Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) is the biggest name in Canadian road cycling since the nation's iconic Steve Bauer placed fourth in the Tour de France 22 years ago. After capturing seventh place overall at this year's French Grand Tour, the British Columbia native is pumped to put on a show in North America's inaugural ProTour races, the Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec City on Friday and the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal on Sunday.
"These race are not that important pressure-wise because I've had a great season and I'm not hurting for results or strong performances," Hesjedal told Cyclingnews. "I'm happy with my season to date but, that said, I also want to take the opportunity to perform well in Canada. I've been as focused as I could be on these events since the Tour and the last races that I did in Europe. I hope I can ride well this weekend. I feel happy and fortunate that there are ProTour stops in Canada after the season that I've had. It is a very nice way to end the season."
Hesjedal is a former mountain biker who turned heads when he won the silver medal at the Under 23 World Championships in 2001. He switched to road racing in 2004 and has since ridden for US Postal Service, Discovery Channel, Phonak, HealthNet-Maxxis and now competes for Garmin-Transitions. Last year, he won a stage of the Vuelta a Espana and has been the only Canadian to compete in the Tour de France in 10 years. He was awarded Canadian Cyclist of the decade at the end of last season.
This year, Hesjedal continued his international cycling success placing second place at the Amstel Gold Race, a stage win and a fifth place overall at the Tour of California and a sixth place at the Clasica de San Sebastian. His most memorable performance was at the Tour de France where he placed fourth in stages 3 and 17 and finished with a strong seventh place overall.
"People definitely recognize my top 10 at the Tour de France," Hesjedal said. "In Canada, the cycling media and mainstream media that surrounded my top 10 finish was incredible. I didn't ride one day in Victoria without someone yelling at me from the street and being recognized, when I got back. We had a big homecoming event last weekend that was overwhelming with close to 500 people who came to say hello and get autographs. My friend put together a nice video that had some congratulation remarks from people like Curt Harnett, Alex Stieda and Steve Bauer. It was a very emotional evening."
"You can see the power of the Tour de France because the people in Canada were very excited about what I was able to do and I think it was good for cycling in this country," he said. "People got excited that there was a rider from Canada high up in the standings and they started to gain interest in what was going on in the race early on. I'm glad I was able to keep it an exciting race for them right to the end. I think my top 10 was a big success in that sense."
Hesjedal hopes to make history this weekend by winning one of the first two ProTour events to be held in North America. The first race is held on Friday in Quebec City, former site of the Canadian National Championships and the second is held on Sunday in Montreal, site of the 1974 World Championships won by Eddie Merckx and 1976 Olympic Summer Games, along with multiple World Cup editions.
"I think the race in Montreal on Sunday is supposed to be a hard selection type course," Hesjedal said. "The less guys at the end the better it is for me. I have a feeling that my plans will be to race well on Friday in Quebec City and then get even better for Sunday. I've done the best I can do for training and preparation for these events. I'm someone that needs racing to come into my best form. But, I have a good Tour de France in my legs and I think I can piece together some good races this weekend."
"The history of cycling is in eastern Canada in a big way with a course like Montreal that has hosted the World Championships and the Olympic Games," he said. "For me to be racing here is a great bonus. A couple of years ago I never would have thought I'd have a top 10 at the Tour de France and then come home to race ProTour races in the same season, I would not have thought that. It has really been a great year. I'm going to focus on having some great races here for my fans, friends, family and sponsors."