QUEBEC (VN) — On the eve of his third Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec and Montréal race weekend, Canadian race organizer Serge Arsenault believes the races will come down to a handful of strongmen, among them Liquigas-Cannondale’s Peter Sagan and Europecar’s Thomas Voeckler.
“The big thing this year is that I believe we have the strongest field ever,” Arsenault told VeloNews on Thursday at the Fairmont Le Chậteau Frontenac’s palatial race headquarters overlooking the Saint Laurent river. “With (Edvald) Boasson Hagen, Voeckler, Sagan and all the top riders it will be a tough race.”
The 125-mile Québec event on Friday takes riders on 16 hilly loops around and through Québec’s atmospheric old quarter. The 128-mile event on Sunday in Montréal, while not as sharply hilly as the Québec circuit, follows a route similar to that Arsenault first covered as a television broadcaster during the August 1974 world championship won by Eddy Merckx.
Other heavy hitters on the Canadian inscription list include Luis León Sanchez (Rabobank), who won the Clásica San Sebastián last month, 2011 Montréal winner Rui Costa (Movistar), and Garmin-Sharp’s Canadian superstar and 2012 Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal.
Arsenault feels the stature of riders attracted to Québec and Montréal testifes to the fact that the Canadian WorldTour races “are quite important.” The French-Canadian speaking Arsenault adds of the pros who flew in from Europe on Tuesday, “They just don’t come here to make some tourism — a holiday for five days.”
Arsenault spent a few hours on Thursday morning speaking with the 22 teams and their directors. He says the importance of UCI points came up as something that gave his races additional gravity. The points the riders gain or lose at these WorldTour events can make the difference between next year being in the first division or the second.
Arsenault says that looking back over his 40 years involved with Canadian cycling, both as a race organizer and television network operator, Hesjedal’s grand tour win — the first ever by a Canadian — is representative of the sport’s robust health in Canada. In addition to Hesjedal, the northern country boasts riders like Orica-GreenEdge’s multiple-time national TT champ Svein Tuft, Sky veteran Michael Barry and Europcar’s David Veilleux.
“Never before have we had so many riders in the pro system,” said Arsenault.
Arsenault feels that Hesjedal will be a player in Quebec both because the eyes of Canada will be on him and because he comes in fresh after abandoning the Tour de France after the “Metz Massacre.”
“Mentally it’s a tough race,” Arsenault said of Québec. “Don’t lose even ten seconds of concentration… you’re out — everything can explode at any time.
“It will be a fierce battle because Sagan wants to really win… Boasson Hagen said, ‘Hey, you had your time at the Tour de France, it’s my time now.’”
The Norwegian won the August 26 GP Ouest-France in Plouay over second-place Costa and third-place Heinrich Haussler (Garmin), both racing in Canada.
Arsenault said that while Voeckler might not be a strong as Boasson Hagen, Sagan and Hesjedal, “and he won’t hate me for saying that, but he’s smarter.
“You can be sure that Thomas Voeckler will be somewhere. They won’t see him, but he’ll be right there and waiting for that moment when he can take five or six seconds.”
Arsenault closed on Thursday with an excited warning: “You cannot win Québec and Montréal without being in great, great, great physical shape and having a great team with you. And please don’t make a mistake, because if you do, you are done!”