What better man to talk to about this Sunday’s Grand Prix de Montréal than Steve Bauer, a legend in Canadian cycling, who won the precursor of this ProTour race 22 years ago. This is a different era, but the two climbs that dominate the new 12.1km circuit are just as difficult.
The first is the Côte Camilien-Houde, which is 1.8km long and has an average grade of 8 percent, and climbs to the summit of Mont Royal, the volcano-like peak that looks down on the city. The other is the Côte de la Polytechnique, 780 meters at 6 percent that opens with a nasty 11-percent kicker.
The Polytechnique hill is followed by 5km of fast, rolling roads leading to a tight U-turn on the Avenue du Parc before a 560-meter-long, 4-percent drag to the finish line. Completing this lap 16 times will result in 12,000 feet (3,664 meters) of actual climbing, which is equivalent to a mountain stage of the Tour de France.
“We did a longer circuit back in ’88,” Bauer said, “so we didn’t do the climb as many times. But people still talk about the attack I made on Polytechnique to drop (Massimo) Ghirotto and (Gilles) Délion. And it’s not necessarily the climber guy that wins; Franco Ballerini and Jogi Müller both won here. And I won the first year when the field wasn’t as stacked.”
There were five editions of Montréal’s first cycling Grand Prix, four of which were prestigious UCI World Cup races, the equivalent of today’s ProTour. But as race organizer Serge Arsenault has said: “Those races were 20 years ahead of their time.”
Given that false start two decades ago, Arsenault knows that he is building on firmer ground in this second go-round. The French-Canadian has secured a five-year license from the UCI for the Québec and Montréal ProTour events, and after the popular success of Friday’s race in Québec City, he must have been proud to hear UCI president Pat McQuaid say Saturday: “A longstanding relationship with Serge is guaranteed.”
Comparing the two eras, Bauer told VeloNews, “The crowds were good in ’88; there were a lot of people. But I expect them to be much better tomorrow if they are anything like those in Québec — they were spectacular.”
The star of the Québec race, held on a 12.6km circuit that featured short, punchy climbs and a kilometer-long climb to the line, was the current Canadian hero, Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin-Transitions. He finished “only” fourth in Québec, but it was his constant attacking in the finale that made the race both exciting and spectacular.
Asked about the upcoming Montréal race, Hesjedal said: “I think I’ll be better on Sunday. Until Québec I hadn’t raced since Plouay (on August 22) and to reach my best I need the effort and speed you get out of racing. You can’t really simulate that on your own. So I think I might be better for Sunday and give it another crack.”
The longer climbs on Sunday should also suit two Americans, Chris Horner and Levi Leipheimer of Team RadioShack. Horner was an honorable 17th Friday after a long period away from racing, while Leipheimer was doing domestique duties — but he needs to find good form and morale a week before vying for the national pro championship next weekend.
“I think Montréal is more my kind of course,” Leipheimer said after the Québec race. “It’s a steady climb, not so technical. The team rode really well (here). Market (Irizar) was super strong and Haimar (Zubeldia) looks really good, and I think Sunday is a better course for us.
RadioShack’s Spanish pair should definitely be a force on Sunday, while Horner and Leipheimer should both have strong performances, but Bauer picked three men who were at the head of the race Friday to again be the best on Sunday.
“Ryder was so strong Friday, and this Montréal race should really suit his character and abilities more than Québec,” Bauer said. “And if he’s gonna be better tomorrow he’d be my No. 1 guy. And I guess Robert Gesink (of Rabobank), because he’s a climber-style rider and seems to have pretty good horsepower too.
“People are talking about Peter Sagan (of Liquigas) being a favorite, but I don’t think so. For No. 3, I don’t know, (Edvald) Boasson Hagen (of Team Sky) is always strong, and he has a better sprint.”
In fact, the young Norwegian races very much like Bauer did all those years ago, and maybe he will make an attack on the Polytechnique climb that people will still be talking about 20 years from now.