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Ryder Hesjedal crosses the finish line after completing the ninth stage of the Giro d’Italia cycling race, from Sansepolcro to Florence, on May 12, 2013. (Gian Mattia D'Alberto/AP Photo)
Ryder Hesjedal crosses the finish line after completing the ninth stage of the Giro d’Italia cycling race, from Sansepolcro to Florence, on May 12, 2013. (Gian Mattia D'Alberto/AP Photo)

From Giro to Rio, Canada’s Ryder Hesjedal on track for big year Add to ...

After finishing the demanding 151.5-kilometre fifth stage of the Santos Tour Down Under last month, Ryder Hesjedal kept going.

Looking to build up his fitness, the 35-year-old from Victoria put in another 40-50 kilometres.

“Just getting the rhythm going,” Hesjedal said from Australia after placing 67th overall in the season-opening UCI World Tour race.

“It seems the older I get, the more I need to train,” the Canadian racing veteran added. “I need to race to get my good condition. This is a perfect opportunity to kind of combine that.”

Hesjedal is old-school, believing that “racing’s the best training.”

“You don’t really have the luxury too often to go to a race without really trying to get a result for the team. But it’s January and there was space.” he said. “The team allowed me to come here and not have to worry about being in top shape. It’s too early in January when my objectives are later.”

It’s a big year for Hesjedal. Now a member of the Trek-Segafredo racing team, he has his eye on the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France and the Rio Olympics.

Hesjedal used the three weeks in Australia – he also placed 66th in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race – to build a base. Next up is a month training in Hawaii ahead of a return to racing in March in Spain.

“Once that starts, it’s only racing and going into the Giro full gas (in May),” he said.

“You recover, keep the rhythm in June and then go again in July (the Tour de France). I know that routine. So when you have that peace of mind, it’s easy to work for.”

Hesjedal, who left Cannondale-Garmin to join Trek last August, won the Giro in 2012. He also raced the Tour Down Under that year, so has good memories of the race.

Hesjedal will lead the Trek GC charge at this year’s Giro.

“I’m excited to do that and take that opportunity. The team’s really backing me for that as the main objective. That’s what I know. I was able to do a good ride again last year (he was fifth). I felt I had podium legs. That keeps you hungry. I want to go there and try and do that again.”

He also wants to race the Tour de France, calling it “the best way to prepare for Rio.”

Looking ahead to the Olympics, Hesjedal is heartened that Canada has qualified for three spots in the road race. In London, he was on his own.

“It’s great for Canadian cycling.”

The 145-man Olympic field will race a demanding 256-kilometre road course, complete with climbs and cobble sections.

“It’s clear the course will probably be the hardest circuit we’ll have ever seen for a Games or a world championship,” he said.

Canada earned the three spots as a result of its runner-up finish in the UCI America Tour.

In the meantime, Hesjedal is enjoying being at Trek-Segafredo.

“Happy to be here and see how far we can go.”

He has a lot of history on Trek bikes, both in mountain biking starting in 1999 and his early road racing days in 2004-05.

A lot of the same people still work there – Hesjedal recalled getting a massage from one recently – so the comfort level is high.

His next race is the Volta a Catalunya, which starts March 21 in Spain.

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