It's been a stellar season so far for Canadian Ryder Hesjedal, one that only got better when he scored a stage win on the final day of the Amgen Tour of California on Sunday.
The Garmin-Transitions rider has made a steady progression on the world's stage since joining the team in 2008, taking his first ProTour win at last year's Vuelta a España before his strong showing this spring.
After a sixth place overall in the Volta a Catalunya, Hesjedal made his first Classics podium with second place at the Amstel Gold Race - a result which earned him the respect and attention of the European media.
Speaking before the start of the Tour of California, he expressed satisfaction with his season so far, never predicting he would be the one to win the final stage.
"It's not so much the good results [that are satisfying], but the consistency and picking up where I left off last season in the Vuelta," Hesjedal told Cyclingnews in Sacramento. "It was always a goal to get better, so to be able to have a good first part of the season is a confirmation."
The 29-year-old said after his Amstel podium that there was a time when he couldn't understand how riders could contest races of the length of the Classics, but after his recent results in Europe, he pointed out that each success is a stepping stone in the sport.
"In cycling you have to work hard and long, you don't get to the top right away. That's what makes it special. I've devoted my whole professional life to this sport, and to see that labour coming through and to define it with results is especially rewarding.
"Sometimes the [next rung on the ladder] seems really far away - there are always hurdles, and some obstacles are bigger than others. I've been through lots of those - when I decided to leave mountain biking, I jumped right into road. It was pretty daunting starting with Discovery Channel [in 2005] at top events without enough time to get the experience.
"My physical capabilities were always there, but cycling is a sport where experience is important. Not just the physical benefits but also mentally you learn how to conserve energy and get through 220km.
"You can't learn that without going through it, and that's what defines those races and makes it so special. Everyone knows that's what it takes to do well in those races so that makes it so rewarding."
The latest victory, he said, is the nicest because it is the most recent, but he pointed to the win in California as more evidence that he is on the right path.
"Since I started with this team at the beginning of 2008, I have gotten to a lot of places I wanted to be in my cycling career. To keep that going, I think I'm doing that well. Today is just a nice confirmation of that."
Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. A swimmer in her younger days, Laura made the change to cycling later in life, but was immediately swept up by a huge passion for the sport. Riding for fitness quickly gave way to the competitive urge, and a decade of racing later she can look back on a number of high profile races and say with confidence, "I started". While her racing days are over for the most part, she continues to dabble in cyclo-cross and competing against fellow pathletes on the greenways of Raleigh, North Carolina.
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