Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) on Friday downplayed his own chances for overall victory at the upcoming Tour of Alberta, saying he’s unsure of where his form will be after 77 race days so far this season.
Fresh off the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France double, which he tied together with the Route du Sud and topped off with Classica San Sebastian, the 34-year-old Canadian will compete in the Tour of Alberta next week for the second time, returning to the race's third edition after skipping last season to ride the Vuelta a Espana.
Hesjedal took part in the inaugural event in 2013 following another Giro-Tour double, finishing 60th overall in Alberta on his way to helping then-teammate Rohan Dennis (BMC) take his first professional win. Hesjedal went on a week later to finish third in the one-day Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal WorldTour race won by Peter Sagan. He hinted on Friday in a conference call with reporters that his 2015 Alberta outing could unfold in similar fashion.
"To go through the season, just to get to September and go to the events that you want to be at is a real accomplishment in itself," he said.
"In 2013, it was kind of the same situation. I had done the Giro – or half; I had to stop because I was sick. I went to the Tour de France and was struggling, but I was still able to come to Tour of Alberta and help my teammates win. And the Tour of Alberta gave me legs to contest for the win in Montreal and get on the podium."
This season hasn’t exactly unfolded like Hesjedal’s 2013 adventure, to be sure. Following his history-making win at the 2012 Giro, Hesjedal went into the Italian Grand Tour in 2013 as a favourite for the overall, only to abandon before stage 13.
He failed to finish the following Tour de Suisse as well, and then suffered anonymously through the Tour de France, finishing 70th overall and barely getting a look at the podium. Hesjedal made his only appearance at the Tour of Utah that year, abandoning the last day on the climb over Empire Pass.
This season has gone markedly better, culminating with a fifth-place overall at the Giro, including two podium finishes and five top-10 results. His form continued at the Tour, where he finished third during the stage that finished on l’Alpe d’Huez.
This year’s Alberta route favours a climber like Hesjedal more so than in previous years, with the first-ever legitimate mountain finishes coming in Jasper National Park and Marmot Basin during stages 3 and 4. Hesjedal, a resident of British Columbia, the province just west of Alberta, has taken notice.
"Definitely the races in Jasper are exciting, and I hope to be in the mix and contesting the overall, or a high overall placing, you know, looking at winning a stage and just getting the most that we can out of the team," he said.
His excitement for the route notwithstanding, Hesjedal repeatedly brushed away talk of his own overall hopes and instead tipped the spotlight toward his teammates.
"I know my team will be strong and we have some good young riders and riders who are in a good racing rhythm," Hesjedal said when asked about his personal ambitions. "Davide Formolo from Italy is a big talent for the future, and he’s already proven himself. He was in the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado."
Hesjedal is a rider who needs to be in race rhythm to perform well, he said, and his absence from competition for most of August could leave his form wanting in comparison to riders who have remained in the thick of the peloton.
"Guys who have been in North America and doing Utah and Colorado will probably have a little bit more rhythm coming into Alberta, or guys coming from Europe who don’t necessarily do the Giro or the Tour, but have been doing a good rhythm, sort of building for the second half of the season," he said.
"So I really just don’t know, but I’m real excited to get back to racing and see where I’m at and really just do the best I can."
Hesjedal reminded reporters that he started his season at the Tour Down Under in January, then hit top form in April and carried that into the Giro in May. He held his form through the Tour and then finished off with San Sebastian just six days later.
"I don’t know how many guys in the Tour of Alberta did the Giro and the Tour," he said. "Probably not many. To be honest, I’m not really sure about my condition right now. I had to definitely take a break after the Tour and then San Sebastian.
"You deal with what you’ve done and you try and move forward. You take a break and kind of let the body recoup, and then you go back into training and you hope that the form comes," Hesjedal said.
"That said, I’ve been doing this for a while now and you know the sensations in the body, and it is reality that I have 77 top-level WorldTour race days in the legs already, and I’m doing the best that I can to be in the best shape that I can and perform in Alberta.”
The rest of the Alberta peloton can take that as a warning or an opening, but the final verdict on Hesjedal’s form will come next week when the race reaches Alberta's windswept plains and its towering Rocky Mountains.
The 2015 Tour of Alberta begins Wednesday, September 2, with a team time trial in Grande Prairie. The six-day UCI 2.1 race concludes Monday, September 7, with a circuit race in downtown Edmonton.
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