The second act of the Canadian WorldTour races sees Wout van Aert, Tadej Pogačar, Michael Matthews, Peter Sagan, Biniam Girmay and Alberto Bettiol battle it out at the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal on Sunday.
This is their last showdown before this year’s Road World Championships in Australia and the hilly race at the Montreal circuit should give a real indication of their rainbow jersey hopes and the strengths and weaknesses of each. runner before the battle for the world title on Sunday, September 25.
The many European runners who traveled to Canada for the two races were transferred from foggy Quebec to Montreal by bus on Saturday morning. They quickly got on their bikes to stretch their legs and take a look at the hilly 12.2 km circuit around Mount Royal Park that gives the city its name.
On Friday, Benoit Cosnefroy (AG2R-Citroën) surprised everyone with a late solo attack and a superb effort to win the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec. The biggest names all had to fight for the podium places and regret missing out on victory.
While the Quebec race is suitable for aggressive fighters like Cosnefroy or fast-finishing classic riders like Matthews, the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal is more like an Ardennes classic and should therefore produce races that are more open and much earlier.
The 221.4 km race distance includes 4842 meters of elevation, almost 2000 meters more than the Quebec race. The 12.2 km circuit has a considerable cycling heritage. It saw Eddy Merckx and Geneviève Gambillon win historic rainbow jerseys at the 1974 World Championships and two years later Bernt Johansson beat Giuseppe Martinelli at the Olympics. There was no women’s race, while the Soviet Union won the 100 km team time trial. Montreal has bid to host the 2026 Road World Championships in hopes of celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 1976 Olympics.
The 12.2 km circuit around Mount Royal Park includes three climbs and a short kick to the finish line, for a total of 263 m each lap.
The runners climb 1.8km at 8% to the top of the Côte Camillien-Houde in the center of the park, then descend into the streets of the city before climbing the Côte de Polytechnique (780m at 6%, including a portion of 11%) .
There’s an 800-meter kick-up on Boulevard Mont Royal three kilometers from the finish and a quick descent and a U-turn on the uphill finish straight on Avenue du Parc.
An aggressive ending
When the race was last held in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic, Greg van Avermaet won the sprint to the line but only after 30km of aggressive running and a series of attacks.
Dan Martin kicked off, Nans Peters was also aggressive and they were joined by Michael Woods and Enric Mas before Mitchelton-Scott chased them down. Cosnefroy attacked with Tim Wellens on the last lap but Peter Sagan then Julian Alaphilippe fell on Cosnefroy. However Alaphilippe marked his French rival, allowing a small group to join them and Van Avermaet to sprint to victory.
The 2019 Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal remains the last victory for the Belgian veteran. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a two-year hiatus for Canadian racing and has also seen a new, younger generation of runners emerge. Van Aert finished 13th in Quebec on Friday, the same time as all the top chasers, and could therefore be a contender on Sunday but he will have to respond to the attacks.
Pogačar was caught out of position in the final kilometers in Quebec, but he is looking for revenge and knows the hillier Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal suits him much better.
“The Grand Prix de Québec has too little elevation for me, but on Sunday in Montreal we will have more meters of elevation to manage. It should suit me better, it’s similar to what awaits me in Wollongong at the World Championships and it’s an important test for everyone in Canada,” said Pogačar.
Van Aert was disappointed to miss out on the win in Quebec and clearly wants a win to lift his spirits before heading to Australia for the World Championships.
“I think it’s a tougher race. There will probably be more guys like Pogačar and Bardet and Gaudu. Real climbers will get closer to victory there,” he predicted, his incredible skills making him a sprinter, a fighter and a climber.