It was one of the best time-trials we’ve ever seen, yet also won with ease. That is a testament to the course as well as the competitors at these World Championships in Bergen, Norway. But in the end, Tom Dumoulin was heads and shoulders ahead of the rest. He romped the flat section and flew up the final climb, avoiding the bike change that many had opted for. He is World Champion now, for the first time, and I would suggest, not the last time.
As Alberto Contador was grinding his way up the Angliru on Saturday; signing off on his career with one last win, I was rolling into Montreal. As Chris Froome was securing his place in cycling history, with his Tour-Vuelta double, I was securing a parking spot for the weekend. I missed a lot of that final weekend of the Vuelta because of this trip, though I did catch a World Tour race as compensation. And the best spectator one at that.
Another cyclist killed on the road yesterday. It was in Northern Ireland, but the location doesn’t matter, except that it struck close to home for me. The following is a Facebook post from my dad who was at the scene, with some thoughts of my own below. Please give it a read:
“I can’t sleep for reliving the carnage I witnessed yesterday resulting in the death of my friend Gavin and injury to others. I had been in their company for 50 miles but went up the hill out of Ards a little slower than them. I saw them ahead of me riding as a tight 4 as they rounded the curve out of sight and I rode into an unbelievable scene. How could that driver not have seen them from far back as I had?RIP Gavin. I hope Gareth recovers fully from his bad injuries and Keith and Rachy get over their trauma. This was so unnecessary, we are so vulnerable out there.”
Can I appeal to anyone who reads this and drives a motor vehicle to please, please, look out for cyclists and give them the room they need. And remind others too. These aren’t just ‘bloody cyclists’ getting in the way, they are human beings. You don’t have to like them, but please respect them. They are more than an object. Is it worth that extra 15 seconds it takes to get home, because a cyclist is on ‘your’ road, to make it worth trying push past them? Remember, it is other cars that hold you up more than cyclists. I know not all cyclists are angels, but there will only ever be one winner if there’s a collision. I often feel vulnerable out on the roads doing the sport I love. I can think of no other sport that comes with such uncontrollable external risks.
I get that the justice system is set up as such that cyclists remain low on the totem pole of value when it comes to their deaths. Punishments are pathetic. There is little to no culpability for hitting a cyclist. Near misses or minor incidents are rarely followed up; serious incidents result in little more than a slap on the wrist for the offender. That has to change, because until it does, the disrespect shown by some motorists will never cease. I know most of you are good drivers, and do care, but spread the word because with the number of cars on the road, it only takes 5% of motorists to be dangerous, distracted or inconsiderate of anything outside their safe little steel bubbles, for it to become lethal for a cyclist.
All I can hope is that everyone becomes a little more aware of cyclists. That they get the space they need (1.5 metres) to feel safe, and not overtaken while there is oncoming traffic. That people put down their phones, keep their hands on the wheel, eyes on the road, and never drink and drive.
The beginning of autumn is beautiful. The leaves turn brown and when the sun shines through them they glint a golden colour as they hang onto the trees. But then they fall and everything looks and dead. The trees are bare and empty and when the wind blows through them the cold hits you hard and reminds you of winter. Autumn is pretty, but late fall is pretty sad. Nothing left to do but pick up the dead leaves from the ground and prepare for snow next.
Cycling through autumn though can be wonderful. The temperature drops with the leaves but so do the demands on your fitness and training and form. Riding slower and taking in the beautiful colours around you becomes easier at the back end of the cycling season. Until it gets too cold at all and you’re spending too much time on a turbo. In a trace like state, starting at the wall in front of you. Going nowhere.
It was a 986km round trip to watch 205km of bike racing, but it was worth every metre, as always. This was my fourth year going to the GP Cycliste de Montreal. It has become a bit of a annual tradition (one that I hope to soon include the Quebec race into!) and call me biased, but this race must be one of the finest one-day races on the calendar outside of the five monuments.
It’s just a shame in many ways that it clashes with the final day of the Vuelta, as well as the Tour of Britain. It should be a stand alone event to further boost its prestige and give it more viability to those who maybe haven’t see it, as the great race it is. Not that the field has suffered as a result of the other races, such is the depth of the talent in world cycling. We had the World champion in Peter Sagan and the Olympic champion in Greg Van Avermaet present. And it was that pair who illuminated the racing in Quebec and here.
If Friday was all about Sagan out sprinting Van Avermaet, then Sunday was the Belgians revenge. Both leave Canada deadlocked with a win and second place each and the fans leave entertained.
It was an absolute privilege to watch the finest athletes in the world do their stuff. The crowds were as big as any previous year I had been up there, and why not? A day of action and for free. It was a wonder the entire city hadn’t come up to take a look. In few other sports can you get that close to the athletes. Action that lasted five hours over 17 laps of a 12.1km circuit that included two tough climbs. The total climbing of the 205.7km race was a brutal 3893m.
