It is a big weekend in the UCI WorldTour, with a couple of excellent races taking place in Canada. The only WorldTour events in North America are two of the season’s highlights, even if they do symbolise that the nights are drawing in as quickly as the cycling season, and that autumn is just days away. The first of the two races takes place tomorrow (Friday) in Québec, before the riders hit Montréal on Sunday for the second of the ‘Laurentian Classics’.
Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec – Friday 7th September
The opening race takes place in Québec over an exciting course, described as technically ‘demanding’ and ‘exceptional’ in its beauty by the UCI. It is a race perfectly suited to the puncheurs, and one which has produced gripping racing since the inauguration of the Grands Prix Cyclistes series in 2010.
Both of the Grands Prix take in laps of a course around each city, and the Québec race features 16 laps of 12.6km. Towards the end of the circuit are four short, sharp climbs from which the eventual winner will emerge. The beautiful backdrop to the finish is provided by the historic neighbourhood of Old Québec, with the race’s scenery just as stunning as any Grand Tour road stage.
The Côte de la Montagne is only 375m long but the ramp is 10%, before a 420m, 9% climb and a 190m, 7% one in the space of 2km towards the back end of the circuit. The final ramp up to the finish will be stinging the legs of any brave escapee, with a comparatively long 1km drag at 4%.
In last year’s race the newly crowned king of Belgium Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) bounced off the back of his Ardennes Triple to take the Québec title in typically dominating fashion. The national champion recorded his 17th win of the season after attacking twice out of a select group of escapees, with only Robert Gesink (Rabobank) coming close to even matching Gilbert. Rigoberto Uran (Sky) finished third, eight seconds behind the Dutchman, and nine behind the winner.
Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal – Sunday 9th September
A slightly more friendly parcours welcomes the riders in Montréal, with only one real tough climb of note. The Côte Camilien-Houde comes early into the circuit, but don’t think it’s easy! It is almost 2km at an average gradient of 8%, and is longer than any ramp on the Québec profile.
The other climbs are the Côte de la Polytechnique (780m long and 6% average gradient) and Avenue du Parc (560m long and 4% average gradient), with the latter being the final ascent up to the finish on one of the city’s major north-south streets.
Sunday’s race is marginally longer than Friday’s, as the riders make 17 laps of the 12.1km course, bringing the total race distance up to 205.7km.
Last year it was Rui Costa of Movistar who emerged as a surprise victor, sprinting out of a late escape formed with Stefan Denifl (Leopard-Trek) and Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ) to take the win. It was a thrilling finish as the gutsy three-man breakaway were charged down by the marauding peloton on the finishing straight, with the Portuguese winner denying Philippe Gilbert the opportunity to become the first man to complete the Laurentian double by just two seconds.
Who to watch
With the races being so geographically close together most teams are using the same squads for both races. So with the races both featuring puncheur-friendly parcours which form an ideal warm-up for the forthcoming World Championships, here are the names to keep an eye on throughout the weekend.
Any discussion of the favourites on courses such as these must start with Liquigas’ Peter Sagan, who should be well rested after his Tour de France green jersey-winning exploits. Luis Leon Sanchez will also look to continue his excellent season in a pair of races which should suit him well. Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) is equally as aggressive on such terrain, and Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen also excels on such hilly finishes – albeit preferring a small sprint finish to a lone attack.
Other contenders to consider include Greg Van Avermaet, who heads a strong BMC team. Giro d’Italia champion Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) will be looking for a victory on home soil. Winner of the inaugural 2010 Québec race Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) will almost certainly make a bid for freedom at the finish, while his compatriot Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ), who came so close to winning the Montréal race last year, will be a contender once again.
Finally, for those who fancy more of an outside bet, look out for Rui Costa (Movistar), Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Sharp), Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE), Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Belisol), Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha) and Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM).
The Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec takes place on Friday 7th September, withthe Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal following on Sunday 9th. Live coverage of both races will be broadcast on Eurosport. For other coverage check cyclingfans.com.