The Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal has again attracted some of the best Classics riders in the UCI WorldTour, with riders looking to take a prestigious victory on the same course that saw Eddy Merckx win a historic world title in 1974 and Bernt Johansson win an Olympic gold medal in 1976.
This year's parcours holds much of the same characteristics used over the previous years with a climb over Mont Royal and the Cote de Polytechnique in central Montreal, while the addition of a third climb, at Claude-Champagne, could change the way the event has traditionally been raced.
After placing a frustrating second place for a third time in a row at the Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec on Friday, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) won't want to leave the Canadian WorldTour races without a victory. The Olympic road race champion confirmed he is feeling good after a three-week break from racing and knows the tougher Montreal course suits him better than that of the GP Cycliste de Quebec.
Van Avermaet won on the Mont Royal circuit in 2016, beating Peter Sagan in a reduced bunch sprint along the Avenue du Parc, while Diego Ulissi was third. Last year, Ulissi won the race from a breakaway ahead of Jesus Herrada and Tom-Jelte Slagter, with Van Avermaet finishing in seventh. Other previous winners of the event include Robert Gesink (2010), Rui Costa (2011), Lars Petter Nordhaug (2012), Sagan (2013), Simon Gerrans (2014) and Tim Wellens (2015).
Sagan has not returned to the Canadian events this year, instead racing at the three-week Vuelta a España. However, Van Avermaet will face competition from Ulissi, who was 11th in Quebec, and Wellens, who traditionally comes into top form ahead of the late-summer one-day events.
The GP Cycliste de Montreal circuit is not a pure climber's course, and so depending on how it is raced, it could favour riders like Michael Matthews (Sunweb) or Matej Morohic (Bahrain-Merida), or Astana duo Michael Valgren and Jakob Fuglsang, as well as climbers like Simon Spilak (Katusha-Alpecin) and Sam Oomen (Sunweb).
Other riders looking to find their end-of-season form are Mathias Frank (AG2R La Mondiale), Nathan Brown (EF Education First-Drapac) and David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), all involved in a late chase during the closing lap of the GP de Quebec. Peter Kennaugh (Bora-Hansgrohe) almost held off the entire field to win in Quebec but was caught with 400 metres to go.
The Mont Royal circuit in detail
The peloton lines up along the Avenue du Parc at the base of Montreal's monumental climb, Mont Royal, and will complete 16 laps of a 12.2km circuit, for a total of 195.2km of racing through the downtown streets famous for restaurants, boutiques and entertainment, including sites of the 1976 Montreal Olympic Park.
There is no warm-up or neutraliased section after the gun goes off, and the racers will immediately begin climbing the roughly two-kilometre Cote Camillien-Houde (8 per cent). The climb can create small separations over its crest; however, much of the field tends to regroup on the descent along the Chemin Remembrance and the Cote des Neiges towards the circuit's second climb over the Cote de la Polytechnique (6 per cent), which includes a short but steep section at 11 per cent.
The third climb, Claude-Champagne, adds to the attrition-factor of the 16-lap race. It is only 800 metres at four per cent, but it comes just two kilometres before the four per cent uphill drag to the finish.
The three climbs combined offer the field roughly 300 metres of elevation gain each lap for a total of 4,000 metres of elevation gain.
Encasing the Université de Montréal, the race then heads down Chemin de la Rampe and the Chemin de la Core Ste-Catherine, diving down to the Avenue du Parc where the field must negotiate a U-turn positioned roughly 500 metres into the uphill finish line. Those final 500 metres climb gradually, usually making for a spectacular sprint finish.