And it’s the climb of Camillien-Houde at 1.8km and 8% average gradient was were most spend their day. It comes right at the beginning of the lap and tops out 10km from the finish of the lap. so It can prove decisive in late selections but not the race winning move. That is often saved for the shorter 780m, 6% climb of the Cote de Polytechnique that summits 5.6km out. Or for the final kick out of the hairpin up to the finish line on a drag that lasts for 560m but at a tough 4% grade. It’s those climbs repeated, especially the Camillien-Houde, that provide the gradual weeding out process. The slow exhausting of the legs as they climb it 17 times.
You get a good idea of the kind of race it is when you look at the list of past winners. Since I started going in 2013, Sagan, Simon Gerrans, Tim Wellens and today, Van Avermaet. Yes, it’s a proper one-day classic.
And there’s no better way to watch a bike race than this kind of circuit. It’s long enough for the course to have plenty to it but with laps taking about 20 minutes or so, there’s plenty to see. I’m not sure I’d drive that far to watch it if it were a point-to-point race and I would only see them come past the once. With this kind of a course you can see the race develop as it ebbs and flows and takes shape. I like to pick out a rider or two, especially one who might feature come the end, and follow their progress each lap. It’s interesting to see how they read the race, how they position themselves and build towards the crucial moments.
It’s not easy to do when there are so many riders in a pack in team jerseys. I often think that for these kind of races the team leaders should wear different jerseys. The winner of a grand tour should wear that race winning jersey throughout the season, much like the world champion does. Speaking of whom, the one jersey you can pick out with ease is the rainbow stripes and this year it was on the back of the brilliant Peter Sagan.
He had won on Friday and was an obvious favourite for Montreal, so it was fascinating to watch him each lap to see how he went about it. Sagan spent a lot of time in the final third of the pack. I remember a few years ago when he won he would enter the main climb near the front and drift to the back thus saving energy on others. I seen no evidence of this time, though granted I spent a lot of my day up near the top of the hill. At one stage on the descent Sagan came past behind one of the team-cars near the back of the cavalcade. I’m not sure if he had a mechanical issue, but it was still a long way out and by the next race he was back in the field.
When Geraint Thomas forced the pace on the climb with about four laps to go, his move that split the field. The surge also reeled in the final four men of what had been six-man day-long break that included two Canadian riders. Sagan missed the move, but he didn’t panic and remained further back in the bunch while his team worked on the chase. There’s a coolness about the way Sagan races. Almost an understanding that the race will come to him. Had the Thomas move gotten away, you feel the laid-back Sagan might have shrugged his shoulders and said, well there’s always the next race. The was no panic and a lap later he was back in the mix.
Only with the crucial moves made in the final two laps did Sagan turn up. I’d like to have picked out Van Avermaet too, but wearing the BMC jersey like his team-mates it wasn’t always easy. Before I’d have through it too hilly for Van Avermaet, but his climbing has improved, highlighted by his Olympic win on a hilly circuit in Rio.
Late on Rui Costa attacked hard, on the final run up Camillien-Houde. He held a lead going into the final kilometre but it was a small group that got clear on the Cote de Polytechnique that brought him back. The group contained Sagan and Van Avermaet.
By then I was sitting up in a grandstand just 30m from the finish line. As I watched the chase blitz past on the opposite side of the road and under the red kite, I turned to the big screen to see what would come back up the road. Costa got swept up as they swung out of the final hairpin and made the drive for the line. It seemed made for Sagan. Having watched him all day I was desperate to see him pull it off, but it also had become clear that he had led the chase a little too much. He once again tried to close down a late move in the final straight and this allowed Van Avermaet to get onto his wheel. Into a heavy wind Sagan was in trouble and the Olympic champion cane around the world champion late to take the win.
So both took a turn beating the other and I was just glad to have been there for the Montreal race to see it come together. Safe to assume I’ll be back again next year, and I hope those two are also.
1. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) in 5h27’04”
2. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff)
3. Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida)
4. Michael Matthews (Orica-BikeExchange)
5. Nathan Haas (Dimension Data)
6. Gianni Moscon (Sky) all s.t.
Top Canadian finisher: Ryder Hesjedal, 19th (Trek-Segafredo)
King of the Mountains: Ben Perry (Canada)
Quintana wraps up the Vuelta
Saturday’s stage was a giant with potential for mayhem. It contained several hills leading into a final 22km climb with a summit finish. As it turns out Quintana responded to everything Froome threw at him and rode into Madrid yesterday as the worthy winner of this race. The only major shakeup was the bad day for Alberto Contador and a great ride by Esteban Chaves that allowed the Colombian to join his national compatriot Quintana on the podium.
