MONTRÉAL, Canada (VN) — On a day when all eyes were on the podium finishers from Friday’s Grand Prix Cycliste Québec City, Portugese rider Rui Costa of Movistar upset the favorites by powering a late-race move in Montréal to win a two-up sprint against Frenchman breakaway mate Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ).
The pair just held off a hard-charging peloton at the line, led in by Belgian national champion Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) just two seconds behind in third.
Leopard-Trek’s Stefan Denifl, the only other rider to go clear with Costa and Fedrigo in the closing kilometers, finished fifth, with Gilbert’s teammate Jurgen Roelandts in fourth.
Sixty riders finished the GP Cycliste de Montréal within 44 seconds of Costa on a demanding 205km circuit that, because of a headwind on the route’s major climb, did not become the race of attrition many had anticipated.
The race and its favorites
Now in its second year, the GP Cycliste de Montréal is a difficult 12.1km circuit run on the classic Mont-Royal circuit, which has been used throughout the decades: at the 1974 world championships, won by Eddy Merckx; at the 1976 Olympic Games; and more recently as part of a UCI Women’s World Cup, won four times by local Geneviève Jeanson. The hill, located in the heart of Montréal, is the city’s namesake; taking its name from Mont-Royal, or Mont Réal.
The crux of the course is the 1.8km Camilien-Houde climb up Mont-Royal, averaging 8 percent, which riders climbed 17 times. The other significant climb is the climb up the Cote de la Polytechnique at the University of Montréal, a short and punchy 800-meter pitch that averages 6 percent and maxes out at 11 percent. The finishing straight, along Avenue du Parc, is a 560-meter stretch that averages 4 percent. Lap speeds averaged 37kph (23mph), with lap times averaging between 18 and 20 minutes.
Conditions were picture-perfect Sunday, with light wind and temperatures in Montréal hovering between 68 and 72 Fahrenheit under brilliant September sunshine. Enthusiastic crowds lined the route, particularly on the recently resurfaced pavement up and down the Camilien-Houde climb in Parc Mont-Royal, as well as along the course’s 180-degree right-hand turn along Avenue du Parc that leads back to the start/finish area.
Prior to the start, Gilbert, Friday’s GP Cycliste Québec winner was relaxed, telling VeloNews: “For us, we’re relaxed. We’ve won a race. There’s less pressure. For some teams, and some riders, there’s a lot of pressure to win, such as with Ryder Hesjedal, it’s very important for him and his team. They will try to win. We’ll just try to follow.”
Last year’s winner, Robert Gesink (Rabobank), told VeloNews he would try to repeat his 2010 performance, when he attacked on the Camilien-Houde climb, 10km from the finish line, and held his gap to the line ahead of a 30-man chase group.
“I’m feeling okay,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes. I’ll try to do the same as last year, but it won’t be easy.”
RadioShack’s Levi Leipheimer finished fifth in Québec on Friday, 15 seconds behind Gilbert and 12 seconds behind Gesink. Before the race he said he knew he was not going to beat Gilbert or Gesink in an uphill sprint; the ideal scenario, he said, would be to get a gap, even if just a small one, in the closing kilometers.
“If I can get away, I’m a guy that would be hard to bring back, because I can time trial,” Leipheimer told VeloNews. “That’s what I will be looking for, a time to surprise people, to get that gap, get that 10 or 15 seconds, and just go. And hopefully there is some hesitation in the back, and that’s all you need.
“That’s what happened with (Robert) Gesink last year. He was the best on the climb, he got that gap, but behind, if they would have cooperated, they would have caught him. They hesitated, and he was strong enough to keep that gap all the way to the finish.”
A fast start
Racing started fast and furious, with a 10-man break instantly forming, containing Sylvester Szmyd (Liquigas-Cannondale), Tejay Van Garderen (HTC), Dave Zabriskie and Tom Peterson (Garmin-Cervélo), Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) and David Arroyo (Movistar). That move was short-lived, however, with Omega Pharma-Lotto reeling it back the second trip over the Camilien-Houde climb, with a pace so challenging Gilbert’s team split the field in half.
