After nearly winning twice, Canadian Ryder Hesjedal looks to conquer Strade Bianche on Saturday in Siena, Italy. He'll have the help of team Garmin-Cervélo's best men, Roger Hammond and Tyler Farrar, on the famous white gravel roads.
"Roger Hammond, he's experienced, he knows how to ride a hard classic," Hesjedal said. "Tyler, he is keen. He was excited when he heard I wanted to do it. He loves to help out when he can."
Hesjedal's big moment came last year at the Tour de France, where he rode to a seventh overall. However, he's in love with Siena's white gravel roads, arriving Wednesday to preview the course.
"It felt good to be out there and remember the course."
Three years ago, he nearly won from an all-day escape, only to see by eventual winner Fabian Cancellara pass. Last year, he saved his legs until the finale, where he helped the winning move and finished fifth.
"Based on last season, and how I've been improving... I'll just pray I'll have better legs than last year, that was a perfect scenario."
Hammond's and Farrar's help will make a difference. Last year, teams had multiple riders and forced Hesjedal to chase several different escapes. He still managed to have strength to make the winning move, but lacked the punch up the 16 per cent climb to Siena's centre, in Piazza del Campo.
"The legs do the talking in that final," added Hesjedal. "If there is me and five other guys, I hope I have better legs for the climb and get to that last corner in front, that's what you got to do."
Maxim Iglinsky (Astana) won last year ahead of Thomas Löfkvist and Michael Rogers. Löfkvist won in 2009, Cancellara in 2008 and Alexandr Kolobnev the first year, in 2007.
"The favourites? Fabian, he's a past winner. Philippe [Gilbert], but he's never ridden it. [Giovanni] Visconti seems to be in great form, plus he's Italian and motivated. [Peter] Sagan is obviously in good form; he's not done it before, though, he's an ex-mountain biker. I don't worry too much until the race gets going, to see who's around."
Hesjedal is the only rider racing Strade Bianche - 190 kilometres with nearly 60 kilometres of gravel - on Saturday and starting the eight-day Paris-nice stage race on Sunday. He specifically asked Garmin's management to race it ahead of Paris-Nice, where he hopes the first stage is easy going.
"I don't want to give up this chance," Hesjedal said. "Standing on the podium in Il Campo will be sweet enough, even if I have to rush to the airport."
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Strade Bianche 2009: Lofkvist wins
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