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Hesjedal begins Canadian farewell run at Tour of Alberta

After 15 years of professional cycling, Ryder Hesjedal, the only Canadian Grand Tour winner, is starting the final month of his career in his home country this week at the Tour of Alberta.

The 2012 Giro d'Italia winner will compete in the five-day UCI 2.1 race in the Canadian province that borders his native British Columbia, then head east for the WorldTour one-day races in Quebec and Montreal the following week. After his final run of Canadian races, Hesjedal will head back to Europe for several one-day races in Italy, then finish things off at the Giro di Lombardia.

"To know that you have a race like Tour of Alberta in your home country gives you a lot to get excited for," Hesjedal said at the pre-race press conference Wednesday in Lethbridge. "So I'm happy to be here and just trying to enjoy it and not think about the end too much."

Hesjedal announced his retirement in early August, but he said the decision to step away from the sport that has provided him with so many opportunities was a long time in the making.

"It takes some time," he said. "It creeps into the mind quite a few times, actually, when you're racing out there and suffering, when you're getting this old. It just kind of became more clear after – my big goal was the Giro d'Italia – and I had full support for that. That was my main goal and I know that routine from the last years. It starts in November and builds towards May. Just going through that process one more time brought me closer to being able to make that decision."

Hesjedal's Giro ambitions took a hit when infections caused inflammation of both his pharynx and the trachea, forcing him to abandon the race on stage 14. He recovered in time to race Criterium du Dauphine, where he finished 78th overall. From there he went to the Tour of Poland, where he abandoned during stage 5, then he finished 110th at Classica San Sebastian.

Hesjedal admitted to the Calgary Herald that he hadn't had too many good days on the bike since May, and that certainly played a role in his decision, but he said he had already been thinking about retirement before his string of bad luck. He'll join Trek-Segafredo teammates Fabian Cancellara and Frank Schleck in retirement after this season.

"To come to the decision to call this the last season was not an easy one," he said. "Fortunately I've been around guys like Frank and Fabian, big riders who have been racing for more than a decade, and you can kind of see the process and go through it and when to make that decision."

Hesjedal spent the majority of his career with the former Garmin (now Cannondale-Drapac) teams beginning in 2008. As Cannondale looked to get younger, Hesjedal moved on to Trek this year. The move gave him a chance to chase the Giro one more time and to compete in the Canadian races once again as his career comes to an end.

Nailing one last win in his home country would provide a storybook ending to Hejsedal's career, but he admitted that it could be a big ask, given he hasn't raced his bike since July. Trek also features defending champion Bauke Mollema, and Hesjedal said he'd be happy if one of his teammates rode away with the win again this week.

"With Bauke here winning the race last year, it was a great battle between the team I was on last year and this team, so now to be teammates with him, I think that's a pretty cool place to be," Hesjedal said.

"The first year I did the race [in 2013] we won with Rohan Dennis, so it would be nice to finish like that again."


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