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Canadian Hesjedal looks to top favourites Gilbert, Gesink at cycling Grand Prix

09/10/2011 05:10 EDT | Updated 11/10/2011 05:12 EST
MONTREAL - It will be the last race of the season for Ryder Hesjedal and Canada's top road cyclist wants to end it in style.

The Victoria, B.C., native hopes to rebound from a disappointing 27th-place finish in Quebec City with a win as he joins many of the world's top riders in taking on the street course up and down Mount Royal in the heart of the city at the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal on Sunday.

"It's going to be hard but I'm looking forward to it," the 30-year old said as the teams arrived Saturday by train from Quebec City. "I think the course is better suited for our (Garmin Cervelo) team's strengths, so I'll be looking to play it smart and see what we can come up with.

"But I'm definitely hungry to be on the podium in the last race of the year."

He will be up against Philippe Gilbert, the Belgian who took over first place in world rankings with his 16th victory of the year in Quebec City on Friday, and Dutchman Robert Gesink, who scored his first victory in a one-day "classic" in the inaugural Montreal event last year.

Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez of Spain, dangerous Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen and American Levi Leipheimer are among the other favourites in the field of about 150.

Hesjedal said he has raced nearly 80 days this year, or as he put it: "pretty much enough." He plans to shut down until the 2012 season begins in January with the Tour Down Under in Australia. He was 18th at the Tour de France this summer after a bad fall early on.

Last year, Hesjedal followed up his breakthrough seventh place finish at the Tour de France by finishing fourth in Quebec City and third in Montreal. He said later he raced despite feeling ill, but this year arrived fit and strong from training in Colorado.

However, after running at the front for most of the day, the legs weren't there to follow when the lead pack took off in Quebec City.

"We put pressure on for the team to get the victory, but things have to work out and they didn't,"

said Hesjedal. "That's the way it goes.

"The team made the race hard. We took the initiative early on. Yeah I want to perform well here and try and put myself in that position. If things had worked out differently it would have been perfect, but you can't predict how things will unfold on the race course."

He ended up fourth best among the Canadian riders, as veteran Michael Barry of the Sky team placed 14th, Dominique Rollin of FDJ was 20th and David Veilleux of Euskaltel was 22nd.

The 80 points earned in Quebec City put Gilbert into top spot in Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) rankings with 648 points, 74 ahead of Tour de France champion Cadel Evans. The Australian leader of the BMC team elected not the enter the two Canadian events.

Gilbert showed his form as he stayed with the lead group despite having no teammates to share the work and jumped in front to beat Gesink in the final dash by nine seconds.

"For the first time this season I was a little stressed because I had only six points to take for (top spot) in the WorldTour rankings but they were six hard points," Gilbert said after the Quebec City race. "In Montreal, I'll be under far less pressure. It's already mission accomplished for me."

Gilbert will keep his position even if he finishes out of the points (the top 10 get points) and even when points are added from the Vuelta, or Tour of Spain, which winds up Sunday.

The 27-event UCI WorldTour season ends in October with the Tour of Beijing in China and the Giro de Lombardia in Italy, both in October.

Gesink says Gilbert will still be the man to beat in Montreal despite having the title all-but wrapped up.

"I have to make sure I'm not with him in the last few metres," said the Dutchman who was third in Quebec before winning Montreal last year. "For me, it's best to arrive alone, so it will be on the (last) climb. Everybody knows where it's going to happen and I'll try to be stronger than the rest."

The 25-year-old Gesink confirmed his status as one of the world's top young racers in Montreal a year ago. He followed it with a victory in the six-stage Tour of Oman on the Asian Tour in February, came second at the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race and then placed sixth in the Tour de France.

He sits 13th in UCI rankings with 22 points.

"It was my first win in a big one-day race and because of that it was a really special day," he said. "It was at the beginning of a great period in my career and hopefully this year is the same. It started good (Friday) by finishing second."

The race has 17 laps of A 12.1 kilometre circuit that will include a total of nearly 4,000 meters of climbing.

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