Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Cervelo) heads into the 2011 Tour de France with far more expectations on his shoulders after finishing in seventh place last year. The Canadian all-rounder will line up as a joint GC leader with Christian Vande Velde - fourth in 2008 - as the American team looks to compete on a number of fronts in the Tour.
While Hesjedal has replicated most of his Tour build-up races from last year, his results have been less impressive. In 2010 he finished second in Amstel Gold Race and won a stage at the Tour or California. This year, the Canadian has been riding almost below the radar in terms of results, but is confident that despite missing out in a few key races he is in better form than twelve months ago.
"I made it through Suisse in better shape than last year and finished it stronger than when I started it. Since then I've been recovering and now the team has just spent the last few days on recon," he told Cyclingnews, nevertheless admitting the increased pressure.
"There's more emphasis on the Tour this year, certainly mentally. Having been able to do the Tour I did last year - of course you have that in the back of your mind. I want to go back there and do something like that again. Or at least have a shot to try.
"I've tried to replicate my season in a similar way to last year and I'm really looking forward to the next few weeks."
Hesjedal's spring was affected first by illness and then by allergies. However, he used the Tours of California and Suisse as preparation for the Tour and was often at the front of the field, working for the likes of Tom Danielson.
"That's professional bike racing. Just because things haven't gone to plan doesn't mean the form hasn't been there. I know my riding in Pais Basque didn't transfer into a result in the Ardennes. I clearly didn't have a good run there but I was sick and then I had allergies."
Hesjedal was adamant that his racing in May equalled that of last year, even if he couldn't score a victory. "I went to California just to support the team but I was able to do that. Just because I didn't win a stage on the last day like I did in 2010 doesn't mean I'm not in better shape. I was struggling in races like Suisse last year but this year I was getting stronger and stronger and each day."
With a parcours better suited to him than last year, Hesjedal will have much in his favour. However, unlike last year where he was allowed to slip away in a break on the stage to Arenberg, he will be a marked rider. Still, he believes that he can equal or improve his seventh place from 2010.
"Am I sitting here with a concrete goal of a podium? Not really. But I still dream and hope."
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