SPORTS

Hesjedal, Hughes up for Olympic time trial, men's eight in rowing final

07/31/2012 03:30 EDT | Updated 09/30/2012 05:12 EDT
LONDON - After having to do without team support in the Olympic road race, Canadian cyclist Ryder Hesjedal gets a more even playing field in Wednesday's individual time trial.

Everyone is on their own.

Of course, the Giro d'Italia winner will be up against a who's who of accomplished time trial riders including Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins and British teammate Chris Froome and world champion Tony Martin of Germany. Defending Olympic champion Fabian Cancellara will have to overcome the aftermath of crashing in the road race.

Clara Hughes, 39, resumes her quest for a seventh Olympic medal earlier in the day in the women's time trial along with Denise Ramsden of Yellowknife.

Cyclists start at 90-second intervals, with the winner posting the fastest time.

The course — 44 kilometres for the men and 29 for the women —starts and finishes at Hampton Court Palace in southwest London, and incorporates sections of Richmond, Kingston-upon-Thames and Surrey.

Canada also has a shot at a medal in the men's eight Wednesday while Alexandre Despatie of Laval, Que., and Reuben Ross of Regina look to climb the podium in the men's synchronized three-metre springboard.

Hesjedal is not a specialist in the time trial but that did not stop him from using the final time trial of the Giro to overcome Spaniard Joaquin Rodriguez's 31-second overall lead.

"It's a little bit different scenario — a one-day one-off as opposed to the last day of a three-week stage race," said Canadian cycling coach Gord Fraser. "There's a little bit different legs, so to speak. But I think he can take great confidence from his time trial in the Giro. Obviously there was a lot riding on that time trial.

"It's the Olympic Games. So there's a lot riding on the Olympics as well. Hopefully, because he's had a dry run with that type of pressure, that will bode well for him in the Olympic Games."

The course has been scouted and Fraser says it's not that technical. But he also notes that it is impossible to prepare for the wall of fans that will be lining the route.

Time trial riders look for cues, signs when they have to turn, adjust speed or change body position in a bid to attack the course as much as possible. That is much harder with bodies hanging over barriers, making the landscape considerably more complicated.

"Whoever can adapt to that kid of new stimulus and still hit their lines really well, that will probably be the little edge they need to move up a place or get into the medals," said Fraser

The course has a lot of stretches "where it's just shut your brain off, suffer as hard as you can," he added.

"It's a strict power-type course. ... I think if he executes his plan and he really pushes himself, he can do a good ride."

Hesjedal, a 31-year-old Victoria native, was 16th at the time trial in Beijing. He has good stamina and, unlike most other riders, does not lose power when fatigued.

He finished 63rd in the 250-kilometre road race. While some countries competed with five riders and could work as a team, he was on his own.

Hughes won two bronze medals in cycling (road race and individual time trial) from the 1996 Games in Atlanta and a gold, silver and two bronze in long-track speedskating from the 2002, 2006 and 2010 Winter Games.

On the domestic front, Hughes is a remarkable 35-time national champion in road and track cycling and speedskating.

"She is incredible," said Canadian cycling coach Denise Kelly. "For her to be able to keep her focus for this many years, at this level, I really don't know what to compare it to. It is truly, truly phenomenal. She's professional in every sense of the word when she approaches this sport.

"She wouldn't be here if she didn't think she had a chance."

Hughes was 32nd in a rain-sodden road race, but said the performance has her looking forward to the time trial.

She led the peloton for stretches but was blocked by a rider who had a mechanical problem when the key break happened.

At Eton Dorney, the Canadian men's eight will be up against a powerhouse German crew, the U.S., Australia, Britain, Germany and Netherlands in the final.

The Germans have won the last three world championships and are unbeaten in almost four years.

"We have to focus on our race plan and what's important for us," veteran Malcolm Howard said of the final. "We can't get fixated on one boat. There's a race plan and we follow it."

The Canadian men are defending Olympic champions but only have three returning members of that crew — Toronto's Andrew Byrnes, and Howard and coxswain Brian Price, both of Victoria — in the London boat.

The Canadians opened with a dreadful heat but rebounded to finish second to Britain in their repechage.

In women's basketball, Canada will have to get up on the right side of bed. The Canadian women (1-1) play France (2-0) in a game that starts at 9 a.m. local time.

Julia Wilkinson of Stratford, Ont., leads the Canadian swimming charge.

Josh Binstock of Richmond Hill, Ont., and Martin Reader of Comox, B.C., face powerful Brazilians Pedro Cunha and Ricardo Santos in beach volleyball.

The Canadians, ranked 42nd on the World Tour, are 1-1 while the Brazilians, ranked third, are 2-0.

"Brazil always brings a great team but that was one of our best matches this year," sad Reader. "We went to three (sets) with them, so it was a great match for us and we look forward to playing the same way."

Super-heavyweight boxer Simon Kean of Trois Riviere, Que., takes on a Frenchman.

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