07/28/2012 03:08 EDT | Updated 09/27/2012 05:12 EDT

Ryder Hesjedal Canada Olympics: Ryder Hesjedal Places 63rd In Road Race

LONDON - The size of Ryder Hesjedal's challenge in the Olympic road race was clear before the field left the start line Saturday.

While the likes of Australia, Britain, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and the U.S. had the full complement of five riders waving to the fans during pre-race introductions. Hesjedal took his bow alone.

Canada shared a support car with Russia and Austria.

"Looks like I might be driving the Russian car, so it will be interesting to see how the caravan works on this race," Canadian coach Gord Fraser said before the race. "Sixty-eight countries, everybody can't have a car. Interesting dynamic behind the scenes today."

Make that 63 countries actually, with 144 riders. Hesjedal, the Giro d'Italia winner, finished 63rd after spending most of the day in the peloton.

The larger teams offered star riders more support. Hesjedal had to ride his own race and attach himself to other riders to take advantage of numbers.

With Britain controlling the peloton for much of the race in the hope of launching star sprinter Mark Cavendish at the end, the 31-year-old from Victoria saw no reason to attack early.

"It was hard to kind of read what was going on," he said. "GB (Great Britain) was riding so strong and seemed like they were really in control the whole time. You'd see guys attack and not really go anywhere ... The pace was stiff enough that it didn't really make sense to move a whole lot.

"I honestly thought they would bring that (breakaway group) back ... then guys would begin to play their cards and really go for it near the end. Not all of a sudden a real good group working together that they couldn't bring them back even when it was down to a minute.

"It would have been nice to have been up there but what can you do."

He rode conservatively, looking to make a move at the end.

"It didn't work out," he said. "Who knows even if I was in that break what I would have been able to come with, the way that it looked like those guys rode away. There were definitely guys on a high level today."

Alexander Vinokourov, one of only two Kazakhstan riders on the day, won the gold medal by accelerating past Rigoberto Uran of Colombia in the final stretch. Alexander Kristoff of Norway won a mass sprint to get the bronze.

"It's a tough event," said Hesjedal. "Everyone's on good form, everyone's a good athlete. ... A lot of guys missed out. Look at Mark (Cavendish, who finished 29th). It was right there for the taking, an amazing opportunity and just didn't happen at the last moment.

"That's sport. But for me, just to be here and represent Canada in road racing for my third Olympics, I'm happy. You always want more but just to be out there and experience the day was incredible."

Hesjedal now focuses on Wednesday's individual time trial. The team issue will not be a factor but Hesjedal will have to contend with an elite field containing many specialists in the discipline.

Other countries with solo riders included Cuba, Eritrea, Guam, Hong Kong and Moldova. Like Canada, they had not racked up enough UCI qualification points to flesh out their teams.

But Hesjedal wasn't the only big-name lone wolf. Slovakia's hopes rested solely on the young shoulders of 22-year-old Peter Sagan, who turned heads at the recent Tour de France. Sagan placed 34th.

Hesjedal, wearing No. 60, calmly cycled into the preparation area prior to the race with the Maple Leaf on everything from his Canadian Cervelo bike to his blue top and black socks. Blue tape covered his wedding ring.

It was the first race action for him since leaving the Tour on July 6 in a crash.

He said he felt fine, although added "I didn't feel like a dream day where you're just floating and can't feel the legs and can just do whatever you want. But I think I was at a good level. It just came down to tactics and trying to survive out there by yourself.

"I had to make a decision and that was it."

In 2008, Hesjedal was 55th in the road race and 16th in the individual time trial. In 2004, he did not finish the cross-country mountain biking event.

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