When Canadian Ryder Hesjedal starts this year's Vuelta a España prologue on Saturday, he will do so in the company of three of his compatriots. In a season that has witnessed a gradual shift in the balance of cycling nations, it seems only appropriate that in the final Grand Tour of the year Canada should get in on the act with its own sudden spike in rider numbers.
Hesjedal has been selected alongside Garmin-Slipstream teammates Christian Meier and 2008 World time trial silver medallist Svein Tuft. While the fourth may ride for rival team, Hesjedal told Cyclingnews that he was proud to be part of the unique group.
"I don't think it's ever happened before: to have three Canadians on the same team in a Grand Tour, so there's a little bit of history there," said Hesjedal, on the eve of the Vuelta. "There's one more with Dominique [Rollin] on Cervélo and I don't think there's been four Canadians in a Grand Tour either. It's good for Canadian cycling. It's great to see and it's great to be a part of that."
Although relative minnows compared to their European counterparts, Canadian riders have experienced success since their first forays into three-week racing in the mid 1980s. As members of 7-Eleven - the first American team to race the Tour de France and the second to race the Giro d'Italia – Canadian riders Alex Stieda and Steve Bauer both enjoyed stints in the yellow jersey at the Tour de France, in 1986 and 1990, respectively.
For Hesjedal the Vuelta will be his fourth start in a Grand Tour. While his focus will be on his trade team throughout the race, his attention will turn soon afterwards to the service of his nation. He will race for Canada at the World championships in Mendrisio, Switzerland, a week after the finish of the Vuelta.
"I've set my season end at Mendrisio so I want to do a last good month here," he said, adding that he had no plans to finish the Vuelta early in order to prepare for the Worlds. "A lot can happen in three weeks and you just have to address the issues when they're there. Right now I can see myself arriving in Madrid and, based on how I came out of the Tour [De France], I'm pretty confident I can be ready to race [at the Worlds] a week later."
Unlike the Tour de France, where the primary focus had been to protect general classification riders Christian Vande Velde and Bradley Wiggins, Hesjedal said he expects the Vuelta to provide a little more flexibility in terms of team tactics.
"The general will sort itself out mid-way through the race and if those guys [Tom Danielson and Dan Martin – ed.] are showing themselves well there then I'm sure the team's objectives will adapt according to that. And we also need to get through the first week with Tyler [Farrar]."
"We have a lot of guys to cover all different parts of the race, so for me I'm there to help in all aspects of the team's objectives each day. I think the team is definitely considering me to be an all-rounder that can look to contest stages when it's hard. That's what I want to do: I want to win a bike race in the next three weeks."
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