Canadian Ryder Hesjedal building towards a win at the Ardennes Classics at the end of April. He is racing the Paris-Nice stage race in preparation for his goal.

“It’s an important week,” explained Hesjedal of the Ardennes Classics.

“I’ve shown a good track record there. I am just looking to continue that and even move it up. I feel I can definitely be better in Liège based on my ride last year.”

Hesjedal took over leadership at the Tour de France last year for team Garmin after leader Christian Vande Velde crashed and abandoned. He rode to seventh overall behind Alberto Contador.

As with the Tour, he is steadily improving at the three Ardennes Classics: Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He made his debut appearance in 2008, by 2009, he’d already achieved an 11th place at the hardest of the three, Liège. Last year, only Philippe Gilbert could stop Hesjedal from winning Amstel Gold. He went on to place ninth at Flèche and 12th at Liège.

Paris-Nice and the Critérium International stage races this month are important for Hesjedal chances at improving in the Ardennes.

“I think I’ve shown that I need racing to come up to a good level,” he added. “If I am at a high level at Paris-Nice, great; if not, it will help me for other races in March and into April.”

Hesjedal is the only cyclist at Paris-Nice to have raced Italy’s Strade Bianche one-day race on Saturday. He stuck with the lead group, only distanced by the winning trio with Gilbert, and finished 12th.

That night, he said “ciao” to his Garmin-Cervélo team-mates and boarded an airplane in Pisa for Paris. The next day, he started the Paris-Nice.

“It’s a good chance to get one of the special one-day races,” said Hesjedal. “I’ll take Paris-Nice as it comes.”

Paris-Nice ends on Sunday with a road stage into Nice. The first of the Ardennes Classics, Amstel Gold, is nearly a month later, on Sunday, April 17. Flèche is on Wednesday, April 20, and Liège is one week after Amstel, on April 24.

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