“The first hour was incredibly hard,” Vacansoleil’s Jonny Hoogerland told VeloNews. “It was a hard race; one of the heaviest one-day races I’ve ever done.”
The split in the peloton lasted for two laps (24km.) The day’s primary breakaway formed after four laps; American Danny Pate (HTC-Highroad) attacked from the peloton, spent a lap alone, then was joined by Italian Danilo Di Luca, Frenchman Anthony Geslin (FDJ), and Japanese rider Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar).
Gilbert’s day got off to a bad start. He took a bike change at the start of the fifth lap, due to drivetrain issues, and again later that lap, when he was among several riders to go down in a crash along Cote Ste-Catherine Road, the straight, flat section of the course that follows the Polytechnique climb and leads into the finish. Also down in that crash was Szmyd and Canadian Dominique Rollin (FDJ), who later abandoned.
The peloton stopped for a nature break following the fifth trip over the Polytechnique climb, allowing the gap to open to three minutes. And when the peloton briefly rode neutral, following the Gilbert/Rollin crash a few kilometers after the nature break, the four leaders opened up a maximum lead of more than six minutes.
That gap stabilized at around 3:30 a short while later, where it hovered for several laps, with Di Luca capturing maximum King of the Mountains points over the Camilien-Houde climb while riders from Sky and Rabobank drove the chase.
With nine laps (109km) to go the gap from the four leaders to the peloton was 3:45; 25km later it was pegged at 3:40; with five laps (60km) to go, it had come down slightly, to 2:46.
On the 13th trip over the Camilien-Houde climb, just as they’d done at the same point in the Québec race, Rabobank upped the pace, bringing the gap down to 1:20 and splitting the peloton into pieces.
Rabobank’s Grischa Niermann went on the offensive. He attacked, and when reeled in he stayed at the front, stringing out the peloton single file. Meanwhile, up ahead, Di Luca was dropped from the breakaway group.
After the descent down Mont-Royal, Flecha, Danilo Wyss (BMC Racing) and Jérôme Pineau (Quick Step) slipped away in an attempt to join the three remaining escapees, who held a 33-second lead.
However, with Vacansoleil and Omega Pharma upping the pace coming through the start/finish line with three laps (36km) to go, Pineau, Wyss and Flecha were reined in.
With Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank) and Lars Nordhaug (Sky) on the front the peloton caught Arashiro and Geslin on the Camilien-Houde climb — but not Pate, who held on to get maximum climbing points and overcome Di Luca for the climber’s prize.
“We worked together okay,” Pate said. “Arashiro was taking pulls on the flats; he rode like you should in a breakaway. Di Luca only seemed to want to pull on the climbs, maybe he wanted to look cool over the climb. I don’t think it was for the KOM points; I don’t know if any of us even knew there were KOM points offered.”
The action begins
Soon the chaos that only a one-day circuit race can deliver truly kicked in. With 30km remaining, Svein Tuft (SpiderTech-C10) put in a dig, forming a group on the Polytechnique climb, with Canadians Tuft, Michael Barry (Sky) and David Veilleux (Europcar) all in the move, joined by Pieter Weening (Rabobank), Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervélo) and Gregory Rast (RadioShack).
Another group bridged across, including Costa, Hoogerland, Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis), Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R), Cristiano Salerno (Liquigas), Mikel Landa (Euskaltel), Gorazd Stangelj (Astana) and Francesco Reda (Quick Step).
“I was thinking it could go to the end, but there was a headwind on the climb,” Hoogerland said.
With the race blowing apart behind him, Pate stayed clear until he was caught with 27km to go.
Coming through the finish line, local favorite Veilleux attacked from the lead group, through he never managed to open a significant gap as his mates worked to hold their 20-second advantage over the main field with two laps (24km) left.
