This past weekend, the Fiera Race Team had a strong contingent out to watch the inaugural Le Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal. This race, along with the one that was held two days earlier in Quebec City, are the only two races on the UCI calendar hosted in North America, making this event very special.
The festivities started around 11 am, with the introduction of the teams and the official sign-in. While this event was generally very well organized, I think the folks in Montreal could learn a thing or two from the Tour de France organizers, where everything is geared towards the spectators. Here, the main stage was directed away from the crowd and towards the media and VIP tent (!!), so it was pretty tough to see anything except the head of the dude standing in front of you. Thankfully, there was some giant TV screens for us to watch…
The racers started to stage at the start line around noon, giving the spectators a good opportunity to gawk and take pictures, and a chance for the racers to check each other out and to compare notes on the best place to get a coffee and bagel in Montreal.
At 12:15 pm, the riders were off and they began their first of 15 climbs up Côte Camillien-Houde to the top of Mount Royal, before descending down Côte de Neiges. The climbing wasn’t quite done, as riders needed to also climb the short but steep Côte de Polytechnique towards the University of Montreal, before speeding back to the start-finish along Avenue du Parc. A mere 17 minutes later, the lead group of five riders, quickly followed by the peloton, raced through the start/finish, and we began to strategize about where we should set-up to watch the race unfold.
We decided to walk over and camp out on the Côte Camillien-Houde to watch the suffering and the attacks. We were also looking for a good place to put our artistic street chalk skilz to work…
A spectacular crash in the second lap sent Alfredo Balloni (Lampre) out of the breakaway and into the ditch, which left 4 riders out-front for the next 10 laps. It wasn’t until the 12 lap, when a group of 5 riders, including Radioshack’s Chris Horner, attacked the peloton and bridged up to the front group. The now group of 9 didn’t last long as Horner with another Shack rider pushed the pace, and only three others were able to keep up (Anker Sorensen (Saxo), Daniel Oss (Liquigas) and Francesco Gavazzi (Liquigas)). It is at this point that the race started to get interesting, with the pace quickening…
… and it was at this point that the broom wagon started to get busy. Riders got swept up left, right, and centre. In all, 75 riders DNF’d this race, which speaks to the difficulty of this course.
On the 14th lap, Hesjedal attacked on the Côte Camillien-Houde, but was followed by a Rabobank rider (probably Gesink), and while the peloton got strung way out, it came back together with Garmin and Rabobank taking charge of the pace setting.
The penultimate lap began with the 5 leaders still off the front, but it didn’t last. The whole peloton was together as the riders hit the bottom of the Côte Camillien Houde for the 16th and final time. Then the attacks fly. Leipheimer (Radioshack) gives it a go, and then Gesink makes his move. He quickly put about 10 seconds into the peloton and Ryder moved to the front to start the chase.
Gesink’s face flashes up on the big screen… it is scarlet and he displays an open-mouth grimace that is completely off-the-scale. A select group of 6 has him in their sights… which includes Ryder, Sammy Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Boasson Hagen (Sky), and Peter Sagan (Liquigas).
In the end though, Gesink managed to hold them all off with 4 seconds to spare. Ryder Hesjedal set himself up nicely for second place, but the young Peter Sagan managed to edge him out in the sprint for the finish. All in all, a pretty good finish for the Canadian riders, and a fantastic race that is sure to become a classic! You can find a copy of the official race results here.
With their strong finishes in the Quebec City and Montreal races, Gesink (who was 3rd in Quebec City) and Ryder (who was 4th in Quebec City) both moved up in the ICU overall world ranking. Gesink moved from 11th to 4th overall in the points classification; and Hesjedal moved up from 12th to 6th overall.
You can watch the last lap of the race here, en francias: