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Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin - Transitions) rides alone at the front on the cobbles.
GC contender role "new territory" for Canadian
Canada's Ryder Hesjedal was able to enjoy the first rest day in the Alps as the best placed North American rider in the Tour de France.
The lanky Canadian, who rode so aggressively and so well on the cobbles of stage three, is sixth overall, 1:11 behind Cadel Evans.
He slipped from third overall after losing contact in the final kilometres of the stage but to put his Tour de France into real perspective, he is still ahead of Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas-Doimo), Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack), Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia) and even Carlos Sastre (Cervélo TestTeam) and Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Doimo).
Hesjedal, 29, seems laid back and ready to accept whatever he achieves in the Tour de France. However, Garmin-Transitions team manager Jonathan Vaughters confirms that he is determined to try and finish in the top ten in Paris.
"We'll have to see how he goes in the Pyrenees, but it’s a little bit like with Christian [Vande Velde] two years ago and with Bradley [Wiggins] last year," Vaughters said.
"He's never been in this position before and so we don't know what he can do. He recovers well day to day and does get stronger in the third week of races. If you combine those two things, he should be stronger in the Pyrenees. I think he will be there. The podium may be a lot to ask but we're hoping he can be up there in the top ten.
"Ryder really wants it. Some riders have a lot of talent, panache or class. But Ryder's greatest skill is that he really wants it. He wants top ten really, really bad and he's willing to give himself a grave everyday to get it."
Vaughters suggested on Twitter that Hesjedal hadn't had the confidence or the opportunity to go for overall success in a three-week stage race before.
"I'm not sure about that comment," Hesjedal counters, revealing his inner confidence. "I've believed in myself a long time. I think he was referring to being in the position that I am now," he said. I think I've progressively improved since 2008 when I joined the team. I think me and the team have developed together and went through he growing pains together.
"Right now I'm pleased with my results because it proves I would have been up there doing the support role I was supposed to be doing. There's no one to support after Christian left the race and so I'm just doing it for myself.
"I think I've shown I can do it. I've got the needed power to weight ratio to climb pretty well. You can't finish an Ardennes classics or a tough stage race like Pais Vasco or California if you can't perform on the climbs. The only difference here is that it's for three weeks. That's something you have to prepare for."
Hesjedal has been largely unknown in Canada but that has changed now.
"It's pretty overwhelming what's going on back in Canada with all the attention and the support from the fans," he said. "It's frustrating when you race and well but people just aren't aware of what you're doing. The only race people in Canada really know is the Tour de France and so when you're on the leader board, they know what it means. People are watching and so it's been big.
"Steve Bauer had the yellow jersey for ten days, so I've still got a long way to go. But he's now running a team that hopes to ride the Tour de France one day and so I hope my riding here will help that momentum grow."
Hesjedal does not seem to feel the weight of national pride or the responsibility from his team on his board shoulders.
"For now I just want to try and stay up there. If hadn't lost a minute it would have been better but actually only losing a minute is a plus in a situation when a lot of guys and two teams going hard," he said.
"We'll see how harder the other big days are and especially the other mountain finishes. I'm going to try and stay as high as I can.
"It's new territory for me. In the other Grand Tours, I've done good rides on days but I've also taken it easy or worked for other guys early on stage. Being there for the end of the stage and trying to conserve energy all day is a whole different situation. That's new for me but I'm going to try and take it through three weeks. And see what happens.
"I haven't fixed an overall goal. It's going to be a learning experience and about get through as best I can, so that I can decide how to take my forward my career."