A virtual target on his back didn’t stop Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma Lotto) from winning a very tough Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec this afternoon. After breaking away from the field with two laps to go, Gilbert found himself in a select 11 rider break. But not liking the fact that some were not cooperating, the Belgian National Champion attacked again only to be reeled in but his move stretched out the gap to the shattered field behind. The ultimate victory was to be fought by the riders in the break.
With two kilometers to go, Gilbert launched multiple attacks and no one could cover the last one even a very strong Robert Gesink (Rabobank) who was chasing behind. Gilbert was able to sit up in the final meters to enjoy his victory in front of a loud crowd. Three seconds later, Gesink crossed the line to take second place with Rigoberto Uran (Sky) taking third.
The race followed the same scenario as last year. An early break was off with the field happily enjoying the sunshine behind. At the front, Jesus Herrada (Movistar), Cristiano Salerno (Liquigas-Cannondale).and Tony Hurel (Europcar) built up their lead which went over the six-minute mark. By the third lap, the Sky Team was at the front of the field, setting a fast pace to control the gap and keep it at around the four minute mark.
Nothing really changed until the trio was caught with four laps to go. It was game on. Garmin-Cervelo took the front for one lap and then Rabobank detonated the field. Gilbert was waiting and pounced at the right time.
Finishing 14th, Mike Barry (Sky) was the Top Canadian at the race.
Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma Lotto). “It was a very diffcult course, very taxing. The Sky team forced the pace from the start, they were going extremely fast especially on the rolling section along the rider. We were going upwards of 60 kmh every lap, so if you were past the 30th spot, it was very difficult. It was a very fast finale, the last two laps everyone was very tired. Finally, w were able to escape on the last lap with that group of 10, 11 riders. I tried on the final climb, very steep KOM climb and I help until the finish. It was hard to stay away from those just behind. Gesink was very focused on chasing me back. With 700 meters to go, I rested a bit, at 500 meters I accelerated again and I was able to re-start. In the final 100 meters, I was able to enjoy it and sit up, it was such a magnificent moment.”
Does it compare to any other victories? “None that I can think of. This victory is different because it was the first time that I didn’t have a team to help me, we had a very weak team today, I was stressed throughout the race because I was often alone, especially in the finale. Those are situations that I’m not used to anymore. Through the year, I had teammates with me until almost the finish. Like I was saying a few days ago, I am used to do the last kilometer, the last five kilometers alone but here I was really alone and that was difficult. As a favorite, everyone was looking at me and I couldn’t do anything. When you’re alone and you pull, you’re done. We saw Hesjedal was a bit in the same situation, he tried to control and he wasn’t in the finale because of that. If I had done the same thing as he did, I would cross out the final victory and that wasn’t the goal.”
About his first attack in the final lap. “When we escaped at the start of the breakaway, there were eight riders and Leipheimer and another rider bridged up. The cooperation was not good, the Liquigas rider did not want to cooperate, he was playing poker. With one or two riders not cooperating, I told myself, if you ride with guys like that, we won’t be able to get a gap so I decided to attack. My goal was to make it hard and increase the gap with the field behind. So I went, I thought I would go with two or three other riders but I went alone and it allowed us to increase the gap with the group behind. Then all or us were racing for the victory, one of us could win and it re-motivated everyone and everyone cooperated a lot more.”
Robert Gesink (Rabobank). “After the Tour, I was focused on doing a good end of the season. This is the start of the end of the season I think, I’m happy to be in great shape here, I think I’m ever better than last year. Last year, I could only try to follow the guys on the steep climb, today I could even make the race I think. I’m happy with the results. Of course in the end, I was, when I crossed the finish I wasn’t really happy, sorry for the things I said at first (laughs) but yeah I got really close. It was a nice race I think. In the beginning the race was a little bit too slow if you ask me because the breakaway was only three guys, that’s why I think before the finish we started, I think we started early and then from then the race was on. I was good, one lap more than last year showed a great final I think. I think for the people who saw on television it was easy I heard but still it was really difficult.”
Rigoberto Uran (Sky). “It’s clear that Gilbert is a rider that’s very strong. I also have a very strong team. This year I have been good in the one-day races and I have been feeling good as well. In the last lap I had to go at my own rhythm and I wasn’t able to go with Gilbert but I felt good.”
Mike Barry (Sky). “We started the race today with three leaders, three protected riders, Rigoberto was one of them, Simon Gerrans and Edvald )Boasson-Hagen). The course suited all three of them very well, so we started the race knowing that it would be our responsibility to control the race. We started riding at the front right away, well after a couple of laps once the gap got up to seven minutes. In the finalm Edvald didn’t have the legs to be upfront, I think the final was much harder than it was last year and the race was far more selective because Rabobank opened it with five laps to go and started attacking hard. In the end, Rigoberto ended up in the breakaway of 10 riders and behind there were three of us and we just covered the attacks to make sure that no one else went across. That was his chance to go at the victory and I think we can be happy with third place today, the team did really well and we’ll try and do the same on Sunday.”
“We set out early in our meeting that we were going to control the race throughout the whole thing, and then really try to accelerate hard in the last three or four laps. It ended up that up that Rabobank attacked hard with five laps to go which pushed Jeremy, Christian and myself to the back of the peloton, we had been riding since the start I think, since the second or third lap. It’s always to predict the tactics in a bike race, what makes it exciting but I think the team raced really well, we raced according to plan. Garmin rode on the front for a lap and they rode hard and that I think made the race a little bit more difficult and probably thinned out the group a little bit but it didn’t really change things too much for us, Edvald was still there at that point, Simon as still there, Rigoberto and I think Flecha, we still had a bunch of guys in the front so it really didn’t change things too much for us. What really changed the race for us is when Edvald didn’t have the legs in the final so that gave Rigoberto the option to go with the attacks and the rest to just follow.”
About being Top Canadian. “It wasn’t my goal to be the Top Canadian, I just wanted to do the top race I could possibly do. That meant just working hard for the team. We were racing to win the race today and I felt good throughout the day, I’m happy with that. For me it was something really special to race in front of a Canadian crowd, I don’t have the opportunity to do that very often, I’ve raced in Canada a handful of times in the last ten years. It was really something special. Considering also the course, this city, the number of spectators, it was really a great day and I think that gave me a little bit extra in the race as well, my legs were sore the last three laps, I was starting to cramp a little bit but the crowd started to carry me when I feeling lousy. It was really nice racing.”