It is in a unique atmosphere that took place the third stage of the Grand Prix cycliste de Saguenay, a criterium stage of 74.2 kilometers utilizing the charming streets of downtown Chicoutimi, or 35 laps of a 2.2 km loop.
The race scenario could not have be more perfect for this showcase stage of the inaugural Grand Prix, with the National Criterium Champions of the United States, Eric Young (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) and Canada, Pierrick Naud (Garneau-Quebecor) competing for the General Classification. Young is ranked first, wearing the yellow jersey, followed a few seconds behind by Naud in second place.
The course started with a flat section along the Saguenay River before taking a right turn to face a steep climb of 150m at 11% grade. After another right turn, the peloton paraded on Racine street alongside all the restaurant and pub patios of the downtown core, a flat section for about 800m before making two consecutive right turns to get to the finish line.
A breakaway of about fifteen riders left early, but did not last very long, with a bunch thirsty for a sprint finish. A little later, two National Road Champions, in this case the reigning U.S. Champion Eric Marcotte of Team SmartStop and the 2012 Canadian Champion Ryan Roth of Silber Pro Cycling, took off on a breakaway with Viesturs Luksevic of Amore & Vita and Anatoliy Pakthusov of ISD continental. Ultimately, Roth and Marcotte were too strong for the other two riders and attacked the breakaway.
It is only with less than five laps to go that the peloton managed to join the two riders ahead, setting the scene for a late-race bunch sprint.
At the line, it is ultimately the Argentinean Juan José Haedo of Team Jamis-Hagens Berman who crossed the finish line first, edging at the finish line the American Shane Kline of Team SmartStop and Naud. The third place for Naud earns him the green jersey of the leader in the Points classification with 41 points, only one more than Jure Kocjan of Team Smartstop at 40.
“It is certain that I would love to get a win, but three podiums in three days I did not expect that at all coming here. I take possession of the green jersey, so Mission accomplished so far,” said Naud, after the race. “When there is a breakaway, there is always a little bit of stress that sets in, whether it will be caught or not. My team, I had two guys in the first breakaway, so I just had to wait in the pack and hope the break comes back.”
Today, Naud was wearing jersey of the Canadian Criterium Champion. “It was a great event tonight with a large number of spectators who came out to see the race. Encouragements always give a small boost to the field in the final laps.”
Race leader since Stage 1, Young managed to retain the yellow jersey despite the small time difference between him and closest rivals, and will ride tomorrow to defend the jersey. Young has yet to win a UCI stage race in his career since transferring from track to road cycling.
“The Optum-Kelly Benefits guys did a lot of work today. They rode great and couldn’t have asked anything different today with a bunch of attacks and a super aggressive field. We are really happy to keep the yellow,” said Young. “It was very hectic last couple of laps. I wish I would have been higher up for the sprint, but ultimately we are happy going to the last stage with the yellow jersey.”
The Italian rider Luca Benedetti of team Amore & Vita will race the last stage tomorrow wearing the famous Polka Dot jersey as leader of the King of the Mountain classification. Benedetti has 28 points to date, leading comfortably ahead of teammate Michael Woods in second place with 15 points, and Colombian Edson Calderon third with 13 points.
The White Jersey of Best Young Rider (U23) is retained for a third consecutive day by Asbjorn Kragch Andersen of the Danish team Christina Watches-Kuma. Kragch Andersen is currently nineteenth overall in the general classification.
The first Grand Prix cycliste de Saguenay ends tomorrow with the presentation of the fourth and final stage, a 149km race in and around Chicoutimi, or 14 laps of a 10.7 km loop.