QUÉBEC (VN) – For one rider, a victory helped salvaged a disappointing season. For another, standing on the podium was little consolation. This is the difference in pro cycling , between first and third place, sometimes separated by less than one second.
In Friday in Québec, that difference was a little more than bike length, on an uphill sprint finish. Dutchman Robert Gesink (Belkin) found success in Canada once more, taking the victory at the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec.
Gesink outsprinted Arthur Vichot (FDJ.fr) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), who finished second and third, for the win. It marked the seventh time the Belgian has finished in the top-10 of a one-day race this year, without a win, though he has won stages in Utah and Wallonia, taking the overall victory at the latter.
Gesink said that the tough, hilly course suited him well, and that Belkin’s tactics worked in his favor. However, taking the sprint win came as a bit of a surprise to him.
“The steep climbs on every lap really suited me,” he said. “Everyone is tired, and normally, I can’t sprint. The guys did a good job positioning me on the last climb. With one kilometer to go, I thought I would try to attack, because in a sprint, I really didn’t think I had a chance.”
“I thought I was a climber, and here, today, I discovered I was a sprinter,” he joked. “I really didn’t think a sprint like today’s would suit me. Normally, I am not that fast, but everyone else was completely finished.”
Gesink said that Peter Sagan’s last-lap attack on the Cote de la Montagne was a “big effort,” but that he thought the Cannondale rider would still have the legs for the sprint finish. However, Sagan finished in 10th, six seconds behind Gesink.
Sagan wasn’t the only pre-race favorite found trailing behind Gesink. 2011 Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal champion Rui Costa finished fifth in the group sprint, while Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) was 12th, eight seconds behind. Chris Froome (Sky) finished 40 seconds behind, in 41st place, while Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) finished 52nd, 1:12 behind.
Gesink said that the Montréal and Québec races represent something special for him. In 2010, he won in Montréal and in 2011, was second in Québec.
However, since winning the 2012 Amgen Tour of California, Gesink has struggled. He crashed out of the Tour de France that year, injuring his ribs, and didn’t race in Québec or Montréal.
By Gesink’s own admission, 2013 has also been particularly difficult. A pre-race favorite, he pulled out of the Giro d’Italia citing health problems. Then, he was passed over as leader for the Tour de France in favor of Bauke Mollema, and ended up finishing 26th overall.
But Gesink overcame these early season difficulties. He said that his preparation for Québec and Montréal went very. After the Tour de France, he flew to North America to train at altitude in Boulder, Colorado, and raced last week’s Tour of Alberta, where he finished fifth overall.
Gesink said that he chose to come train and race in North America to prepare for the world championships because another grand tour this season would have been too much.
“The Vuelta would have been the best preparation for the worlds,” he said, “But I did a really good training camp at altitude and these two races in Québec and Montréal are really good preparation as well.”
Looking to Sunday’s race in Montréal, Gesink said that he would definitely try to go for the victory again.
“I’ve won there before,” Gesink said. “Montréal is even harder. It has even more climbing than here in Québec, and that really suits me.”
“It’s a tough race, and of course I will go for the win,” he added. “If you can win here, anything is possible.”
Van Avermaet a close third
Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) came ever so close to improving on his second-place finish last year in Québec, but had to settle for a close third.
Despite his podium finish, Van Avermaet didn’t hide his disappointment.
“It’s always a bit disappointing, I was close to winning again,” said Van Avermaet. “I was caught waiting for [Peter] Sagan in the sprint, but he was a bit tired, I guess.”
“Gesink was very strong on the last climb and did a really good sprint,” he added. “I was a bit too far in the end. So, yeah, I am disappointed. It’s not bad, but we always come here to win.”
Van Avermaet also reflected on his close second-place last year to Simon Gerrans, and his form coming into this weekend’s races.
“Last year, it was so close with [Simon] Gerrans and this year, I was feeling pretty good,” he said. “I tried to come back on the climbs and attack, but the finish was hard.”
Despite his disappointment, Van Avermaet still saw the silver lining in his performance.
“This is good confidence for the world championships, which are a big goal for me,” he said. “Racing here has been good training and preparation, and being on the podium with these guys is good for my confidence.”
Past the mid-point of the race, BMC put the peloton in a panic by placing three riders — Amaël Moinard, Steve Morabito and Tejay van Garderen — into what became a nine-rider breakaway that lasted nearly 35 kilometers. BMC assistant director Jackson Stewart said the aggressive tactics were by design.
“We didn’t want Cannondale to be able to control it,” he said. “We thought the wind would have been more of a tailwind down by the water. But it kind of ended up being in between. So it wasn’t easy to stay off the front. We did exactly as we planned. It just didn’t work out in the end.”
Later, BMC controlled the race at the front of the peloton, setting a hard tempo. When asked whether BMC’s aggressive tactics were the right strategy, Van Avermaet said that it was.
“We had a strong team here and our goal was to make the race hard and make the other teams suffer,” he said. “Everyone did their job and we were always in the breaks.”
“It worked until the last lap,” he added. “We tried to win. It was a good move.”
Despite his success in Québec two years in a row, Van Avermaet was doubtful that he would find redemption in Sunday’s race in Montréal.
“Québec is a little bit better for me, with the uphill finish and the short climbs,” he said. “I’ll try to be there [in Montréal] and get another good result and hopefully be in first place.”
He also added, jokingly, that if Montréal was better suited for Gesink, he would just stick close and “beat him on the line.”