Giro champion Hesjedal not looking past Ardennes

Garmin-Sharp is building toward the first grand tour of the season, which starts May 4 in Naples

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MADRID (VN) — Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) is building toward a defense of the pink jersey at next month’s Giro d’Italia, but he’s not looking past the Ardennes classics.

With his eye on the Giro, Hesjedal admits he won’t be in top form for the upcoming hilly classics. Yet at the same time, if the legs are there, he promises to take advantage of any opening.

No pressure, that’s just the way Hesjedal likes it.

“I will take it as it comes,” Hesjedal told VeloNews. “I’d have to start a lot earlier than [Volta a Catalunya] to hit top form for the Ardennes. A lot of guys hit their peak and take a break, so I just take it as it comes in my build-up for the Giro.”

With the Giro defense as Hesjedal’s priority, Garmin-Sharp will bring a deep squad to the Ardennes, with Daniel Martin, hot off his overall victory at the Volta a Catalunya, giving the team an extra ace in the hole.

“We’re hoping that Dan will come good there after taking a break after Catalunya. We’ll do whatever we can to get some results there,” Hesjedal continued. “I think our roster is good for the Ardennes. We have a good group. I think we can try to improve from our results of last year. I think we’re capable of getting on the podium, so why not win? We’ll try.”

The Canadian has performed consistently across the Ardennes, with a second-place podium in the 2010 Amstel Gold Race and ninth in last year’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

This year, Hesjedal is looking to repeat his Giro performance and back it up with a run on a Tour de France course that is ideal for his characteristics.

The Ardennes represent an important early-season challenge, but the real goal is to perform at peak form in May and again in July.

Yet as Hesjedal pointed out, with his strength building for the Giro, he will certainly exploit any chances that come his way.

Last year, he was 15th at Amstel Gold Race, made a late-run attack before the Mur de Huy at Flèche Wallonne to finish 21st, and then punched into the top-10 at Liège with a ninth-place result.

And that came without having the Ardennes as a central focus of his season.

“I wasn’t worried about performing in the Ardennes last year either, but I was able to have a crack at Flèche and I was in the front group in Amstel,” Hesjedal said. “Me and Daniel were both in the top-10 at Liège. I look at it as a gauge [of form], more than focusing on results.”

Despite a handful of top-5s in one-day races in Europe and North America, Hesjedal has yet to score a victory, something he vows to change before the end of his career.

Last year, he changed his focus and put everything into winning the Giro, and rode away as Canada’s first grand tour winner.

Hesjedal made his season debut at the Catalunya tour in late March — relatively late compared to other riders — but his goals are all back-loaded into the middle and closing part of the 2013 season.

So far, he said he’s feeling as good as could be expected through the Catalunya and the Vuelta al País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country) last week.

“I feel good. Catalunya was pretty solid for the first race back. I managed it well, with a big victory for the team. We have good momentum,” he said. “There’s no hiding at the Basque Country. I feel good. I am just trying to do the same program; so far it’s going all right.”

Things are quickly moving forward. Immediately after the Ardennes, Hesjedal will race the Tour de Romandie as a final tuneup before the Giro, which starts May 4 in Naples.

“I will do Romandie directly after the Ardennes. After halfway through Romandie was the first time I felt tired last year,” he said. “I will have a few days recovery, then I will be good for the Giro. That’s all I am looking at, so we’re trying to replicate that again.”

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