Rabobank’s Robert Gesink put in a blistering attack the final time up Camilien Houde, the first climb in the 12.6 km lap and was able to hold off a determined chase to win the Grand Prix Cycliste Montreal, his first ever win at a ProTour one-day race. Four seconds later, Peter Sagan (Liquigas) won the sprint for second place ahead of Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions).
“The whole last lap you doubt if it’s enough to make it to the finish. But it’s not good to think about that, you try to give it the best you got and try to make it to the finish first. The last corner [u-turn on Park Avenue], standing still and to speed up again from zero uphill, it was really painful seeing the guys coming from the back but it was just enough.” Gesink said.
He added. “My first victory in a ProTour one-day race, it’s really special.”
Was it good enough for Hesjedal? Were the fourth-place finish at the Quebec race and third in Montreal good enough for the Canadian?
“It was more than good. ” Hesjedal replied. “It was a big learning experience for me these past races to have the honor of the number 1 bib. What can I say? I did the best that I could, Robert was amazing, congrats to him. My team was amazing, I think we took control of the race to honor the number 1 bib. They left it all out there. Congrats to Peter, I didn’t have the pleasure of being in Paris-Nice to see his coming out party. He’s a great rider and obviously he showed that today.”
Attack and sleep. The race followed the same scenario as the Quebec race. Flurry of attacks until the early break is formed and then the peloton enjoys a seemingly leisurely ride until it’s time to reel them back. Again, it was a rider from Team Canada that made the first attack, but Keven Lacombe was quickly reeled in. Escaping the first time up Camilien Houde, Gorka Izagirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Maarten Tjallingii (Rabobank) were joined by Alfredo Balloni (Lampre-Farnese), Angel Madrazo (Caisse d’Epargne) and birthday boy Kevin Seeldraeyers (Quick Step). Balloni crashed in the second lap, leaving the four in the lead, with Adam Hansen (HTC-Columbia) caught in no-man’s land, chasing solo for a couple of laps before dropping back to the field.
With no riders in the break, Team Sky and Radioshack put riders at the front to control the gap, holding it at around 2 minutes, sometimes all the way up to 3. Behind them, riders from BMC, Liquigas, Lampre and Garmin-Transitions ready to pounce if anything happened. And it stayed that way, as the break and the field navigated lap after lap on the 12.6 km Montreal course, up Camilien Houde, down Cote des Neiges, up the steep Polytechnique, down cote Ste-Catherine to Park Avenue and its u-turn.
It was all quiet with everyone expecting the hostilities to start again in the final two laps. But Radioshack had other ideas.
“With five laps to go, the finale really started. All day we were in a good position with my teammate Maarten Tjallingii at the front. That was perfect position for the team so we didn’t have to work in the peloton to close the gap to the first group.” Gesink explained.
With five laps to go, Radioshack’s Chris Horner and Tiago Machado put in a brutal attack and were quickly joined by Daniel Oss (Liquigas), Franco Gavazzi (Lampre) and Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo Bank). The gap grew quickly under the surprise attack and the 5 men chased down and passed the original break a lap later.
Behind them, teams organized themselves to chase down the dangerous attack. Garmin-Transitions put in three riders and the pace exploded, and so did the field with gaps opening up when riders could not stay on the wheels in front of them.
“Everyone was still in the mode of bringing the break back, bringing the break back. I think it’s a really good move because a lot of the hitters are just in the lull of waiting and waiting. When you catch them off guard like that, you get a really good gap right away on a climb like that, and a guy like Horner you can’t give him any room, he’s going to ride away from everyone. I think it was a good call because sometimes on a race like this, if you wait until the very end, you have a guy like Edvald Boasson Hagen there, it’s hard to beat a guy like that, I think it was a good call.” Svein Tuft (Garmin-Transitions) said.
Hesjedal wasn’t really surprised. “I was confident in the team the way they were riding. I wouldn’t say I was conservative today but it was my game plan to stick with the strongest guys. I was never concerned, my team was so amazing and they set me up for good ride.”
“A good strong group in front and Tjallingii was dropped and then we really had to work hard, the team did and we worked hard with Ryder’s wait. I had to wait and wait and wait until the last lap, I felt good. It’s difficult to wait, but I waited.” Gesink said.
And wait he did, and so did Hesjedal. While their teammates were chasing down the Horner-led break and shedding riders behind them, Hesjedal, Gesink, Boasson-Hagen, Sagan and other contenders waited.
Finale. A few riders bridged up to the break, but the end was in sight for them and the lead group of about 40 riders was back together when they heard the bell signaling one to go. Gesink launched, on a counter-attack following a Levi Leipheimer (Radioshack) move, and powered away from the contenders.
He had identified the climb as the perfect spot. “It was obvious that I had to wait until the last lap to do something like this. The climb was perfect because it’s steep at the beginning, then less steep and the end is steep again. It was obvious that I had to attack there.”
It was a battle between the solo rider and a 6-man chase group with Hesjedal, Sagan, Boasson Hagen, Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Mauro Santambrogio (BMC), Haimar Zubeldia (Radioshack) and Maxime Monfort (HTC-Columbia).
“The level of the guys that were left at that point nothing but the top of professional cycling. I was confident that there was so much road still, the majority should have been a good bet but Robert rode really well. ” Hesjedal explained. “I definitely had to earn it, the guys were looking at me.”
Why couldn’t a chase group of such strong riders be able to catch a lone rider with a slim 8-second lead? What helped his cause was the game of cat and mouse in the chase group with some not willing to expand all energies to bring him back and to bring strong sprinter Boasson Hagen to the line.
“Robert was already too far ahead by the time I could make my sprint. There were four or five in my group but I think it was pretty obvious that Robert had already won the race.” Sagan said.
So Gesink stayed away and took the win. “Tough struggle to the finish but I made it, I’m really happy.” he said.
Best Canadian. With his third-place finish, Hesjedal was once again top Canadian, and once again, chants of Ryder, Ryder, Ryder were heard around the course.
The 29-year old was obviously happy after the race. “In the big picture, it’s really life changing to come here after the season I’ve had. To have my family here, my fiancee, the fans, it’s just amazing. I’m looking forwards to taking this experience home.”
What an amazing year.”It’s been the best year of my career. I started early on in March in Spain, I was top 5, top 10 racing at Catalunya, Pais Vasco. Second at Amstel was a huge breakthrough, top 10 in the Ardennes, my Tour de France was amazing. It’s really been a great year, sixth in San Sebastian and then come here and get top in both these races and podium here. I’m just concerned about doing it again next year.” Hesjedal concluded.
Top 10 Results (Complete Results)
1. Robert Gesink (Rabobank)
2. Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Doimo)
3. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions)
4. Zubeldia Agirre Haimar (Radioshack)
5. Maxime Monfort (HTC-Columbia)
6. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
7. Leonardo Duque (Cofidis)
8. Alexander Botchardo (Katusha)
9. Francesco Gavazzi (Lampre-Farnese)
10. Alessandro Ballan (BMC Racing)