09/15/2013 04:36 EDT | Updated 11/15/2013 05:12 EST

Sagan wins cycling Grand Prix on breakaway with Canada's Hesjedal third

MONTREAL - Ryder Hesjedal was happy to end a tough season on a high note.

Canada's top rider worked his way into the lead group on the final lap and came in third behind red-hot race winner Peter Sagan and Simone Ponzi at the UCI Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal on Sunday afternoon.

Hesjedal has had his ups and downs since he became the first Canadian to win a major tour in 2012 by taking the Giro d'Italia, but he was in top form on home soil for what will be his final race of the year.

"This season, since abandoning the Giro and getting injured in the Tour de France, to end up third in this field and race the way I did _ not just follow — I think I showed I wanted to challenge for the victory," the Garmin Sharp team leader from Victoria said.

Hesjedal matched his third place finish at the inaugural Montreal race in 2010.

A group of about 15 riders split from the pack going into the last of 17 laps of the 12.1-kilometre circuit up and down Mount Royal in the centre of the city. It included some of the world's best.

Tour de France champion Chris Froome was among several riders to try their luck as he shot out in front with six kilometres to go. He was passed by Dutchman Robert Gesink, who was coming off a victory in a race Friday in Quebec City.

Then the crowd lining the street course roared as Hesjedal surged to the front, only to see Sagan fly past him. The Slovak leader of the Cannondale squad built a 15-second lead and could not be caught.

Hesjedal went into high gear again just to make sure he made the podium.

Now he feels good about himself on the bike again.

"It's been a new experience since winning the Giro," he said. "I learned a lot and have gone through a lot of tough new experiences, but I showed today I can still race my bike and that I'm still improving. So I'm looking forward to next year."

Sagan beat Ponzi, of the Astana team, by four seconds and Hesjedal by five. Greg Van Avermaet, who was on the podium in Quebec City, was fourth. Gesink led in the peloton 26 seconds behind.

In Quebec City, Sagan tried the same final-lap move, but started too early and was overtaken. This time, there was no catching him.

"Hats off to Peter _ that was a strong move," said Hesjedal. "I didn't expect anyone to come around me on the Polytechnique (a climb near the University of Montreal engineering school) and there he went."

Hesjedal said he will not take part in the UCI world championships road race Sept. 29 in Florence because he is tired after a tough season.

Sagan struggles to speak English, but managed to describe his form on the day as "exquisite.

"The last lap, I felt very good," the Slovak rider said. "I saw other riders going too hard in the climb and I saw maybe I can try.

"I saw Ryder attack there. I was thinking when I come (into) the uphill, maybe we can go as two. Then I saw the group was behind and I decided to go alone. In Quebec, I made a mistake, but today it was good."

Sagan has been dominant in recent weeks on a North American visit. He took four stages at the Tour of Colorado and another two last week at the Tour of Alberta.

He went into the Quebec City and Montreal events, the only two UCI WorldTour races in North America, looking for a sweep.

He nearly pulled it off.

"I wanted Quebec and Montreal and I won only one, but no, I'm happy," he said. "I want to come (back) next year and we'll see."

Despite the 80 points for the win, Sagan dropped from second to third place in WorldTour standings. He was passed by Joachim Rodriguez, who finished fourth overall at the Vuelta (Tour of Spain) on Sunday. Froome retained the lead.

Unlike Hesjedal, Sagan will be going to the world championships, where a gruelling, 280-kilometre road race test awaits.

But he doesn't like his chances to win because Slovakia can enter only six riders, while the world's top eight teams have nine. Canada has only three entries, who are to be named on Tuesday.

Two past winners in Montreal, 2011 champ Rui Costa of Portugal and 2012 winner Lars Peter Nordhaug, finished in the top 10. Froome and two-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador of Spain came in with the peloton.

Froome managed to rejoin the group after he was held up briefly on the 13th lap when his Sky teammates Richie Porte and Jonathan Thiernan-Locke crashed and retired from the race.

Large crowds lined the track on a cool, gusty afternoon for the 205.7 kilometre race.

A group of seven riders led by Canadian road race champion Zach Bell of Watson Lake, Yukon, escaped on the first lap and built a five minute lead. Taking turns at the front, the group held on for 148 kilometres before they were swallowed by the peloton.

Bell, who was part of a Canadian national team that took part in both races, ended up abandoning before the finish along with Hugo Houle of St. Perpetue, Que., Dominique Rollin of Boucherville, Que., Bruno Langlois of Matane, Que., Rob Britton of Victoria and Marsh Cooper of Aldergrove, B.C.

Other Canadian finishers were Ryan Roth of Guelph, Ont., in 79t place, Ryan Anderson of Vancouver 91st,, Antoine Duchesne of Blainville, Que., 94th, Nic Hamilton of Calgary 95th and Francois Parisien of Repentigny, Que., who rides for Team Argos, in 96th spot.

It was the final race for David Veilleux of Cap-Rouge, Que., who said this week he will retire after the two Canadian events. Not in top shape, he dropped out on the 13th lap. The 25-year-old on the Europcar team this year became the first rider from Quebec to complete the Tour de France. He plans to study engineering at Laval University.