Two weeks from now, it will be time for the Montréal and Québec ProTour events. I know I'm a little early, but I'll be away for a few vacation days so I better do it now. Feel free to bump it back to the top as the races get closer.
I'll try to give my impressions of both circuits, as well as a few photos from Montréal taken last Saturday on a cloudy morning (sorry for the grey sky).
There is now a preliminary start list; you can find it here. It's quite impressive for a first time event. Samuel Sanchez, Basso, Oss, Sagan, Casar, Dessel, Gadret, Lloyd, Ballan, Hincapie, Gesink, Chavanel, Cunego, Leenoos, Terpstra, Hesjedal, EBH, Voeckler, Fédrigo, Charteau, Jens!, Fuglsangl, Breschel...
But the ones who are stealing the show right now are RadioShack. Since they won't be at the Vuelta, they are bringing a very strong team: Leipheimer, Brajkovic, Irizar, Horner, Popovych, Machado, Zubeldia, Paulinho.
The Canadian national team will have a strong local flavor with Québec natives Rollin, Parisien, Boivin, Veilleux, Boily, Dionne, Lacombe, Langlois as well as Routley, Anderson and Britton (not all riders will do both races). Remember that cycling is not a mainstream sport here, so I think that having so many riders from the province of Québec is amazing, showing how the sport is growing.
But what about the races?
QUÉBEC: Friday September 10, 2010. 189km (15 laps). Total climbing: 2790m. Profile map here
The start / finish line is close to the Assemblée Nationale building (Québec's provincial parliament) on Grande Allée street. It then goes on the Plaines d'Abraham, a big park on the edge of a cliff. The race will pass close the the Québec Museum of Fine Arts and then down Côte Gilmour. I heard a lot about it, but I've never seen it; from what I gather it's short and steep (Google Maps seems to confirm), but anyway they are going downhill there.
After that it's a ride down Champlain Boulevard squeezed between the St-Lawrence River and the cliffs of Cap-Diamant. This area could be more exposed to the wind; normally it should be a tail wind as the dominant winds are eastbound.
Then comes the beautiful part (in race terms, and especially in scenery). A short but very steep climb up (375m, 10%-13%) Côte de la Montagne that will take the riders at first beside an amazing mural painting, then through one of Quebec's fortified doors (porte Prescott), then just beside the famous Château Frontenac. Right turn at the top on Rue des Remparts, a street that goes along the edge of the old fortifications.
The race will twist through Old Quebec with another climb (420m, 9%), going through Porte St-Jean and then... cobbles! Ok, ok, very mild and gentle cobbles. The race goes through the heart of the touristic part of Old Quebec, climbing yet again (190m, 7%) to pass along the City Hall and goes to the Château Frontenac. Then it's back on Saint-Louis street to the start line. That's a 12.6km run. The last 2km are pretty narrow and twisty; I think it could be hard for a peloton to organize a chase.
I personnally think it's a nice looking race. I know some people don't care much for circuit racing, but a 12km circuit will allow people to see the riders pass often and in a country where people don't know that much about cycling, that's good. As for racing, Côte de la Montagne will hurt, and since it's about 3.5km from the finish, I think a good attacker could try something there and manage to keep ahead in the final part. Expect some amazing sightseeing; the historic part of Québec is beautiful and the race is built for seeing a good part of it.
MONTRÉAL: Sunday September 12, 2010. 194km (16 laps). Total climbing: 3664m (229 per lap). Profile here
Montréal's biggest cycling events are all centered on one feature: Mont Royal, the 233m hill that is right next to downtown. Montée Camilien Houde goes from the bottom to the top in about 1.7km. It's an historical circuit: it was used each year in the Womens World Cup event. It was also the site of the 1974 World Championship where Merckx won his third title ahead of Poulidor and Martinez, giving him the Triple Crown as he won the Giro and the Tour that year. It was also used in the GP des Amériques 20 years ago.
The race will use the same start/finish area as the womens race on Avenue du Parc. I would have prefered a summit finish like they used to do a couple of years ago, but it's not my call. After about a hundred meters of racing or so, it's a sharp left and up the mountain on Montée Camilien Houde. Believe it or not, the city of Montreal is currently rebuilding the roads for the races. Judith Arndt will be jealous (she once talked about donating her prize to help fix the roads). In my experience, I find the bottom of the climb a little hard, the middle somewhat easier and the end is the hardest (it's also where I'll be standing). The downhill on Remembrance should be fast as it's wide and there are no dangerous turns (maybe the last one).
The race will then leave the women's usual circuit by adding one more difficulty: going through the Université de Montréal campus, climbing Chemin de la Polytechnique. I climbed it for the first time a few days ago and while it's narrow and steep (780m, 6%, a third of this at 11%), I think it's not a really hard climb, you can power through it (after 16 laps at all-out speed, it may be a different story). It's followed by two short and steep downhills to get out of the campus. Then it's a flat stretch on Édouard-Montpetit boulevard, a fast right turn on Côte-Sainte-Catherine where it's a wide slight downhill almost all the way to the last hairpin turn before the finish line. The last few hundred meters are slightly uphill.
Races on Mont-Royal are usually attrition races; a single lap is ok, but doing it 16 times will hurt a lot. A solo attack early in the race rarely wins the thing, although Emma Pooley proved otherwise last year; so did the infamous Geneviève Jeanson in 2001 in horrible weather. The repetition of climbs of Camilien-Houde eliminates sprinters from contention. Usually, it goes down to a group of favorites that gets smaller and smaller every lap with attacks on the last climb and trying to holding the chasers back through the downhill. Maybe the Polytechnique climb will change things.
Here is a photo recon of the Montréal circuit. You can find the full photo album here.
Mont-Royal in the distance. Note the Ty-Breiz restaurant on the right... A little sight from Brittany on Plouay weekend
Close to where the finish line will be (on the other side of the road). Slightly uphill.
Bottom of the Camilien Houde climb. It's steeper than the camera shows.
A long strech, it's easier around here but when the road turns left, the fun starts.
The said left turn is separated by concrete barriers. We are getting closer to the summit here, and the steepest part.
Made it to the top! This is what remains of the old finish line.
Looking back at the downhill. Wide and straight. I'm turning my back to the steepest part.
Ooooooh new pavement! Except for the climb which is still rough, most of the circuit has been resurfaced. The race is still a few weeks away, so what is missing may yet be resurfaced. Orange cones and signs have been a regular fixture in the Montréal Summer for the last few years
At the bottom of the Polytechnique climb. Much narrower but much shorter than the Camilien-Houde climb.
Looking back. It's steep, but it's really not a long climb, you can power through it.
After a fast right corner, you arrive on Côte Ste-Catherine street. New pavement again, and slightly downhill all the way. The race will be FAST here, the riders won't see much of the beautiful Outremont suburb.
Looking back at the downhill. From here, the riders will head left (which is right on this photo) and they are almost at the start / finish area. Then they will come back behind me and head to the left of this picture to the bottom of the climb
The start finish line should be around here, at the foot of the Georges Étienne Cartier monument.
Only two weeks... I'm counting the days!