With Sunday's Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal looming as his final race of 2013, Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) is hoping to close out a trying year with a solid result to carry him into the off-season. While he's not on the form he had in 2010 when he completed his season with a podium finish at the inaugural edition of the Montréal WorldTour race, a solid block of racing last week at the Tour of Alberta plus strong work in Friday's Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec in support of teammate Fabian Wegmann have held promise for the 32-year-old Canadian.
"I haven't really felt that great since the Tour," Hesjedal told Cyclingnews on Saturday morning during the three-hour train transfer from Québec to Montréal. "I had to take some recovery and sometimes you know you have good legs and other times you're just wondering so it was good to get Alberta in the legs and it definitely felt better yesterday [in Québec] than it did last year ." In 2012 Hesjedal rode in Québec for the third straight time and experienced his worst outing by far, finishing in 94th place, 5:18 down on winner Simon Gerrans.
On Friday, however, Hesjedal came to the fore on the penultimate 15th ascent of the Cote de la Montagne in support of teammate Fabian Wegmann who has never finished lower than 8th in each of the Québec race's previous three editions.
"It's a race that definitely builds over the day and gets harder and harder," said Hesjedal. "I wanted to try and make it as hard as possible because I knew that Fabian was good. I wanted to get rid of some of the pure sprinters and not have such a big bunch come to the line.
"I tried to test myself also - do a little effort and see where the legs are at. It was good to be on the front of the race and trying in that way. The legs weren't quite good enough to ride away but I hopefully started to shape the race a bit and Fabian finished it off."
Wegmann equalled his best performance in Québec on Friday with a second fourth place result in three years.
"Historically he's done well there and it's a course that suits him with the short, punchy climbs," said Hesjedal. "He's got a good finish on him and he showed that again yesterday." Nine riders arrived at the finish of the 201.6km race together with Wegmann taking fourth behind Robert Gesink (Belkin), Arthur Vichot (FDJ) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC).
"I think's the team's performance was great. We only started with six guys and Thomas [Dekker] has a sore knee from Alberta so we were down to five pretty quick. I think we made good on that."
As a consolation Hesjedal was still able to make an appearance on the podium in Québec, albeit unexpected, as the best Canadian finisher. Hesjedal finished in 39th place, 40 seconds in arrears of Gesink on the uphill finale. One other rider was credited with the same finishing time, compatriot Ryan Anderson - currently of Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies but competing in Québec as part of the Canadian National Team - who placed 40th.
It was a result which drew a chuckle from Hesjedal as he told Cyclingnews about the finish.
"We just came in together and I was sure that there was somebody (another Canadian) up there, but I made sure to cross the line in front of him although we didn't really fight for it," said Hesjedal. "I don't feel bad about that because he took the [top Canadian] jersey off of me in Alberta - which was good, he did a good ride on that day and finished with the jersey. That's good for him, he's from Alberta."
Anderson was part of an 18-rider break on stage three that finished nearly 17 minutes ahead of the peloton and ended the Tour of Alberta general classification hopes of anyone who missed the move. Hesjedal had held the best Canadian jersey heading into the stage, but Hesjedal finished 16:48 down on the day and the jersey passed to Anderson who kept it through to the finish.
North American opportunities and the pleasure of racing at home
2013 brings the fourth straight year of the WorldTour races in Québec and Montréal and with the Tour of Alberta appearing on the calendar this year there's now a bridge between two of the USA's premier stage races, the Tour of Utah and Colorado's USA Pro Challenge, and the one-day events in Canada. Being a member of a WorldTour team means Hesjedal has precious few opportunities to compete at home, and extending his race calendar in Canada is a welcome change.
"I just enjoy it," said Hesjedal. "I appreciate being here, I appreciate the fans, the support and it's fun to be in Canada and racing in top-level races. This is the fourth year of these Grand Prixs so it's already getting some history there and with Alberta it's a nice stretch you can look forward to at the end of the season.
"If you're not in the Vuelta you need racing and those guys have put together a good block - going at altitude in Utah through Colorado, and Alberta to fill that gap from Colorado to here. We'll see how the guys take it from this North American campaign into the world championships and meet up with the Vuelta guys.
"There's other guys doing different programmes as well, such as the Tour of Britain, so everyone chooses their path and I guess the guy that wins can say it was the right one," Hesjedal said with a laugh.
While there will be no world championships on Hesjedal's calendar, there's still one last race in Sunday in Montréal.
"I have to be realistic - it's been a hard year, a long year, and I'm just happy to be in these races in Canada. Montréal suits me a bit better [than Québec] and our team has more pure climbers on it so it should suit the team all around a bit more.
"If it comes down to a bunch of guys it's a different sprint. It's definitely one where not a pure sprinter can go. That's how I was on the podium, I took it from the corner, so we just have to make sure we give ourselves a chance to be in the final. We can't let anybody slip away and we'll try to have all the options we can. I'd love to be in the front of the race and finish on a high note."
And on Sunday afternoon, at approximately 4:00pm in Montréal following the race finale, Hesjedal will take a welcome off-season break.
"I did that in 2010 and 2011, stopping in Montréal, and it's a good time to stop the season. With a break maybe you can hit next year a bit sooner and better."
Just like 2012, when Hesjedal made history at the Giro d'Italia.