Could Froome have won this Vuelta had he not been part of the Olympics after his Tour win? I think so. People will say Quintana won this Vuelta last week when himself and Contador forced the split that caught Froome out. Which regards to the race itself is true. But I also think it was when Froome attended the Olympics. That isn’t to say this was a mistake – he did win a silver medal after all – but there’s no doubt he showed up in less than top form. Froome was not himself in the early going. It also perhaps limited his ability to shake Quintana from his wheel in the later stages.
Froome has said next year he will target both the Tour and the Vuelta with his Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford saying he believes the double is possible. From what I’ve seen I tend to agree, but Quintana will also believe it possible himself with the confidence gained from this victory.
1. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in 83h31’28”
2. Chris Froome (Sky) @ 1’23”
3. Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange) @ 4’08”
4. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) @ 4’21”
5. Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Drapac) @ 7’43”
6. Simon Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) @ 8’33”
Tour of Britain musings
What with the Vuelta being on and then me being up in Montreal, I seen none of the Tour of Britain. That said, everything I’ve read and heard, it sounds like some brilliant racing. Steve Cummings of Dimension Data took the GC win by 26sec over Rohan Dennis and 38sec ahead of Tom Dumoulin. Both are time-trial specialists, but who could not overhaul the defecit to the Englishman after his time gains on a brilliant stage two ride. It wasn’t until stage six when Cummings finally took the race lead and from there he held it into London.
Rider of the week
I couldn’t split Sagan and Van Avermaet given both took a win and a second place in Canada. I couldn’t quite go for Froome despite his time-trial win and gritty effort to pull back his loses on Quintana. And I didn’t go for Quintana because he won the week before in what was his best week of the Vuelta. As a result it’s Steve Cummings and his brilliant Tour of Britain win.
As someone who has cycled on the streets of Toronto before, though granted not in the downtown core, it was great to see this article in the Toronto Star this morning:
A 10-year plan to invest in the build of ‘525km of new bike lanes, cycle tracks, trails and other routes that, if built, would create the kind of connected network Toronto’s bike advocates have long pushed for’, including infrastructure on eight of Toronto’s busiest streets.
I for one would welcome that, as should anyone with a forward thinking attitude towards the city, and not just those who ride their bikes at present.
Of course, some people will object and while the one Councillor quoted in the article, Stephen Holyday, is far a dissenting voice, his quote did express what I think is a view among many:
“I hold a very high test for any time there’s an attempt to take out a live lane of traffic. We live in a very congested city as it is,” said Holyday, who sits on the public works committee.
“Often you are inconveniencing the majority for the desires of the minority, if the ridership is low.”
The thing I’d say to that is that the city is very congested in its downtown core because too many people are driving and that ridership is low because too many people don’t feel safe in riding. If you build these cycle networks you may encourage more people to leave their car and home and ride on Toronto’s streets.
It can only be a good thing.
That and improving the surface of many roads. One of my prevailing memories of riding on suburban Toronto streets before moving to a suburb of the Greater Toronto Area was how horrific some of the roads were, not just for cars, but potholes. It was like a slalom race just navigating some of those streets, though that is perhaps a topic for another day for those on the city council; this current subject in itself is a nice step forward.
You only need look at how a city like Amsterdam flows and how the bike plays a huge roll in the daily commute. Granted the bicycle has been built into that specific European cities psyche for generations, unlike Toronto, so I’d certainly say that this is very much a cultural thing and about slowly changing attitudes. But as the executive director of Cycle Toronto, Jared Kolb said in the article: “I think the rhetoric has moved beyond that ‘war on the car’ mantra, and has moved into imagining and realizing that cycling is a crucial way to get Toronto moving.”
Attitudes are slowly shifting and with it will come a cultural shift.
Build these bike lanes and paths now and not only will you get a return on your investment by a reduction on emissions, traffic congestion, time spent commuting, obesity and other health risks, you’ll have a future generation that respects cyclists and who see bicycles as a viable, equal and safe method of transport in a cities core. And this I hope is the first step towards all of that.
The rain came early and it came often but for those who braved it–and there was more than you’d imagine–they were treated to one of the best races of the year on one of the toughest courses of the year in what some riders described afterwards as the hardest race they had ever been in.
In the end, Tim Wellens won but not before half the field, or so it seemed, had a crack at getting into the break and it wasn’t until about 80km left of the 205.7km race that one finally established and lasted beyond a couple of laps of the 12.1km circuit in Montréal. The move contained Thomas Voeckler, Louis Vervaeke (who was in the day-long break last year) and Manuel Quinziato and was launched moments after Michal Kwiatkowski had been pulled back by a large group that contained the likes of Romain Bardet, Warren Barguil and Jakob Fuglsang among several others and that had survived for a handful of laps building a lead of more than one minute at one stage. That group however, like the half a dozen moves before it, was eventually swallowed up by a peloton in panic at the kind of names trying to get away and the brief lull allowed the Voeckler group to establish itself.
