Tag Archives: Simon Gerrans

Watching the best in Montreal

For the whole five and a half hour drive from just east of Toronto up to Montreal I was followed by a dark rain cloud. I’d get ahead of it while driving but when I stopped to grab a snack, or another cup of tea from Tim Horton’s, I’d arrive back out to the car to the sight of pouring rain, and with my bike in the back of the van it wasn’t a good sign. I was on my way up there to watch the following days Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal but also to ride the course on the Saturday afternoon and get a feel for what it was truly all about. How hard could it really be for these pros?

And now it looked as though I was going to have to do it in the pouring rain, if indeed I could summons the desire having driven for five hours and with the lure of the pub just around the corner, literally, from the youth hostel I had booked to stay in, and the knowledge that the Liverpool match was on.

By the time I arrived that match was already half an hour old, Liverpool were one down and killing any inspiration to rush into a pub to watch them, and then I found out I had arrived much to early to check into the hostel. With the rain beginning to fall and time to kill, I decided to kit up in the back of the van and head on out to sample this course.

The circuit in Montréal is a 12.1km lap climbing 229 metres. No walk in the park by any standards and given the pros would be doing it 17 times for 205.7km and a total elevation climbed of 3,893 metres, it equated to that of an alpine stage at the Tour de France. Of course, I wouldn’t be doing 17 laps of it today and as the rain only fell harder and the wind blew colder as I rode towards the circuit my minds plan of three laps quickly became one quick one and back to the car and hopefully a hot shower at the hostel.

I joined the circuit about halfway around its official lap. I had hoped that perhaps the circuit would have been closed for the weekend but no such luck and so I was faced with far too many traffic lights to get a proper feel for the lap. Still, on my way to the start-finish I hit my first, and officially the second climb of the lap, the Côte de la Polytechnique, a short but sharp 800m rise at 6% that by the 17th time would surely be numbing the legs.

It was this climb that Peter Sagan launched his attack on the final lap last year, countering a move made by Canadian Ryder Hesjedal. I was standing down by the start-finish area then and watching on a big-screen and the crowd had gone wild for Hesjedal’s attack only to cheer again when the home town favorite was buried by Sagan. Such is the nature of the cycling fan, their desire to see Hesjedal win was over ridden by the appreciation of Sagan’s talent, his daring, and his solo ride to the win.

Sagan wasn’t here this year and nor was Hesjedal, but I was back and here I was on that hill that ultimately decided the race last year. Two fellow recreational cyclists were just ahead of me and riding at a similarly slow pace. The voice of Phil Liggett burst into my head: “He’s fighting hard to keep the wheel of the two in front, Paul.” Indeed I felt like I could have pushed deep and gone past them but I didn’t want to reach the top only to sit down, try to bring the heart-rate back to a safe range and have them blast right past me again in conversation with one another, so I stayed put. Besides, at the next traffic light they squeezed through as it was changing to red and I stopped.

The start-finish straight on the Avenue du Parc was closed off to cars but a lot of prep work was going on to get it ready for tomorrow. Still, I tootled down anyway, ignored by those working when I half expected to be told to get off the circuit, under the red kite, down to the hairpin and back up the 560 metre, 4% drag to the line. At which shortly thereafter came the meat and bones of this course: Mount Royal’s, Côte Camilien-Houde.

In the grand scheme of cycling this isn’t much of a hill: 1.6km at 8%. A drag to be sure, but far from the hardest thing those racing it will have experienced this season. But when you do tackle it 17 times that turns into a 27.2km climb at 8% and that can do strange things to the legs.

For me it was about laying down some kind of marker on Strava to remind me of my mortality against these incredible athletes and so I swung onto the climb, sufficiently warmed up, and decided to go as hard as I could. And, of course, I had gone through the entire checklist of good preparation even for one push up this climb: Sleep deprivation, check; technical issue with gearing, check; Five hour drive pre-ride, check; lashing rain, check. The technical issue with gearing was the worst possible one, the inability to get into the lowest gear. The rear derailleur appeared out of whack and would bump against the spokes when I tried to find relief in that cog; an issue from which I carried nothing to fix it at that moment.

The heart rate soared, the good work of having been off the bike for a couple of weeks before kicked in and soon I was grinding. From behind: “Allez. Keep going,” two pros out doing a recon of the course, spinning past me as though on a flat road with the wind at their backs. I was hunched over the handlebars and unable to fulfill the earlier held belief that since they were taking it easy I might be able to suffer along on their wheel. I was able to blurt out my amazement that they’d be tackling this thing 17 times. The one on the right in the Orica GreenEdge kit laughed but it was a laugh that sounded as much like a man coming to the realisation of what I had just reminded him of. Or at least I like to think so.

