Can Philippe Gilbert Be Beaten? That’s the question many are asking going into Sunday’s Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal. The Belgian Champion and number one UCI WorldTour ranked rider in the world showed great form and determination when he launch an onslaught of attacks on the final lap in Québec that no one could match.
Many put last year’s winner Robert Gesink (Rabobank) at the top of their list to win the second Canadian WorldTour race. But after Friday, I’d have to put Gilbert (Omega Pharma Lotto) first, that is if he wants to race.
“The trip was too long to cancel.” laughed Gilbert when asked if he would skip the Montreal race. “If it was in Europe, at home, I wouldn’t say no but I traveled too much to cancel.”
But Gilbert is not one to go into a race and not try to win. “Of course, I’m going into Montreal with less pressure, so it may be easier, any way we’ll see. For me, the contract is completed, I won a race, I took the points for the WorldTour (ranking) and whatever comes afterwards will only be bonus.”
The 12.1-km (7.5-mi) course in downtown Montreal in tougher and more suited to climbers. One such climber is Gesink. After a very difficult year, the Dutchman was also very strong in Quebec, matching Gilbert’s attacks except the last one. And then he didn’t give up as he chased up La Grande Allée, screaming out in frustration as he crossed the finish line for second place, a scant second behind.
“Of course I hope to do as good as I did last year, try and win again.” Gesink said on Friday. “I think I was better today than I was in Quebec last year so hopefully I can do as good as last year. It will be pretty difficult of course but everybody knows now, still I’ll try and hopefully do as good as last year.”
After putting in a blistering attack the final time up the climb, Gesink was able to hold off a determined chase to win the 2010 Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal, his first ever win at a WorldTour one-day race.
The Montreal circuit, with slight variation, is historical. Many top riders have climbed and suffered on the Mont Royal. In the 1974 World Championships where Eddy Merckx won his third rainbow jersey. The Olympic Road Race in 1976. For five years, from 88 to 92 at the Grand Prix des Amériques, a stop in the World Cup circuit with winners that include Steve Bauer and Franco Ballerini. The Tour Trans-Canada. And the Montreal World Cup for women held for 12 year before being cancelled in 2010.
“The course in Montreal is a fantastic circuit, I’m excited to race on it. The last time I raced on it I think was 1999 at the Tour of Trans-Canada and since then I’ve watched my wife race on it a few times and I was in the team car last year.” said Canadian Michael Barry (Sky). Barry’s wife Dede Demet Barry won the 2002 Montreal World Cup on a very similar course to Sunday’s circuit.
The riders will face the same course as last year but, and this is a big but as we saw in Québec, one extra lap was added for a total of 17 laps for 205.7 km (127.8-mi).
After starting on Avenue du Parc, the course takes a quick left-hand turn to the bottom of the 1.8-km slog up Mont-Royal on chemin Camilien-Houde with its 8% average grade. Watch for attacks on the climb, especially the steep portions at the base. This climb has seen a lot of attacks including the ones from Thevenet and Merckx in 1974, and last year’s move by Gesink.
Then a fast, wide descent down Chemin Remembrance to a right turn on Chemin de la côte des Neiges. It was on this descent that Demet Barry attacked the field on the final lap, after being dropped on the climb, to win the 2002 Montreal World Cup. Two quick right turns to the next big difficulty, the 780-m côte de la Polytechnique with a 6% average grade, including a 300-meter portion at 11%. Steeper in parts than Mont-Royal with a false flat, this climb is perfect for an attack. Which Spidertech DS Bauer knows quite well, he attacked here to win the Grand Prix des Amériques in 1988.
Half-way through the lap, the riders descend with two turns down to Rue Edouard-Montpetit, the one flat kilometer on the course. Time for a breather. Two more turns to chemin de la côte Ste-Catherine, almost two kilometers and back on avenue du Parc and the fight for position before doing it all over again.
Of course, Gilbert and Gesink are not the only names of the list of pre-race favorites. Other names to watch include Rigoberto Uran (Sky) who finished third in Québec, Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Cervelo). Levi Leipheimer (Radioshack), and why not Barry. After working for most of the race at the front of the field, Barry held on to finish 14th and take the Top Canadian prize.
“There’s the chance that I might work for the other riders a little later in the race instead of riding early but we haven’t discussed that at all yet.” Barry commented about his role on Sunday.
Yes, Sunday’s course is tougher and more suited to a climber but would you bet against Gilbert?
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