The rain eased after the first five or six laps, even allowing the sun to crack through briefly, but the racing rarely abated and the quick start and constant attacks over those early laps soon seen the field splitting up with a large group distanced from the main bunch on that testing 1.8km climb at an average gradient of 8%. It may not seem like much, but when you tackle it 17 times as they did in this race, it quickly becomes a true weeding out process as tiring legs begin to struggle to stay with the pace each time up.
The weather no doubt played its part in the number of abandonment’s and by the time the skies opened and the thunder rolled with three laps to go for the heaviest downpour of the lot, the field was down to just 64 of the 167 starters (minus Sky’s Bernard Eisel who broke his arm at the Quebec race two days before). And with just a lap to go the break that now also continued Andriy Grivko, having bridged across when he left behind Chris Juul Jensen–himself active in a handful of moves in the early going–was finally reeled in as counter attacks on the last run up the climb gave us our final selection for victory.
The race was wide open to a dozen high profile names but from the move emerged Wellens and Adam Yates and they maintained it to the finish. Not that those of us waiting at the finish knew. The storm that was passing over had cut the local feed to the big screens and word of mouth via those with access to Twitter kept those around them informed of what moves were being made. By the time they splashed under the 1km kite, revealing themselves to those waiting directly opposite at the start/finish line, on their way down to the hair-pin bend for the final time, it was Yates on the wheel of Wellens with a select group of about 12 a handful of seconds behind and what was left of the main field a few seconds behind that. Out of the turn and up through the feed zone Yates ended the game of cat and mouse that threatened their catch when he made the first move, but Wellens countered and took the sprint with relative ease. Rui Costa, previous winner here and perennial podium man who came second last year, came home third this time as the rain tailed off.
Wilco Kelderman, Bardet, Robert Gesink, Philippe Gilbert and Kwiatkowski, who had all tried to force the issue on the final run up the Mount Royale, finished within a handful of seconds of Wellens and in doing so highlighted their intentions and form for the upcoming World Championships. The elite men’s road-race championship takes place two weeks after this race and it remains one of the ideal preparation races for it.
The team of the day was no doubt Lotto Soudal and not just because of Wellens’s victory. They were also the only team in which all eight men finished the race, especially impressive given the course and the conditions, and their young star, Louis Vervaeke, aged just 21, was rewarded for his long stint in the break by winning the climbing prize.
This Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal never fails to deliver and on the three occasions I have went up to it over the last three years, I’ve only ever seen good racing. What makes it so brilliant is the fact it is on a circuit. To those watching on TV, that isn’t always the greatest way to watch a race when you prefer to see them cover great lateral distances through towns and countrysides, but for the fans that turn out to watch, it’s probably the best form of racing.
17 laps of a 12.1km course taking the winner over 5 hours means that you see action all day. You don’t stand around waiting for the race to flash past and then head home again, but rather wait less than 20 minutes for it to come through each time while moving around various points on the course to experience different aspects of the race. And it’s not too short either to have that feel of a crit, but long enough for plenty to take place within a lap with plenty to challenge a rider on a single lap. Frequently on Sunday we seen breaks go more than half a minute clear, but be caught and a new move launched all within the space of a single lap.
While you don’t see what all goes on around the back of the course, it passes you by enough for you to get an idea of what is going on and get the sense that you are watching the entire race develop before you, long before the TV pictures would go live around the world. And this year highlighted that better than ever with attacking all day long in a race that had dozens of pontential contenders.
Post race, Julian Alaphilippe described it on Twitter as “one of the most difficult races of the season”, while Lotto Soudal’s Greg Henderson celebrated his teams fine performance but called it the “hardest bike race ever”, on his Twitter feed.
And yet despite its difficulty, along with the Friday race up in Quebec City, the riders who come across to be a part of it, find it one of the best of the year. The hotel accommodation is as good as they get during the season, and the circuits are unique and challenging. As a one-day race with a World Tour rating, it attracts a strong field of classic type riders and remains arguably the best preparation race for the World Championships. It’s just a shame it overlaps with the final weekend of the Vuelta.
I know I’ll be back next year, though I hope the rain isn’t, and I still retain ambitions of one day taking in the Quebec City race as well on a long-weekend road trip.
|1. Tim Wellens
2. Adam Yates
3. Rui Costa
4. Jan Bakelants
5. Tiesj Benoot
6. Wilco Kelderman
7. Romain Bardet
8. Robert Gesink
9. Philippe Gilbert
10. Tom Jelte Slagter
|in 5h 20′ 9″