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Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions)
Canadian extends with Garmin-Transitions until 2013
If Ryder Hesjedal is able to fight on the slopes of the Tourmalet like he was able to put away two Chipotle burritos on the rest day in Pau, he should have no problem hanging onto tenth place overall in the Tour de France.
Last year the lanky Canadian was a key team player at Garmin-Transitions but in the absence of Christian Vande Velde, who crashed out on stage two, he has stepped up to the plate and fought to defend the team's overall honour.
Hesjedal is currently tenth, 7:51 behind Alberto Contador. He leads Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas-Doimo) by just seven seconds, with Ruben Plaza Molina (Caisse d'Epargne) 12th, just 11 seconds behind. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) is ninth overall, 39 seconds ahead of him, with Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) a further 2:06 ahead.
While tenth or better would be a great result for the Hesjedal, he rightly points out that his successful Tour is about far more than his final placing in the overall classification.
"Top ten is a nice even number, and easily rolls off the tongue but if I'm 12th or 14th in this Tour de France, does it mean I'm bad? Not quite," he said during the Garmin-Transitions burrito fueled press get together in Pau on the second rest day.
"I think if you look at the riders who are still in the top 20, everyone is very solid and big champions in their own rate. Even to be where I am now, it's been a huge success for me."
"I'm very proud and happy with how I've ridden. I know that people who saw my name up there in the top three in the first week thought I wouldn't be there in the end. But then the second week rolled along and I was fighting and still up there. Now we're almost a the end and I'm still up there in the top ten. I'm very proud I've been able to ride solid 'til now."
"Now I'm just focused on the last few decisive days, on riding good on the Tourmalet and distancing anyone who is close behind me and maybe even approaching whoever is short in front of them. Then in the time trial I'll give it all I've got."
Hesjedal has never climbed the Tourmalet in training and only got a glimpse of the steep, narrow road to the summit as he descended it at high speed during Tuesday's stage. He is not worried because tactics and knowledge of the gradient will count for little in the final mountain stage in this year's race.
"I think everyone is going to leave it on the road," he predicts.
"You have to. It's such a decisive finish. I'm just hoping for a good day and have a solid ride up the legendary climb. We'll see what happens. I just hope to finish it off and get to Paris."
With Garmin-Transitions until 2013
Whatever final result he achieves in Paris on Sunday, Hesjedal knows his future at Garmin-Transitions is safe. He revealed that he extended his contract with the team before the Tour de France through until the end of 2013.
"I'm happy to be where I am today and to have committed to stay for three more years," he said, admitting he perhaps should not have been the first to break the news to the media.
"Maybe I'm riding well because I had that commitment before the Tour. It gives you the luxury of knowing what your future holds - I know I've got a good future for next few years."
That future could even include Hesjedal being co-team leader with Christian Vande Velde at the Tour de France in 2011 and beyond.
"That's be great but it depends what the team wants. I was unknown but I've shown what I can do," he said.
"I've always believed and I think I've always shown the ability that I can ride at the highest level. It's not the first time I've been high in standings but this is the Tour de France. It's the hardest the race in the year and the top of the sport."
Hesjedal is proud to be flying the flag for Canada in the Tour, putting the Maple Leaf back on the Tour de France map.
"It's been unreal and overwhelming. My friends and family are saying I'm a household name in Canada. It's great," he said, finding it funny as much as flattering.
"Right now Canadian cycling is probably the best it's ever been. We have the most riders in the ProTour, most young guys coming up riding on domestic teams in America. Steve Bauer's team is also making a big push to get into the ProTour within a few years and maybe eventually in the Tour de France. I'm happy to be part of that movement and help it any way I can. Being where I am is a big help for that."