Cycling fans know the season is drawing to a close when the WorldTour packs its bags for a weekend in Canada, though the Laurentian Classics’ challenging parcours ensure that the riders aren’t able to start winding down for the off-season yet. The Canadian double-header opens with a race around Québec City on Friday, before the riders take a 250km drive south-west for Sunday’s dash around Montréal.
What kind of races are they?
The Grands Prix Cyclistes are the only North American stops in the WorldTour’s itinerary, and both are relatively recent introductions. However, while they were first held only three years ago, they’ve already attained a prestigious status worthy of the fantastic racing they’ve produced to date. They may be staged around two big cities, though the races both have a hilly profile, meaning they usually culminate in a frenetic finish. In the races’ young history, every edition has been won by a punchy climber.
The first of the two races, the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec, sees a 12.6km circuit taken in 16 times. Most of the climbing is done near the end of the circuit, and it is undoubtedly on the four short, sharp climbs inside the final 4km that the winning move will be made. The first – the Côte de la Montagne – is only 375m long though has a stinging 10% gradient, and is followed by a 420m 9% climb and a 190m, 7% one in the space of 2km. The last kick up to the line lasts a comparatively long 1km, though is only 4%.
Aside from the actual parcours of the Québécois race, keep your eye out for some of the spectacular architecture on show, as the race enters the magical medieval neighbourhood of Old Québec. Consisting of narrow, twisting streets and Cindarella-esque châteaux decked with the nationalistic maple leaves on the banks of the glistening St. Lawrence River, this race has an autumnal mysticism not replicated anywhere else.
2010: Thomas Voeckler (Bbox Bouygues Telecom)
2011: Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)
2012: Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE)
In racing terms, the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal in Downtown Montreal is similar, in that it’s not one for the pure sprinters. Again the punchy climbers will excel, though there are fewer climbs than seen in Friday’s race. Despite that, the toughest – the Côte Camilien-Houde – is almost 2km at an average gradient of 8%, and is longer and harder than any seen in Québec, though it comes early on in the circuit. Further along is the Côte de la Polytechnique (780m long and 6% average gradient) before the final kick up to the finish, which is 560m at 4%.
2010: Robert Gesink (Rabobank)
2011: Rui Costa (Movistar)
2012: Lars Petter Nordhaug (Sky)
Orica-GreenEDGE’s Simon Gerrans took the win in Québec, after outsprinting Greg van Avermaet (BMC) in a late one-on-one duel. The duo made their decisive attack off the front of the peloton with around 4km to go, after the day’s major break and a string of counter-attacks had been reeled in. Winner of the 2011 Montréal race, Rui Costa (Movistar), rounded out the podium, coming across the line four seconds later.
1. Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) 4:53:04
2. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) same time
3. Rui Costa (Movistar) +0:04
4. Luca Paolini (Katusha) s/t
5. Tom-Jelte Slagter (Rabobank) s/t
6. Diego Ulissi (Lampre-ISD) s/t
7. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) s/t
8. Fabian Wegmann (Garmin-Sharp) s/t
9. Gerard Ciolek (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t
10. Francois Parisien (Spidertech-C10) s/t
Two days later in Montréal, Sky’s Lars Petter Nordhaug surprised the favourites to take the biggest win of his career. After a flurry of attacks had been brought back by the peloton, a moment’s hesitation with 5km to go allowed the Norwegian to open up a gap with a handful of fellow escapees. It looked like he’d left it too late when Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha) opened up a big gap, though he dramatically faded, allowing Nordhaug to jump in front of runner-up Moreno Moser (Liquigas-Cannondale) and take victory.
1. Lars Petter Nordhaug (Sky) 5:28:29
2. Moreno Moser (Liquigas-Cannondale) +0:02
3. Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha) same time
4. Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) +0:04
5. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) s/t
6. Bjorn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM) s/t
7. Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Belisol) s/t
8. Rui Costa (Movistar) s/t
9. Luca Paolini (Katusha) s/t
10. Tony Gallopin (RadioShack-Nissan) s/t
Who to watch
Due to geographical proximity and similar parcours, the vast majority of teams will bring the same riders to both races. So, killing two birds with one stone (though of course, not those famous Québécois Snowy Owls) here are a few of the riders to keep an eye on throughout the weekend’s racing.
All three former winners of the Montréal race are riding, so Robert Gesink and Lars Petter Nordhaug – now both teammates at Belkin – and Rui Costa of Movistar should be watched closely. However, there will certainly be a new winner of the Québéc race, with none of the three past victors selected.
There’s little doubt that the early favourite for both races is Peter Sagan (Cannondale), who is fine-tuning his form ahead of the World Championships later this month. He’ll face stiff competition from arguably the greatest Canadian cyclist in history, Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), who has been at the sharp end of these races in the past.
Another home hero and outside contender is Argos-Shimano’s Francois Parisien, who was the highest-placed Canadian in Québec last year, and fellow Québéc-born rider David Veilleux, who will be heading the Europcar team in the final two races of his career. The 25-year-old, who rode this year’s Tour de France, has said he’s fulfilled his cycling dreams, and is leaving the sport to focus on mechanical engineering studies.
Cadel Evans and Tejay van Garderen are the biggest names brought by BMC, though it’s arguably Greg van Avermaet who is their most likely candidate for the win. He suits this kind of terrain perfectly, finishing second in Québec last season. Sky are bringing Tour de France winner Chris Froome, though he doesn’t really like this type of racing as much as his teammate Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, who is looking to bounce back from a rotten season so far.
Former Tour winners Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) and Andy Schleck could also be in contention, alongside Sylvain Chavanel and Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE), Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida) and Simon Spilak and Alexandr Kolobnev of Katusha – with the latter having gone so close to winning in Montréal last year.
The Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec takes place on Friday 13th September, with the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal following on Sunday 15th. Live coverage of both races will be broadcast on Eurosport. For other coverage check cyclingfans.com.