For the rest of the way up groups of those set to race the next day would spin past me, chatting to one another, putting out a high cadence as my legs struggled to turn. “He’s turning squares here Phil, really suffering as the Garmin team ride away from him,” mused the imaginary Paul Sherwen.

Then I noticed the Garmin on my handlebars wasn’t recording. I typically set the auto-pause to about 10km/h to account for unwanted slowdowns on my rides, like traffic lights, but on this climb I had gone below this threshold; an unwanted slowdown to be sure, but one that was my own legs doing. I hesitated between riding on and stopping to adjust it so I could register a time, and then I stopped to adjust it. But it was too late, the time it hadn’t been counting meant I wouldn’t go onto the standings for this infamous Montréal hill.

In the time I was stopped my heart-rate came down and I felt composed again and set off after another pair of professionals gently riding their way up. Ten metres later I was quickly losing ground once more. Up over the top and with the rain beating down I had no desire to go around again only to try set another time on this hill. I was best served waiting until next year and accepting my place on the side of the road watching. On the way down the hill the pro in front followed the road to the right while I swung left back in towards the city, the waiting hostel and a warm pub.

By 11pm that evening, showered, changed, fed and sipping on a beer I wondered how many of those supreme athletes that burned past me on the hill were still awake now? Tucked up in their warm cribs they would be, dreaming about 17 turns on that hill the next day.

And so there I was the next day on various points of that very climb, watching them grind their way up. The first couple of times up I could hear relaxed conversation in the peloton, content to let the days forlorn hope of four escapees from the first lap, Arnold Jeannesson (FDJ), Louis Vervaeke (Lotto), Jan Polanc (Lampre) and Ryan Roth (Canada), go up the road. I was again stunned at the ability of this peloton to tackle what I struggled on so easily, chatting to one another about anything from the meal the night before to the girl standing just beyond the 500m to the summit sign. Three laps down, fourteen to go.

The next thirteen laps were relatively uneventful. The break pushed out to near twelve minutes at one point and when you watch on television you don’t quite fathom how much of a lead twelve minutes actually is, whereas when you’re standing still at the side of the road and you watch the front group roll past, twelve full minutes can seem a long time, especially on what is only a twenty minute lap. Stay asleep anymore and the four in the break could lap the field. Now wouldn’t that be a pickle! Still there was so long to go and all logic suggested that like almost always they would eventually be caught.

Roth was the first to lose contact with three laps to go, then Jeannesson and finally Vervaeke leaving just Polanc solo with one lap left. By now his lead had shrunk to little more than a minute at the bell and when he hit Camilien-Houde it was he, like me twenty-four hours before, that was turning the squares. Suffering he looked over his shoulder and seen his fate baring down on him. A shrunken peloton, but a large one at that would take on the final half of this climb and the rest of the lap for the win. With Polanc swept away, his Lampre teammate and my pre-race pick to win, Rui Costa attacked. He was chased down but over the top a select group had emerged. That group grew in size down the other side and despite further attempts by others to attack on the Polytechnique, it remained quite large for the charge down towards the finishing straight.

Simon Gerrans, winning at the Quebec City race on Friday, had briefly lost touch on the Polytechnique but two Orica GreenEdge teammates helped bridge him into the lead group and while Costa tried once more to attack, he was brought back as they headed down and under the 1km to go kite, directly across the road from the finishing line.

By now I was tucked up in a Grand Stand 30 metres from the line. A perfect view of them sweeping down the road on one side before emerging up over the rise on the other, through what was in other laps the feed station, and into the sprint for the line.

And all this was free. Yet another magical thing about this sport. Five and a half hours of watching the worlds best within touching distance on the climbs and then on the finishing straight from a grand stand, for zero cost. I can think of few other elite level sports that allow you that kind of access for no charge. Even pre and post race the riders will mingle among the fans; the kind of fan-athlete interaction you find nowhere else and which I hope cycling never loses.

By now it was Gerrans’s race to lose; he had three team-mates to lead him out and he was the fastest man left in the group. So no shock to look down into the distance and see him break over the right shoulder of his final leadout man, open a gap of nearly ten bike length and sit up with his arms in the air, right in front of me, with thirty metres still to go, and celebrate the Quebec double; the first man to achieve it. A superb weekend for the Australian.

