Ryder Hesjedal retires from competitive cycling

Victoria cyclist Ryder Hesjedal will retire at the end of this season.

The 35-year-old pro athlete announced Monday that 2016 will be his final competitive season.

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Hesjedal will bow out as the only Canadian cyclist to win a Grand Tour event, something he accomplished in 2012 as champion of the Giro d’Italia. That was the Grand Tour race in which the Colwood-raised Hesjedal did the best and for which he has the greatest affinity, placing fifth in the 2015 Giro and ninth in 2014.

Another career highlight was Hesjedal’s fifth-place finish in the 2010 Tour de France, the second-best placing by a Canadian in the history of the event, behind only Steve Bauer’s fourth place in 1988.

Known as a tenacious climber on ascents, Hesjedal leaves the sport with an imprint on all three Grand Tour events, having also twice won stages in 2009 and 2014 in the Vuelta a Espana.

“It definitely wasn’t an easy decision, but it seemed like the right time,” said Hesjedal, in a statement released through his Trek-Segafredo pro team.

“I am really grateful for my time in the sport and for all of the support I have received over the years from my teams, family, friends and especially the fans. I truly love cycling, and to be able to race at the level I have for so many years has been everything I dreamed it would be since I was a kid and just riding for fun. I want to get back to that and do different things on the bike and in life in general.”

The Belmont Secondary graduate, who grew up riding off-road on Hartland and other Island trails with a ravenous desire to excel, rose to win the silver medal at the 2003 UCI world mountain-biking championships.

Hesjedal raced in three Olympic Summer Games for Canada, in mountain biking at Athens 2004, and on the road and in the time trial at Beijing 2008 and London 2012.

The only blemish on an outstanding career has been Hesjedal admitting in 2013 that he wasn’t immune to the widespread practice in professional cycling in the past of using banned performance-enhancing methods, saying he “chose the wrong path.”

Hesjedal’s impact on Canadian cycling has been undeniable and deep.

“Being the first Canadian to win a Grand Prix event was huge for Canadian cycling,” said Olympic-medallist cyclist Gillian Carleton of Victoria. “He put Canadian cycling on the map.”

But retirement must eventually come to all pro athletes.

“I am ready to move on to other challenges in life,” said Hesjedal, in his Monday statement.

He did not elaborate on his plans.

Hesjedal had switched this year to Trek-Segafredo on a one-year deal following eight seasons with the Garmin team.

Hesjedal raced what will be his final Grand Tour stage on May 21. He was 14th and rising in the individual standings when forced to abandon the 2016 Giro midway through the 14th stage, suffering from an inflammation of the pharynx and trachea.

“I am indebted to Trek-Segafredo for believing in me and giving me another stab at the Giro, but things just didn’t work out with me getting sick,” said Hesjedal.

“The 2016 season is not finished and I am highly motivated for the final races. When I leave, it will be knowing that I gave everything until my last race.”

Those will include mostly home-country events, with Hesjedal set to race the Tour of Alberta and the World Tour races in Montreal and Quebec City through August and September.

The annual Ryder Hesjedal’s Tour de Victoria will be held

Aug. 21, with Hesjedal scheduled to headline his hometown mass participation ride.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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