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handicapping the GP Montreal, the "new-old" race

I'm writing this post way too early, but I wanted to make some fragmentary jottings about the upcoming Montreal Pro Tour race.  First thing I want to say is this: this race both is and isn't new.  It's new because, well duh, it's new.  It isn't new because it will be run on the exact same course as the old Grand Prix des Amériques (source), a world cup race held in Montreal between 1988 and 1992.

So, what can the old version of this race teach us about the new one?  Let's look at the podiums from the GP des Amériques (speaking of which, couldn't the organizers come up with better names than "GP de Québec" and "de Montréal"? GP des Amériques was such a dope name):

 

 

Anno Vincitore Secondo Terzo
1988 Bandiera del Canada Steve Bauer Bandiera dell'Italia Massimo Ghirotto Bandiera della Francia Gilles Delion
1989 Bandiera della Svizzera Jorg Muller Bandiera della Francia Yvon Madiot Bandiera della Francia Charly Mottet
1990 Bandiera dell'Italia Franco Ballerini Bandiera della Svizzera Thomas Wegmüller Bandiera del Belgio Sammie Moreels
1991 Bandiera del Belgio Erik Van Lancker Bandiera dei Paesi Bassi Steven Rooks Bandiera dell'Irlanda Martin Earley
1992 Bandiera della Spagna Federico Echavi Mustadi Bandiera dell'Italia Davide Cassani Bandiera della Francia Luc Leblanc

(Source: Italian wikipedia entry, which, like the French and Dutch entries but unlike the English, lists all the podium finishers.)  If anything, this list tells us that absolutely anyone can win this race.  Bauer was a real all-rounder, whose best win was probably the Züri-Metzgete (the greatest race that no longer exists? or that recently ceased to exist? More on this race in a bit), and who was 2nd in the closest Paris-Roubaix ever.  Speaking of Paris-Roubaix, Ballerini (may he RIP) was a 2x winner and a real cobbled classics guy.  Meanwhile, Echave (or Echavi or whatever) won on Alpe d'Huez, while van Lancker won both LBL and the Amstel Gold Race.  In other words, the list of winners is all over the place, and that's not even taking into account the 2nds and 3rds!

This seems to be par for the course for circuit races.  Chris... recently pointed out something very similar in his GP Ouest-France post (link), where he wrote about "amusingly mismatched podiums like this:

  • 2007: Voeckler -- Hushovd -- DiLuca
  • 2006: Nibali -- Flecha -- Mori
  • 2005: Hincapie -- Usau -- Rebellin"

Similar deal with the last 2 editions - Gerrans last year, Goss today?  Strange, even if the podiums of the last two races weren't quite so mismatched.  One could think about the Züri-Metzgete in the same way: another circuit race (with longer circuits, but still) with a bizarre list of winners (2 of the last 3 winners were Samuel Sanchez and Flecha).

So what is it about circuit races that makes them so weird?  Here's a clip of a news report from the 2008 edition of the GP Ouest-France, in which the great Thomas Voeckler (yeah I said great) refers to the race as a "puzzle" for the riders, and when asked why, says "it's above all the accumulation" of the climbs: no single climb is particularly difficult, but they become difficult when you have to climb them 20 times or whatever.  As many people here have noted, the same thing goes for the Montreal race (and the Quebec race too from what I understand): the main climb isn't really very difficult by pro standards (not too long, not too steep, easy approach), but how do you approach it?  Do you attack early and try to stay away?  But the climb's not really difficult enough to break up the peloton, so they'll probably reel you back in.  Attack late with a small group, go flat out on the climb with a small group of rouleurs and hope to say away until the end?  This might work (Gerrans or Fedrigo in GP Ouest-France 09 and 08), or it might not (Goss in the same race this year).  Unlike a point-to-point race, there's no single climb or stretch of road on which the winning attack is likely to come.

So how do you handicap this race?  Well, let's remember that people will show up with different levels of motivation - this isn't a hugely important race, and "i big" will be looking ahead to the world championships.  It might simply be the guy with the highest level of motivation who has the best chance.  Ant1, if I remember right, picked Dominique Rollin to win both the Quebec and Montreal races, and I have to say, this pick looks pretty good to me.  His team will be comparatively weak, but if he can get in the right break, why not?  He's a rouleur with not a great but a pretty damn good sprint, and enough of a power climber not to get dropped on the Mont-Royal if he really sets his mind to it, though the slightly uphill finish doesn't really seem to suit him.  If I had to bet, I'd likely go with a more established rider, like Vinokourov, Voeckler, or Fedrigo, but who knows?  Maybe the most motivated guy will win the day.

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