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Selecting Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal to race at London Olympics wasn’t a slam dunk

Jim Morris
Eh Game

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Giro d'Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal

Since winning the Giro d'Italia Ryder Hesjedal has become a cycling superstar in Canada. But his selection to the Canadian team that will compete at this summer's London Olympic Games wasn't a slam dunk.

That's not to suggest that Hesjedal, the first Canadian to win a Grand Tour event, is the wrong choice. It just means Cycling Canada had to look at the strengths and weaknesses of several riders when deciding who had the best chance of winning a road cycling medal in London.

The road race in London is a one-day event, not several stages spread over many days. Hesjedal will be riding alone, without a team to support him.

"It definitely was not an easy decision,'' Jacques Landry, Cycling Canada's high performance director, said Thursday in an interview from the Canadian Road Championships at Lac Mégantic, Que. "We really scratched our heads and said what exactly are we looking for? We came to the conclusion that Ryder is the better candidate.''

[Photo Gallery: 2012 Canadian road cycling team]

Veteran Clara Hughes, who could become Canada's most decorated Olympian while competing in her sixth Games, leads the women's team. Joining her are two first-time Olympians Jöelle Numainville and Denise Ramsden.

Canada qualified just one male berth for the road race and time trial at London. Rules say the same cyclist must ride both races.

In the mix to compete at London was Svein Tuft, who was seventh in the time trial at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and won a silver medal in the event at the 2008 World Championships. Michael Barry, a three-time Olympian, was ninth in the road race in Beijing.

An argument can be made for both men. Hesjedal was 56th in the road race and 16th in the time trial in China. Some people believe the Olympic road race could boil down to a sprint at the end. Hesjedal is not known as an elite sprinter.

Still, Hesjedal's experience in winning the Giro and finishing sixth in the 2010 Tour de France gave him the edge.

"When you look at the road race, and how the road race can be played out at the Games, it became clear Ryder would be the better choice,'' said Landry. "It's a hard enough course that if the riders decide to make it a really hard course they could potentially put the hurt on the sprinters and open the race up big time.''

[Related: Pendrel leads Canadian mountain bike team]

Hughes, 38, will focus on winning a medal in the time trial. Her experience as a road racer will be of particular benefit to Numainville, the best Canadian sprinter.

"Clara brings a lot of strengths, a lot of positive energy to the team,'' said Landry. "She brings experience and motivation to everyone.

"She knows all the riders. She is very intelligent, very tactful. She will be able to lead our two other cyclists in the road race.''

Hughes attended her first Olympics in 1996 at Atlanta, where she won two bronze cycling medals. He also competed in 2000 in Sydney. She switched to speed skating for the 2002 Salt Lake Games and went on to win four more medals.

Speed skater Cindy Klassen has also won six Olympic medals.

"I still feel the same pride and joy to represent my country,'' Hughes said in a release. "I am heading to London with the confidence that I could not be better prepared to perform at my best.''

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