From Gerrans in first, the World Champion Rui Costa in second, the four men from the days early break, and everyone else who started this savage circuit, I had gained for them a whole new level of admiration. 109 of 152 finished the 17 turns up the 1.6km, 8%, Côte Camilien-Houde, the climb I had found a grind to do just once.

Next year I’ll be back again and I’d quite like to make a longer trip of it and take in the Quebec City race on the Friday as well. Whatever I do though, I’ll bring the bike along again and hopefully with better weather and a little more fitness I’ll get a better and longer ride on the course.

Result:
1. Gerrans (OGE) in 5h24’27”
2. Rui Costa (LAM) s.t.
3. Gallopin (LTB) s.t.
4. Navardauskas (GRS) s.t.
5. Bardet (ALM) s.t.
6. Dumoulin (GIA) s.t.

Orica Greenedge romp to fastest TTT ever putting Gerrans into Yellow

For the longest time it looked as though the Omega Pharma Quick Step boys would win the day having set the fastest time and the fastest average speed in team-time-trial history, but then the unlikely winners in Orica-GreenEdge arrived up the Promenade des Anglais in Nice at an average speed of 57.841 kilometres per hour to beat them by three quarters of a second and put their man, and stage two winner, Simon Gerrans into the Yellow jersey.

The Australian team certainly send their nine riders over the finish line with greater effect than they do the team-bus, and their average speed was enough to beat the 57.324 km/h set by Lance Armstrong’s Discovery Channel team back in 2005. And before you start to panic by drawing a link between that team and their shady past and this Tour, remember that Orica-GreenEdge put their marker in over a 25 kilometre course that was completely flat on a beautiful day on the South coast of France. By comparison the Discovery Channel time was set over a much longer 67.5 kilometre course.

It was a fantastic stage and for me watching it brought back fine memories of being in Nice. I arrived there two years ago to the day on my honeymoon, which left me wondering whether I got married two years too early or the tour arrived two years too late? Wouldn’t my wife have been delighted when having rolled into town and upon wondering what the large crowds were all about I informed her that, “What a coincidence, the Tour just so happens to be here also.” Nice is a nice city, it’s got a fantastic beach and in the old part of town there are some quaint little restaurants squeezed into those little narrow cobbled streets.

It was along the long Promenade that runs the length of the beach that this team-time-trial was run and remembering that wide street I can only imagine how good that would have been for the fans. Get down early and reserve yourself a sunbed on the beach for the day. Go for a dip in the Med, perhaps read your Tour guide or what you can translate of the local paper then amble up off of the sand to the wide boulevard and watch the teams rolling out and back on their hard efforts against the clock. For the riders it must only add to the suffering to watch people relaxing on the beach, swimming in the surf, or perhaps sipping on a cold beer while they push themselves to the brink of exhaustion in chase of those extra few seconds that might benefit the team and their team-leader.

Given that it was only 25 kilometres the time gaps for the most part were tight, but then again the 1 minute, 47 seconds that separated first place Orica-GreenEdge to Argos-Shimano was quite a chunk over such a short distance and highlights if not certain teams’ lack of strength, then their lack of interest in this discipline. It’s clearly not an area the French teams specialise in because of the 22 teams in the race they managed placings of 15th (FDJ), 17th (Ag2r), 18th (Sojasun), 19th (Europcar) and 20th (Cofidis).

All things said not too many of the big favorites lost a lot of time. Chris Froome was best placed of them after his Sky team came in third, a mere 3 seconds behind Orica-GreenEdge. Nobody will be too concerned about losing a few seconds, though it should be remembered that some Tours have been won and lost by mere seconds. While it’s never nice to give someone like Froome any time advantage this early in the race it’s not a lot more than would have been won and lost had we had a prologue a few days ago anyway. For what it’s worth here is my predicted top ten for this Tour in their current standing relative to one another after four stages:

1. Froome in 12h 47’27”
2. Porte s.t.
3. Contador at 6″
4. Van Den Broeck at 14″
5. Hesjedal s.t.
6. Evans at 23″
7. Van Garderen s.t.
8. Rodriguez at 25″
9. Pinot at 39″
10. Rolland at 1’10”

Only Pierre Rolland has left himself some serious work to do and might now turn to defending his King of the Mountains title all the way to Paris.

Things might get a chance to settle now for a few days with Corsica behind us and the team-time-trial over. Tomorrow the race will depart from Cagnes-sur-Mer for 228.5 kilometres of relatively flat racing to Marseilles. There’s a category three climb early to set the early break on their way and a few category four climbs later on that might set up a decisive move, but after three days of waiting the sprinters will be desperate to have their way, especially those who missed out on stage one. Mark Cavendish could well be a safe bet though there’s talk that he’s suffering from an illness right now and so why not Matt Goss to make it three on the trot for the so-far-so-impressive Orica-GreenEdge? It’s been some Tour for them thus far. The bus-gate on stage one, Gerrans yesterday, the team-time-trial and Gerrans into Yellow today. So why not?

