Hesjedal eyes Santos Tour Down Under as a support rider

Nathan Haas the protected man at Cannondale-Garmin

Following David Millar's retirement and Tyler Farrar's move to MTN-Qhubeka, Cannondale-Garmin is left with only three survivors from the very first season of Jonathan Vaughters' organisation into the big league of cycling back in 2008: Ryder Hesjedal, Dan Martin and Tom Danielson.

At the age of 34 and up for contract at the end of this year, Hesjedal is entering the last phase of his career. A Giro d'Italia winner in 2012, he's one the most respected riders in the pro peloton, thus a logical favourite for the Santos Tour Down Under but he downplayed some high expectations by local media as he talked to Cyclingnews ahead of the Australian opening event of the World Tour.

"New team, Cannondale-Garmin… get the season starting well… make a good impression" is how he started the conversation. "For me personally, it's the continuation of Slipstream Sport", the lanky Canadian said. "Things always change every year, riders come and go, equipment come and go but the foundations of this team remain intact, this is my eighth season with this organisation. That said, I love changes, the team is always looking for improvement. That's how the game and the business go."

Hesjedal flew to Adelaide via Brisbane from Maui and Honolulu in Hawai when he always spends the off-season. "I get excited to get on the plane and travel around the world, discover new places and perform, race my bike, do what I love to do," he described. "It's not an easy sport but I feel the excitement of the first race of the year. I enjoy it, otherwise I wouldn't be where I am today. Racing wise, that's gonna be unknown.

"Nathan Haas is clearly the Australian here, we'll support him", he said of his team-mate who finished fifth overall in the Santos Tour Down Under last year. He also mentioned Moreno Moser and Alex Howes as up and coming riders he'd be happy to help in South Australia as much as he devoted himself to make Andrew Talansky and Martin the respective winners of the Dauphiné and Il Lombardia last year.

Asked about his goals for this year, the Canadian answered: "Maybe it doesn't sound that crazy, but I want to stay where I am. I didn't win a Grand Tour last year but I helped my team-mates win, I took a stage in the Vuelta… 2014 was a successful season for myself, I was consistent, I want to keep that momentum going. The plan is to get to the Giro at 100% and see what I can make out of it. I don't worry about seeing my name as a favourite or not, it doesn't change anything. I believe I can win it again, I haven't raced or ridden my bike with sensations that I can't be there anymore. There are maybe a couple of riders that can line up and if they have the condition are capable of winning at a higher percentage, but I'm still among the guys who can win.

"In 2012, I didn't win the Giro because the level was low", he continued. "I performed at the level that it took to win a Grand Tour, for me it's always doing what I need to do to be in the best shape possible and sort everything out, have a good control. What happens is what happens. I don't need to go to the Giro to win. I'm very content and satisfied of what I've achieved in my career but I still want to go up there.

"Retirement hasn't been a topic, a discussion yet, simply age wise I start looking at how many more years. It's human nature. Do I have a contract after this season? No. So it could be the last one but it hasn't been more than a quick thought here and there. There's no indication that next year I can't ride a bike. Maybe if I get signs of that I'll be thinking more. But the moment to make such a decision hasn't come yet."

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