On the penultimate trip over the Camilien-Houde climb Gilbert finally showed himself, and attacked. His move split the field into pieces, but was not enough for the Belgian national champion to go clear.
“I tried to bridge the gap to the front group, but there was a lot of headwind on the climb, and it was almost impossible to make a difference,” Gilbert said. “There were guys that didn’t want to cooperate, and I realized I was just working for my rivals.”
Ahead, Barry attacked, with Danielson following, while Tuft and Veilleux were dropped from the front group, while the peloton closed in due to Gilbert’s acceleration.
Peraud attacked going into the Polytechnique climb with 18km remaining, but with Philip Deignan (RadioShack), Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing) and Spanish national champion Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) driving the chase, that move was also squashed. With one 12.1km lap remaining, the gap between the leaders and the 60-man pack of favorites was just nine seconds.
The two groups came together at the bottom of the Camilien-Houde climb, with Costa again on the attack, first drawing out Simon Gerrans and Rigoberto Uran (Sky) and Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Cervélo). Fifty meters behind, Gilbert, Leipheimer and Gesink watched each other until Gesink finally blinked, jumping up the climb. The Dutchman’s move looked to be a race-breaker, but the pack came back together on the descent.
“We flew up the climb,” Vande Velde said. “But Rui Costa wouldn’t work with us. We probably should have kept going for it since it was so smashed.”
Next to attack, on the descent, was Fedrigo, drawing out Costa and Denifl. The trio opened a slight gap, with little reaction from the peloton. Behind, Gilbert could be seen calmly talking with Uran on the flat roads that led into the Polytechnique climb.
“All the strong guys were looking at each other,” Leipheimer said. “Gilbert was maybe saving something for the sprint.”
Once on the Cote de la Polytechnique Hesjedal took a massive dig, with Gesink, Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) and Fabian Wegmann (Leopard-Trek) closely following.
“I made a last-ditch effort on the Polytechnique to try to separate and get some good guys going and try to make it, but there were too many guys from behind arriving with Phillipe,” Hesjedal said. “It was not a good situation for the sprint. Everyone missed out not being able to catch the break.”
The regrouping that followed the climb allowed the leading trio to widen its lead to 16 seconds with 6km remaining.
“So many guys either wouldn’t work or couldn’t work,” Vande Velde said. “No one was banking on a sprint; no one was banking on anything. No one really had teammates around them. People were destroyed.”
The trio came into the final kilometer with a nine-second lead, and heading towards the 180-degree right-hand turn along Avenue du Parc looked to have the podium locked up.
But the charging peloton, led by Gilbert, nearly caught the break at the line, where Costa beat Fedrigo.
“I go all out at all the races I enter, and I did my homework before coming to Montréal,” Costa said. “This morning, my manager Yvon Ledanois told me I was the team’s leader, with Jose Joaquin Rojas, and he said we had gone a long way to come here and it was impossible to go home empty-handed.
“My stage victory in the Tour de France in Super-Besse remains the highlight of my career but this rates quite close. In the finale, I never doubted — I was confident we had enough time left to go all the way, and I knew Fedrigo was the man to beat.”
Gilbert was far from unhappy at the finish, quickly giving teammate Roelandts, who finished fourth, a shoulder hug for his help.
“It’s unfortunate that I came so close to winning, but I am happy with third place, especially considering that I fell,” Gilbert said. “I sprinted for 500 meters, it was one of the longest sprints of the year, so it wasn’t possible to start my sprint earlier.”
Gilbert also took a moment to thank the Canadian fans for the warm welcome he’d received, and said he spoke for the peloton in saying the events were at the sport’s highest level in terms of courses and organization.
After the race Serge Arsenault, head of the Grand Prix Cyclistes Québec–Montréal organization, expressed his commitment to hosting both races through 2014.
“I’m happy with the race, and I think things will only get better,” he said. “We will look for things to perfect, but I think the racers have left happy.”