Not so far from where he grew up and where his love of cycling was fostered, Ryder Hesjedal will attempt to put another notch on his belt before time runs out.
Hesjedal, Canada’s finest racer over the past decade, will be parking the bike at season’s end, calling quits to a career that has had its share of highlights and the inevitable lowlights. But first, the Tour of Alberta beckons, and wouldn’t that be a nice way to ease out of the game?
“To win this race would be amazing,’’ said the 35-year-old, originally from Victoria. “Any bike race you line up to is important. Great to win. I don’t have a lot of victories in my career, but I have some nice ones at the highest level. A lot of placings. It sounds funny, but in racing, second and thirds and top 10s are important in themselves.
“To win the Tour of Alberta, in my last season and one of my last few races, would be incredible. But you have to be realistic. I usually have to race quite a bit to be in good condition, to be in that rhythm. I haven’t done that the last couple of months. I’m sure there’ll be a lot of fit, ambitious guys who have been doing a lot of racing to prepare.’’
Hesjedal, who announced in early August that he would retire, has had a difficult 2016, stemming from some infections he sustained, causing inflammation of both the pharynx and the trachea. Those illnesses forced him to pull out of the Giro d’Italia — the Grand Tour event he won in 2012.
“The level you have to be at to be competitive in three-week races is a lot of work,’’ he said. “It’s not the healthiest thing to be four, five percent body fat and asking that from your body. It comes at a price. There are a lot of viruses around in the spring.’’
He kept at it, perhaps against his better judgement. Two weeks after that, he attempted the Criterium du Dauphine, the warm-up to the Tour de France, and was fine. But the overall effects put him in more of a hole.
“That’s sport, and I haven’t had too many good days on the bike since May,’’ he said. “But I was already thinking this would be my last season, even before all that. If you thought about stuff in bike racing every time you didn’t have a good race, I would have quit a long time ago.’’
In preparation for Alberta, Hesjedal has been racing in Poland and Spain. One thing he isn’t looking forward to is the predicted weather, which will just add a couple of factors to an already challenging mix.
“It’s a pretty nice-looking course,’’ began Hesjedal, who also decided to forego the Rio Olympics. “Unfortunately, we might have some wet weather, cooler temperatures. Any time you look at a route, if it’s going to be raining and 10 degrees, it’s definitely daunting. But it’s not anything we haven’t seen before.’’
From here, he’ll take part in races in Quebec and in Montreal and then head back to Europe for competitions in Italy, concluding with the Giro di Lombardia.
“I thought that would be a little more fitting to finish in Italy, it’s special to me,’’ Hesjedal submitted.
And then it’s time to move on.
“Call it a professional road cycling career,’’ he said. “See what the future holds. I’ve been racing for quite a while, and it felt like the right time.’’
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