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Hesjedal aiming high at the Ardennes

Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Slipstream)

Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Slipstream) (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)

After strong performances in the Tours of Catalunya and the Basque Country, Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) heads into the Ardennes Classics in fine form and told Cyclingnews that he doesn’t fear anybody as he aims to win Garmin their first major Spring Classic.

Hesjedal will lead Garmin-Transitions in Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège having ridden well in all three last year, including 11th in Liège. Since then, Hesjedal has improved significantly as a rider. He won a stage at the 2009 Vuelta a España and finished fifth in this year’s Strade Bianchi, all the while cementing his reputation as a solid domestique in both Grand Tours and week-long stage races.

"Catalunya and the Basque Country were really good for my training. I was looking to make sure I had momentum after Catalunya and I was always close to the front and had a good overall. All in all, I got out of there feeling good. So for me to be at the front consistently throughout the races is the most encouraging. I came through two hard stage races in a positive way," Hesjedal told Cyclingnews before heading to the Netherlands for Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race.

In 2009, Hesjedal went into the Ardennes as a relative unknown in one-day races but this time around his status as a protected rider illustrates the progress he has made on the road.

"The guys that prove themselves get the opportunities and I’m happy to be a designated rider for races like this. Garmin is a top team in the ProTour, so if you can go to a race and be the guy there looking to do a good ride, that’s what I work for. I’m in a place right now where that gets me out there and it’s part of the equation when I go to work."

Hesjedal began his career with road career with US Postal but moved to Garmin - via Healthnet - in 2008. With a previous career in mountain biking in his blood it took a few years for Hesjedal to adjust to the demands and stresses of road racing, but according to the Canadian one of his biggest improvements has been his tactical awareness.

"There’s not much tactics involved when you’re trying to hang on, on the limit and just make it as far as you can in races. As you get stronger that changes - when you’re in the front of a race at the highest level you can decide when to go, when to stay."

Hesjedal points to last year’s Liège as an example of where he learnt a valuable racing lesson. "Last year in the finale of Liège there was a point of hesitation when I should have attacked. This year I probably won’t hesitate if there’s a lull and a regrouping."

While Hesjedal has changed as a rider, his views on the sport as a whole have remained the same. Last year, he finished behind Davide Rebellin in Liège and is still uncertain if the Italian’s suspension for a positive doping test at the 2008 Olympics means that he has moved up a spot. Meanwhile, the cloud surrounding Alejandro Valverde has also frustrated the Canadian.

"For sure, it’s frustrating but we still have to go out and race Valverde. It’s not something I really like to think about, but at the same time it’s not really something that gets me excited or motivated.

"It happened last year, so I don’t know if I’m 10th or 11th in Liège after what happened to Rebellin. Valverde has something circling around him, but I’m still racing all over the place and it’s just the way it goes, it won't change my approach at all."