Stage 4 result

1. Orica-GreenEdge in 25’56”

2. Omega Pharma Quick Step at 1″

3. Sky at 3″

4. Saxo-Tinkoff at 9″

5. Lotto-Belisol at 17″

6. Garmin-Sharp s.t.

General classification after stage 4

1. Simon Gerrans in 12h 47’24”

2. Daryl Impey s.t.

3. Michael Albasini s.t.

4. Michal Kwiatkowski at 1″

5. Sylvain Chavanel at s.t.

6. Edvald Boasson Hagen at 3″

Sagan beat into second again; Gerrans wins; Bakelants stays in Yellow and wins the Tour of Corsica

With 92 men within one second of him coming into today’s stage the odds were surely stacked against Jan Bakelants staying in the race lead through today’s lumpy stage up the west coast of Corsica, but stay in Yellow he did as his Radioshack team kept the days break within touching distance and the teams of the fast men that had managed to stay with the front group brought in any last minute stage hopefuls to force a bunch sprint. Simon Gerrans surprised Peter Sagan with the win but for his two second place efforts, Sagan moves into the Green jersey he’ll likely keep until Paris, while Bakelants clings onto Yellow with the number of men within a second of his prize now reduced to a mere 71.

Baring his Radioshack team winning tomorrow’s team-time-trial back on mainland France, Bakelants will lose the Yellow jersey but you have to admire him for hanging onto it through today’s stage. When previewing this Tour and the opening three days I didn’t think the leading group would have been as big as it was by the finish. I knew the big favorites likely wouldn’t attack one another but I thought things might split up more.

I guess in the knowledge that there were three more Sunday’s worth of racing ahead of them likely reminded a lot of the better riders to hold tight and keep their powder dry until later in the race. The two hilly stages on this most beautiful of islands allowed for plenty of attacking action by men seeking out a stage result, especially by those who might have lost enough time the day before and who wouldn’t be a threat to Bakelants Yellow jersey. Still his Radioshack team set the pace for most of the day and the break were never allowed to get far up the road.

I thought we’d be leaving Corsica with Sagan in Yellow and but for the length of two bikes yesterday, we would have, but Bakelants’s big effort on Sunday came with a great reward and he comes away as the unofficial and unrecognised champion of the three days Tour de Corsica!

Once again the fastest men, Mark Cavendish, Andre Griepel and Marcel Kittle were blown away by a rugged coast line in a different manor than those of us relaxing in our armchairs at home. We were blown away by it’s fascinating scenery and the urge to one day visit that stunning part of the world, while the 35 that finished in the days Autobus some nine minutes behind Gerrans, were blown away by the high pace and hard hills that likely have them not wanting to return again.

Two of the most aggressive men over the three days on Corsica were Sylvian Chavanel and Pierre Rolland. The former I had picked to win stage three so wasn’t surprised to see him try his hand, though it was an impressive late effort given he had tried something similar on his birthday the day before. Two tries, two fails, but with three weeks left of this race don’t be shocked to see him try again somewhere else down the road and perhaps succeed. As for Rolland, well he’s a top ten favorite so it was fun to see him throw a spanner into the works by attacking on both stages two and three. He was after King of the Mountains points but it got the teams of this Tours favorites to sit up and take notice. Rolland looked good on the attack and I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to his fellow countryman and former King of the Mountains legend, Richard Virenque in the way he attacked in early hilly stages chasing valuable Polka-dot jersey points.

So now the race heads back into mainland France were it will stay until the race finishes in Paris. The 196 that remain (Yoann Bagot of Cofidis and Andrey Kashechkin of Astana abandoned today) have stretched their legs now, gotten a feel for the race and should be ready to go. A few injuries aside — Tony Martin with a bruised collarbone (a break has thankfully been ruled out) and Geraint Thomas, an early candidate for Tour hard man, riding with a suspected fractured Pelvis — most have come through the opening days in Corsica unscathed.

A team-time-trial will sort out the GC a little more but given the number of riders still within a second of Yellow on the same time, we could have a top five made up almost exclusively by riders from whatever team happen to win the stage in Nice. There has been an unusual make up to the overall standings in the early going, but I think it’s making for interesting racing and that trend should continue throughout the first week.