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Québec Promises a Punch

September 8, 2011

Grand Prix Cycliste Québec Montréal 2011 logo

The Québec and Montréal one-day races pack a welcome punch of energy after a summer of stage racing. The different tactics at work in a one day race, when it’s all or nothing, rouse attention. But the knock-out punch comes from the hill climbing each course delivers. Here’s what a couple of the competitors said about the hills during the September 7th press conference in Québec:

Samuel Sanchez, “You need to conserve energy in first few laps. We could have the same scenario as 2010, solo finishers.”

Philippe Gilbert, “We climbed the (Québec) hill once this morning. Climbing it every 12 km will hurt.”

Philippe Gilbert (Grand Prix Cycliste Facebook page)

And yet the Québec race offers less climbing than the Montréal race. Québec’s hills – except the 4% 1 k ascent to the finish line — rise steeply but for short distances, from about 200 – 400 meters each with 10%, 13%, 9% and 7% grades; all of those mini-ascents occur in the last 3.6 k of the lap. The Montréal climbs – three if you include the final 0.5 k of 4% —  run longer overall with more separation between them.

Grand Prix Cycliste Québec 2011 course

The Québec course additionally challenges riders and teams tactically because of the narrow streets on the uphill portion and the sections leading up to and including the downhill. Kevin Field, SpiderTech’s assistant directeur sportif, said, “You simply don’t have any opportunity to move up until after the technical sections through the Plains of Abraham and the descent of Côte Gilmour back down to the Boulevard Champlain. Then once you’re there, you are almost on the climb again. It can be very tough, without a lot of recovery. A smart and strong rider can use this to his advantage.” The Plains of Abraham occur in the south-western section of the Parc des Champs-de-Bataille on the course map.

The Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec course covers 201.6 k, one lap more than last year’s course. Total climbing is 9,764 feet, 610 feet for each of sixteen laps. The final run to the finish looks pretty straight for about 0.9 k and is uphill at 4%.

Montréal, with 12,770 feet climbed, presents as more a climber’s race than Québec, which seems to suit a strong all-rounder. On balance the repeated punchy Québec hills exclude a sprinter, even a sprinter who can climb like Liguigas Cannondale’s Viviani, from the favorites.  A look at the top ten from last year’s race blunts that last sentence: Cofidis’ Leonardo Duque placed 7th at Québec and 15th at Montréal; well, he’s Colombian. Edvald Boasson Hagen, who’s not Colombian and rides in this year’s edition, flew just one second behind the winning Voeckler in Québec last year.

In the September 7th press conference Gilbert named Simon Gerrans (SKY) as a favorite. Only a few hours later Gerrans tweeted, “fighting a losing battle with jet-lag..”

But I’m not going there. Not this time. No 1-2-3 predictions. But if I were forced to divulge my favorite,  I’d name Ryder Hesjedal.

Ryder Hesjedal at 2011 TDF, L'Alpe d'Huez (La Presse Canadienne /AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

First, he’s extremely motivated. Last year with a sinus infection he finished one second behind Voeckler. And he’s got seven teammates ready to support him. We have seen Garmin-Cervélo dedicate the team to one of their guys many times, most recently in Colorado when they rode for Vande Velde and nearly brought Summerhill to a third place on the Denver stage. Boassan Hagen should be in the mix, as well as Clement, Hincapie, Steensen, Rolland or Veilleux, perhaps Fedrigo, one of the SpiderTech boys, and Van Garderen. Leipheimer’s performance is a hard one to predict: he could be tired from his recent wins or motivated to continue his winning streak.

Will Gilbert be strong? Of course. But he’s going to another team next year. And the Garmin guys will kill themselves for Ryder.

[For Part 1 of the Grand Prix Cycliste stories, see Bonjour à Grand Prix Cycliste 2011.]

[For a VeloNews piece on the Grand Prix Cycliste stories, click here.]

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