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.