The inaugural Grand Prix de Québec was a tremendous success Friday, fully justifying the UCI’s decision to give Canada two new ProTour races. The riders loved the event and put on an exciting, aggressive race; the huge crowds loved it, ringing their cowbells and shouting their support all day long; and the champion of France, Thomas Voeckler of BBox, was truly ecstatic when he crossed the finish line on the Grande Allée as the winner of the rugged 189km circuit race.
Voeckler raised his arms just one second before Norway’s Edvald Boasson Hagen of Team Sky brought home a 20-strong group, just out-sprinting two of the day’s big heroes: Dutch climber Robert Gesink of Rabobank and Canada’s Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin-Transitions. These two found a second wind to make their sprints on the 4-percent grind to the line after driving a spectacular five-man breakaway that was caught just moments before Voeckler made his winning solo move with one kilometer to go.
“I was lucky,” Voeckler said. “I wasn’t the strongest rider today. That was Hesjedal. He attacked and really made the race. But I had a lot of support from the public. I seem to be as well known here in Québec as at home. And when I was at the back of the race at halfway it was encouraging to get so much support from the people. Thank you, Québec, it was very beautiful day for me.”
Asked when he felt that he was going to win, Voeckler replied, “The first lap I felt fairly good, maybe strong enough to get in the top 10, but not really good enough to win. Really, it was only in the last straightaway that I said to myself that it could work.”
“Also, I profited from all the work done by the teams like Sky and Garmin because they were the favorites, not us. I just made the good attack at the right moment. I had good legs but the others were stronger than me today.”
Commenting on Voeckler’s late move, Hesjedal told VeloNews: “It was a beautiful victory for him, to have the French champion jersey in Québec. And it’s great for the sport here.
“I raced well but I looked to the other guys to answer Voeckler. I think at that point of the race everyone should be hungry for the victory. I felt like I can’t be the guy to respond to him … and it was unfortunate that there was a small hesitation. A couple of guys looked at each other for a moment … and that was it! But I don’t want to take anything away from him for sure.”
Before Voeckler emerged with his counterattack on a short rise past the Québec City Hall, Hesjedal and the four men who broke clear of the pack with 16km to go looked to have the race sewn up.
Hesjedal and Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnesi) started the key move on the 12.6km circuit’s steepest hill, the 350-meter-long Côte de la Montagne, which has a 13-percent section where thousands of fans gathered to cheer on their favorites. Their attack came right after the catch of the last survivors of the day’s 13-strong breakaway that was never allowed more than a four-minute lead.
That break was started on the very first Montagne climb by Team RadioShack’s Yaroslav Popovych. Ten riders joined him by the end of the first lap, including his teammate Markel Irizar, along with Saxo Bank’s Jakob Fuglsang (who would win the King of the Mountains contest), Quick Steps’ Jurgen Van de Walle, Lampre’s Alfredo Balloni, FDJ’s Jussi Vaikanen, the Canadian National team’s François Parisien, BBox’s Sébastien Turgot, Milram’s Dominik Nerz, Liquigas’s Elia Viviani and Cofidis’s Julien Fouchard.
Two more men, Valerio Agnoli of Liquigas and Bram Tankink of Rabobank, managed to bridge but a fine effort to join them by Garmin’s Peter Stetina just failed. But the American rookie recovered to finish strongly and be the third man in Garmin’s overall team victory.
Of the absent teams, Team Sky (for Boasson Hagen), Euskaltel-Euskadi (for Samuel Sanchez), Garmin (for Hesjedal) and Caisse d’Épargne (for Spanish champ Ivan Gutierrez) did most of the chasing. The break split in two on lap 11, while a nasty pileup at the end of lap 13 eliminated three favorites, BMC Racing’s George Hincapie, Quick Step’s Sylvain Chavanel and RadioShack’s Jani Brajkovic
Fuglsang was the last of the breakaways to survive, being joined by Belgian Dries Devenyns of Quick Step on the latter half of lap 14. But this pair was swamped when Hesjedal attacked with Cunego on the punchy Montagne climb. “It was great,” Hesjedal said. “I used the big chainring there, and I felt awesome.”
Two men, Fabian Wegmann of Milram and Matti Breschl of Saxo Bank, quickly joined Hesjedal and Cunego, and Gesink managed to bridge as the bell range for the last lap. The Dutchman’s late arrival could well have made the difference in the outcome because
Gesink had suffered two setbacks.
At the foot of the steep climb on lap 2, when the pace was high, he came to an abrupt halt. “The derailleur was stuck in my wheel and my wheel was broken,” he told VeloNews. “It cost me a little bit of strength to get back in the peloton.”
In fact, teammate Joost Posthuma ran back to give Gesink his bike, and the Rabobank leader chase over the next hills and changed onto his reserve bike at the end of the lap before making another big effort to catch the peloton.
But the new bike developed problems at the wrong time: right when Hesjedal attacked. “I was a little short there because I couldn’t get the bigger gear,” Gesink continued. “It wasn’t shifting right in the back. It was my second bike and it wasn’t really working as good as my first. I’ll have to talk to the mechanic about that!”
He then said, “I thought that would be the decisive break so I bridged by the finish line. That cost a lot of strength so once I was there I was really, really tired.”
If Gesink had been at full strength the break would likely have stayed that extra kilometer to the finish. “I was hoping there was bit more of a selection,” Hesjedal said. “Damiano was more or less the best of the others, and Gesink had to dig deep to get up to us. Fabian was pretty much suffering and Matti was doing the most he could.
“Yes, they were all looking at me; they could see I was strong. They could also see I wanted the win here … but I was willing to work and put in the most effort. But it’s tough!”
As for the final kilometer, Hesjedal said, “Svein was great; he gave me the real morale at the end there. I thought it was really gonna swarm but he rode big time there. He kept the pace high and I knew if I could at least open up inside 200 meters I could still get a result. I had to dig real deep, but … it’s kind of bittersweet to be that close.”
As for runner-up Boasson Hagen, he said, “The team did a really good job today to control the whole race. They were working so good so I could relax every lap … and I was feeling quite good on the last lap.”
Unfortunately he had no teammates left with him in the final split of 20, so the Norwegian had to make his own way up that long finishing straight and came up just short.
And that’s how Thomas Voeckler won the first-ever ProTour race in North America.