“First impressions, it’s humid.” Thomas Voeckler (Bbox Bouygues) replied with a smile. It’s been raining almost non-stop since the riders arrived in Quebec City on Tuesday afternoon for the Grand Prix Cycliste du Quebec. Hurricane Earl is still being felt in La Belle Province.
Voeckler along with Levi Leipheimer (Radioshack), Sammy Sanchez (Euskatel-Euskadi) and Ivan Basso (Liquigas Doimo) participated in a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
“We were able to do two hours on the bike without rain, then after well we got wet.” The Frenchman admitted that the weather wasn’t any better in Europe.
The race is of prime importance for Olympic Champion Sanchez who hopes for good weather. “It’s a tough circuit. For me, it’s a very important test because I will make my decision of going or not to the World Championship based on my form this weekend.”
Weather is always a topic of conversation amongst cyclists, and so it was at the press conference. The predictions do call for clearing up by Friday afternoon, but if the downpour continues it certainly will impact the end of the season race.
“I was talking to my teammates about that today. If you stay motivated, if you feel good, strong in you head then it should be fairly easy to get a good result.” Leipheimer said. “It’s the end of the season, this weather is a big change for a lot of us, we haven’t seen this weather since spring time, like Paris-Nice or races like that. In bad weather you can take away at least half of the riders, they just don’t want to be here.”
Basso agreed. “We have to keep the morale up and don’t think about the weather. At the Giro d’Italia, I had 13 days of rain so I had a good training.” After a smile, he added. “Normally Friday is not so bad.”
“In the end, it will be a tough guy that will win. The weather conditions will play a big role. Whatever happens, it’s going to be a good show because there are the 20 best teams in the world, and there are not a many races that can bring such a level.” Voeckler added.
Team plan. With the team not racing at the Vuelta d’Espagna, Radioshack brought a strong squad to the two ProTour races. “Any of our guys can go into breakaways or go in moves, and we have to be confident about however that is. Anyone from Haimar [Zubeldia], Yaroslav [Popovych], Sergio [Paulinho], guys that are very smart tactically, they’re good one-day riders, punchy. I think Friday in particular is going to be a course for someone who has that punch, very good in the move tactically, it’s going to be a technical circuit. I think we’re going to play our numbers because we have a very strong deep squad here.” Leipheimer said.
Leipheimer has raced in Quebec and Montreal before, once of the few non-Canadians to have knowledge of the courses. “It’s been eleven years since I’ve been here. I have good memories from the Tour de Beauce which I did three years.” He raced in Beauce from 97 to 99, winning those last two editions while on Saturn Cycling Team.
The American also raced at the Trans-Canada Tour. “Which was a great race, too bad it didn’t continue. We did that circuit a version of Friday’s circuit was the first stage that year and I remember it being pretty tough. We also did the Mount Royal circuit that year and that was even tougher, I’m looking forwards to that Sunday at well.”
It’s been a long season for all, including the Giro d’Italia winner. “The form at the moment in not one hundred percent good but that is normal after Giro and the Tour de France and a race in Italy.” Basso identified his teammates Peter Sagan and Daniel Oss as prime candidates for the win. “They feel very good and we’ll try our very best.”
Typically one-day races are point-to-point but the two Grand Prix are circuit races. Basso mused that a circuit race, with 15 laps around a tough 12.6-km course with its 3 climbs, tight turns and narrow roads only makes it tougher. “I think it’s more difficult in a circuit because you are all the time on the climb, it’s not easy to catch the break if the break is bigger. I think the strategy of the team it’s important to never use all the guys to close one big break. You have to be all the time in the front and arrive in the finale with 2 or 3 guys in good shape, full of energy for the last hour of the race.”
“The scenario, I think it will be the same in all the team meetings.” Voeckler explained. “There will be an early breakaway not dangerous and then the big international teams will organize themselves to clean up by the end.”
The plan for Bbox is pretty simple. “We’re not the strongest, we’re going to try to take advantage of the work of the other teams. Because we don’t have the resources to take control of the race. We have a team at the Vuelta, we have another team doing races in France. We were invited to Canada, we really want to do well since we are not a ProTour team and we want to honor our selection.” The team found out about its selection at the Tour de France this year.
The team brought six of the nine riders from the Tour de France squad with a goal of a top 10 result for the team at each race. “The rider with the best chances is Cyril Gauthier, he’s got good legs right now. I had two difficult weeks in August, that wasn’t that long ago, it’s tough to recover from that.”
Sanchez laughed when Gord Fraser who traded the DS wheel for a microphone, asked if he was getting any text messages from his teammates at the Vuelta saying hey we have a few stage wins and a jersey, can you guys beat that? Fraser will be commentating on SportsNet ONE.
Sanchez then replied, “Yes, he hope to send some to them next week saying I won too.”
Known for his descending skills, I asked Sanchez what he thought of the tricky descent here in Quebec. Before the question could be completely translated to Spanish, Leipheimer pipped in “Don’t add fuel to the fire.”
Sanchez’ answer? A smile and “no I only saw the climbs.”