Despite being newcomers to the World Tour, today’s Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec and Sunday’s Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal bring exciting parcours, enthusiastic fans, and world-class contenders. Last year’s races were won by virtue of not only strength but also tactical savvy.
This year’s “Royal Canadian Weekend” comes on the heels of the US Pro Cycling Challenge, conveniently run at the high altitudes of Colorado and possibly giving some Canadian contenders the boost from a week high-altitude “training.” And while some teams appear to be bringing their development squad, such as RadioShack, Liquigas-Cannondale, Europcar, Leopard-Trek, and Movistar; others bring all-stars, such as Omega Pharma-Lotto, Rabobank, Team Sky, Garmin-Cervelo, and Katusha.
Today’s Grand Prix de Quebec is a circuit race around Quebec City’s center, running alongside the St. Lawrence River and ascending the Cote de la Montagne’s short, steep slopes up the old battlements. The old city features technical almost criterium-like corners, making it a true race of attrition and skill.
On the other hand, Sunday’s Grand Prix de Montreal offers a circuit featuring a longer climb up the Cote Camilien-Houde and a shorter Cote de la Polytechnique. The finish line is at the end of a long descent with a few corners and a 180-degree bend before the straight run-in to the finish.
By virtue of both races being relatively new—and the defending champion of Quebec (Thomas Voeckler) not returning—predicting the winners and losers is a bit difficult, but here’s our take on who to watch.
Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)
Even if he claims to be tired, who in their right mind would discount Gilbert this season? Quebec seems to be a perfect fit for Gilbert, with plenty of opportunities for attacking. While Gilbert is playing down his chances for a win, the Belgian Champion needs only 6 points to take over the World Tour’s #1 ranking from Cadel Evans—a relatively easy task given Gilbert’s track record. And if he may not be in top form, teammates Jurgen van de Walle and Jelle Vanendert appear ready to show their form in GP Montreal.
Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Cervelo)
As a hometown favorite, Hesjedal bravely fought to finish fourth in last year’s GP Montreal. Out of the two races, GP Montreal seems best suited for him: a strong attack and sustained TT to the finish won the race for Rabobank’s Robert Gesink last year. Many riders on Hesjedal’s team rode in last month’s US Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado, which means they benefit from having top form and conditioning. Look for Hesjedal to win at least of the two races.
George Hincapie (BMC)
While he might not be as much of a winner as he used to be, George Hincapie has shown that he still has staying power in harder races—as his stage win in Colorado proves. A motivated BMC team may get him into the right move in GP Quebec—whether he can finish it off is up to him.
Edvald Boasson Hagen and Simon Gerrans (Sky)
Although no longer the cheery youngster he once was, Simon Gerrans has had a promising season so far, with good performances all year long from the Aussie Road Nationals in January to the recent Clasica San Sebastian, Post Danmark Rundt, and GP Ouest France-Plouay. His teammate had the misfortune of crashing in the finale of GP Montreal last year, leaving Gesink to solo to the win and Peter Sagan unable to catch him. This year, EBH may still prove that the profile of GP Montreal really is custom-built for him.
Jerome Pineau (QuickStep)
Only a team with a star-studded cast can win Gent-Wevelgem and still be called a failure. Arguably, Quick-Step have been the season’s most unfortunate team. We look to Jerome Pineau to lift their spirits with a win in GP Montreal: his recent win in GP Jef Scherens shows he has good form and he is very motivated for a solid performance at Worlds.
The Raboboys (Rabobank)
For one reason or another, Rabobank has seen fit to show-up with Robert Gesink, Laurens Ten Dam, and Pieter Weening in attendance. Gesink is of course the defending champ of GP Montreal, and although his Tour de France was a disaster, he showed that his form in Colorado was not too bad. Rabobank has many cards to play, and it’s up to them to show that they can pick the right one at the right time.
What about you? Who do you think will impress in the Royal Canadian Weekend?