ran in front of my wife when she was driving the support vehicle. So, yeah, Canada is wild.”