A bit more that two years ago, Guillaume Boivin shocked the Canadian Cycling World, when at 20 years of age he crossed the line first at the Canadian Road Championships, making him the winner in both the Elite and U23 categories. Some called it a fluke, but Boivin stayed quiet and let his legs do the talking.
Fast forwards to yesterday where he finished third, in a first-ever tie, to share the bronze medal at the UCI U23 (under age of 23 year old) road World Cycling Championships in Melbourne, Australia.
The aggressive 159-km race was constantly on the go from start to finish. USA’s Road Champion Ben King led the race solo for more than half the race. Once King was reeled by the accelerated pace of the peloton, the lead of the race constantly changed. Most attacks were solo attempts, or 2 to 3 men, without any good size groups forming and therefore the time gaps remained tight in the final laps. During the last lap Tony Gallopin (France) constantly one of the most aggressive riders made the best attempt to go solo to the finish but was ultimately caught within the final 2km.
A mass sprint of 45 riders came to the uphill charge to the finish line. Michael Matthews of Australia emerged clearly in front to take the win and the coveted Rainbow Jersey of U23 World Champion. The Silver medal was won by John Degenkolb (Germany) with Boivin and USA’s Taylor Phinney in a dead heat tie for third. A UCI official 3rd place Bronze medal for both men, for the first time ever in the sport, with both of the timekeepers and the commissaries incapable of separating the two riders after analyzing the finish photos.
Boivin’s name did not show in any pre-race favorite list, but his DS, Steve Bauer was not surprised.
“Before the race began we knew Guillaume had a chance to win,” SpiderTech p/b PlanetEnergy DS Bauer commented from St. Catharines at 4:00 in the morning, having watched the race live on the net. Guillaume was charging hard from behind to the line to take the tie with Phinney. “I am sure he will be reviewing this last kilometer in his mind until next years Worlds.”
I caught up with Boivin who shows an interesting combination of a veteran’s self-assurance and a 21-year old’s enthusiasm earlier in September.
Fast rise. After winning the National Championship, Boivin really caught Bauer’s eye when he smoked the Planet Energy team at the Mardis Cyclistes de Lachine. Every Tuesday, the event in its 33rd year, brings together professional and amateur riders in Lachine to test themselves against each other.
On August 11, a $5000 prize was on the line for any rider able to beat the course record. Throughout the race, Planet Energy (renamed to SpiderTech p/b Planet Energy in 2010) pushed the pace but in the final sprint, Boivin, then racing for Volkswagen, pipped Martin Gilbert for the win. He still holds the unbeaten time of 58 minutes and 52 seconds for the 50 kilometers/31 laps race.
Brought onboard as a stagiaire with the Planet Energy team at the end of 2009, Boivin helped his teammate Gilbert win the final stage at the Tour of Missouri. The only domestic rider and team to take a win in the stage race.
“My first pro race and one of my teammates won the race, that gave me and I think my teammates confidence. We told ourselves even if Canadian cyclists are not that present in other countries in the pro world, we’re capable to do it too. It gave us confidence and even some motivation, we can try to win, we might not be able to win a mountain-top finish but in sprints, it gave us confidence. “ Boivin said about the win.
Boivin joined the team full-time as a pro in 2010 where he was part of the leadout train for Gilbert at the beginning of the year.
“In California, Keven [Lacombe] was sick, that was a big loss for the team, he was the final lead-out for Martin the year before. We managed to get two top 10, it wasn’t as good as we were hoping for, we were hoping for a podium. After that, in Philadelphia, I think that Martin and I were really strong, just a technical mistake on my part at the end which maybe cost us a podium, but we saw that we were in the game and that we could go for the win.”
In a trajectory to make it to the Tour de France as the first Canadian ProTour team, SpiderTech upped its racing this year, taking the team to Europe to get experience.
“In Europe, we saw that we were at the right level and that we could go for results. It’s fun because we learn from our mistakes from each race, we get better and we seem to always move forwards a little at a time every time we do big races. I think that we’re on the right track and that it’s good for Canadian cycling.”
Success in Europe. Boivin had raced in Europe before, for three years starting in 2007 from January to May, but 2010 brought new learning challenges.
“I had never done races, sprints at that level before, and contrary to what people might think, sprints are really technical, positioning, when to go, when to not go, when to take an opening. We screwed up technically a couple of times, it’s about strategy, what to do, how to get organized.” he explained.
He listened to the advice of his more-experienced teammates Gilbert and Keven Lacombe, and worked on improving his sprint technique.
“The more we’re going to do big races, the better we’re going to get technically because I really think that the races are different, the speed is different which means that positioning changes, it’s really experience and learning from your mistakes and after that analyzing your mistakes.”
But it wasn’t easy for Boivin. “It’s only the winner that basically doesn’t do any errors. Often we would tell ourselves after the race, we should have done like this or that, it’s tough on the morale to say ‘today I was feeling really good but I did a lot of mistakes’ but I think that it’s getting better.”
And then victory, or make that victories. Boivin won two stages and the sprinter’s jersey at the Mi-août en Bretagne.
“It was really fun.” smiled Boivin. “The first stage was difficult, we were a group of 20 chasing 3 guys off the front. We were attacked because we didn’t have anyone at the front, Keven and David [Boily] did the brunt of the work to reduce the gap to 15 second at the bottom of the final hill. I bridged up on the hill and won in the sprint.”
Before that, he had bested Andre Greipel (HTC-Columbia) and four other riders in the break sprint to take second at the UCI 1.1 Sparkassen Giro. “It really increased my confidence too to finish second in a 1.1 race in Germany the week before. That week was very prolific and it gave me confidence, it’s not because they have a ProTour jersey on their back that they are unbeatable.”
Proof is in the pudding. When Boivin won the Canadian Championship, there was a lot of grumbling and the word fluke was mentioned. Early on the 2009 race, a group of 9 riders broke away from the field, and a game of chicken was one (sounds familiar?), with everyone looking at the 12-rider Planet Energy squad to do the chasing. But they didn’t, the gap went up to 9 minutes and the break made it to the finish line.
The results this year shows that it was not a fluke.
“It’s true that perhaps some said it was all luck but I was determined to prove to them that it wasn’t just luck, that I had a certain talent and that I could so something on a bike. I’m happy I was able to answer those people, I didn’t say anything but just pushed harder on my pedals, I’m happy I was able to answer them ad now I don’t think that they think it was all luck.” Boivin commented.
As for the future, Boivin replied with a smile, “I wouldn’t say no about racing against the big sprinters.” when asked if he wanted to go head to head against Mark Cavendish.
“My goal is to get to the top level and to race regularly at the ProTour level. Ideally in three years, in a ProTour team, be it with Steve or another team. I like hard races that finish in a sprint, maybe the Classics.”
Boivin signed for the next two years with the SpiderTech team which is currently registering for a UCI Professional Continental status for the 2011 season.
Follow Boivin on twitter at @GuillaumeBoivin