Better late than never as the first race is tomorrow, but it is that time of the year again, the time where Canada takes a break from hockey training camps rumors (or lockout rumours this year) and talks about cycling for a couple of days.
Now in their third edition (and confirmed for at least afew more years), the two Canadian events have proven their worth, leading to entertaining racing and a credible winner list.
The original plan was to switch Québec & Montréal every few years, but that plan has been shelved and Québec will stay on Friday and Montréal on Sunday. And next year, both events will have a cyclosportive.
So, what to expect in 2012?
First of all, an impressive startlist for Québec and Montréal. Some well known names:
Ryder Hesjedal, Peter Sagan, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Geraint Thomas, Janez Brajkovic, Maxim Iglinsky, Thomas Voeckler, Simon Gerrans, Michael Albasini, Matt Goss, Rui Costa, Giovanni Visconti, Pierrick Fedrigo, Sylvain Chavanel, Luis Leon Sanchez, Steven Kruijswijk, Greg Van Avarmaet, Mikel Nieve, Dan Martin, Heinrich Haussler.
All these riders for a 3rd edition? Wow.
Local riders from the province of Québec:
David Veilleux (Europcar), Guillaume Boivin, Martin Gilbert, Hugo Houle, François Parisien (SpiderTech), Antoine Duchesne, Bruno Langlois, Remi Pelletier-Roy, Charly Vives (Canadian National Team, but only in Québec)
Sidenote: We saw the return of the sprint challenge today. One rider from each team (plus a few local riders) face-off in small heats of a 1km circuit. 1-2 goes next round. Last year Morkov won the thing. This year Zach Bell of SpiderTech won, beating Rémi Pelletier-Roy and Matt Goss.
In 2010, Voeckler won alone with an attack in the final lap. In 2011, Gilbert won alone with an attack on the final lap. Will a french speaking rider win solo with an attack in the final lap this year? I don't know about the french speaking part, but since the course is identical to last year, it could very well be a solo victory, especially considering Sagan and EBH are there and no one will want to have a sprint.
I walked a good part of the course last year while watching the race, so I have a more insight now. It starts once again just beside the Assemblée Nationale building, which is the parliament of the Province of Québec (where we had elections last Tuesday by the way, but it seems all the horrible candidates advertising boards are already removed).
The road then goes near the Citadelle (fun fact: there is a goat at the Citadel, but it is the mascot of The Royal 22ème Régiment of the Canadian Army, so it's protected against becco-killers) and then through the park on the Plaines d'Abraham (site of some big battle and where some artist or another gave a show). After that it's a steep downhill down Côte Gilmour. Historical note: Côte Gilmour is very close to where the troops of General Wolfe climbed before the battle of in 1760, which marks the end of Nouvelle-France.
At the very end of the downhill, there is a sharp left turn and the race goes along St-Lawrence River. Not much to see there, except if the wind decides to play tricks.
Then the fun part begins at km 9. Up Côte de la Montagne (great crowds), a steep wall of 375m at 10%. The race goes past the Château Frontenac (who got a shiny new copper roof this year) who may be the best hotel in the province and is where the riders will be lodged (lucky them) and in the later laps, you see a lot of riders abandoning up the hill and getting into the hotel.
I'm afraid I don't know that much about the part between km 9.5 and 10.5. Never been there; but at km 10 there is Côte des Glacis, 420m at 9%. If I make the trip to Québec tomorrow, this is a place I want to see. After that it's Rue St-Jean, a busy tourist street with cobbles (nice friendly cobbles, not the evil Roubaix cobbles). The last km is a long false-flat at 4% on the narrow Saint-Louis street, and after you pass through the gate, you get back on Grande-Allée to the start/finish area.
As a Montrealer it pains me to say that, but Québec has the most entertaining circuit. Montréal is harder, but Québec provides more action (and prettier sights).
The Montréal circuit is a classic. It was used in a World Champ, it was used in the Grand Prix des Amériques, it was used in the Womens World Cup... It's a long attrition war of close to 3900 meters of climbing on Mont-Royal. Set in the heart of the island of Montréal, it's easily accessible. While the sights are not as beautiful as Québec (most of the race is in a park), aerial shots will show you Mont-Royal is right next to downtown.
The race starts on Avenue du Parc, a major commercial street that goes through trendy neighborhoods such as le Plateau Mont-Royal or the Mile End. But the race won't go that far as it turns left up Camilien-Houde street. It's a 1.8km climb with an 8% average. It starts with a nasty little steep wall in a right hand curve. After that it's a long straight false flat, followed by the toughest section. The beginning of that section is marked by a little concrete wall separating the traffic lanes in a left turn. This is probably where I'll be; look for \o/ chalk signs on the road. It keeps on climbing pass the belvédère and finally goes between two cliffs before the summit. When the womens WC ended at the top of Mont-Royal, the race was almost always decided near the belvedere.
After the top is a long downhill on Remembrance Avenue. The race then twists through a few residential streets and then goes on the campus of Montréal University, up Polytechnique Hill. 780m at 6%, with 200m at 11%. It's not that hard on a single pass, even for a mediocre climber such as I am, but after Camilien-Houde and after 17 laps, it will hurt.
Then it is downhill of flat almost to the finish line, with the exception of the last 500m who are at 4%.
Two years ago, Gesink attacked in the last lap and won solo. Last year, Costa did the same, with a small group very close.
My favorites? It's not easy to tell as many top riders took a break from racing and are only coming back now to build for the worlds. How is their form? The course in Québec is somewhat easier and more open; Montréal is a race of attrition and stronger climbers fare better.
But obviously, Peter Sagan. EBH is also a big favorite. Hesjedal will want to do well, even if the course is not perfectly suited to him.
Dark horse prediction? David Veilleux.
(both pictures from me, taken in 2011)