North America’s professional road cycling season will end with a bang at the two inaugural ProTour races held in the Canadian cities of Québec City on September 10 and Montréal on September 12. They are the first ProTour events to cross the Atlantic Ocean and have attracted some of the most renowned cyclists in the world.
The International Cycling Union (UCI) confirmed a five-year term for the pair of one-day races lasting through to 2014. They are the first ProTour events scheduled in North America and the location fell in line with the UCI’s efforts the globalize professional cycling and could receive an extension through 2018. Race promoter Serge Arsenault is no stranger to promoting bike races. He is best known for organizing the men's Montréal World Cup and the Tour Trans-Canada.
The races will raise the bar for cycling in Canada, but according to Steve Bauer, who will direct the Canadian National Team for the race, the importance will take some time to sink in.
"Personally I feel the impact that these events will make, but what I am sensing is that it will take some time for the general public to realize what has arrived in Canada," said Bauer. "The cycling community is extremely excited. Once it lands here I think the momentum will carry forward in the years to come. It is an exciting time for Canadian cycling."
All ProTour teams were obliged to send at least seven riders, and there will be three Professional Continental teams and the Canadian National Team in the races.
"When you talk about ProTour and the best teams of the world having to field a team you know that the quality of the competition is going to be a premium level on those race courses," Bauer said. "Then when you start to pick it apart and realize that you have some of the top guys from the Tour de France competing, riders gunning for the World Championships and they are all in top shape..."
Eighteen ProTour and three Pro Continental teams
It is the first time the ProTour has landed in North America and with it comes demanding courses and the peloton’s current greats. The events will most likely cater to the strongest Classic-style rider or the savvy breakaway specialist.
Headlining the start list are Giro d’Italia winner Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Doimo), French National Road Champion Thomas Voeckler (Bbox Bouygues Telecom), Tour de France double stage winner Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) and three-time Tour of California winner Levi Leipheimer and his teammate Chris Horner (RadioShack).
Also in the mix are Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Robert Gesink (Rabobank), defending US National Road Champion George Hincapie and former World Champion Allessandro Ballan (BMC Racing), Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Doimo) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnese Vini).
The full list of teams includes Garmin-Transitions, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Rabobank, RadioShack, Liquigas-Doimo, Quick Step, Team Sky, FDJ, Saxo Bank, Team Katusha, AG2R-La Mondiale, Lampre-Farnese Vini, HTC-Columbia, Caisse D’epargne, Milram, Astana, Omega Pharma-Lotto, Footon-Servetto, Bbox Bouygues Telecom, BMC Racing, Cofidis and the Canadian National Team.
Reigning World Champion, Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) initially committed to starting the races but was forced withdraw because of the effects of a broken elbow sustained in the Tour de France.
Meet the Canadians
One rider who could put Canada on the podium in either race is Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions). He's had a series of strong performances including a second place at the Amstel Gold Race, one stage win and a fifth place overall at the Tour of California and a sixth place at the Clasica de San Sebastian.
The British Columbia native’s best performances were at the Tour de France where he placed fourth in stages 3 and 17 and finished with a strong seventh place overall. He was the highest placed Canadian to finish the grand tour in 22 years, coming close to Steve Bauer’s fourth place in 1988.
Hesjedal’s teammate Svein Tuft will also be attending the two events. The six-time Canadian National Time Trial Champion joined the Garmin-Transitions team in 2009 following his silver medal performance at the 2008 World Time Trial Championships in Varese, Italy. Also from British Columbia, Tuft is recognized for his third place overall at the 2008 Tour of Missouri, a recent second place overall at the Tour of Denmark and a victory at the Eneco Tour prologue.
Michael Barry (Team Sky), from Ontario, is one of Canada’s veteran professionals maintaining a thirteen year career riding for teams as esteemed as Saturn, US Postal, Discovery Channel, T-Mobile and now Sky. Barry is remembered for winning the points classification at the Tour of Austria in 2005 and was a member of the winning team in both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana team time trials. More recently he won a stage of the former Tour of Missouri and placed 9th at the Beijing Olympic Games in the road race. This year he competed in his first Tour de France.
Steve Bauer will use his expertise to direct the Canadian National Team at the two events. He is one of Canada's most decorated cyclists with a collection of Tour de France yellow jerseys that totals fourteen. He captured them while leading the 1988 Tour for five stages and again in 1990 where he led the race for nine consecutive stages.
There are 10 riders who will rotate through the two events and include Canadian National Champion Will Routley, Dominique Rollin, Charles Dionne, David Boily, Guillaume Boivin, Bruno Langlois, François Parisien, Ryan Anderson, Rob Britton and David Veilleux.
"The selection was difficult because there are a lot of strong Canadian riders right now," Bauer said. "The challenge is to get the eight riders starting to work best as a team. We have to bring these men together as a unit. The Québec circuit is technical and not as long so it suits our riders better. Being up front and attentive could pay off. Montréal is a classic world championship style race where a rider who is patient and is extremely good can come out in the last couple of laps."
Historical courses return to Québec City and Montréal
On September 10, the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec will be the first UCI ProTour event to debut in North America. The organization will present the peloton with a version of what is currently a stage of the nation’s prominent Tour de Beauce and was a former Canadian Road National Championships circuit held in the heart of Québec City, a more than 400-year-old, walled in city.
"Both courses lend themselves well to championship-style racing," Bauer said. "Which means it is going to be suspenseful and exciting from lap one to the very end, there will be no boredom. They lend to breakaways, attacking and a lot of pressure every lap. We are looking forward to extremely difficult and very animated races."
The peloton will be challenged to a hilly and highly technical 12.6km circuit that begins on the Rue Saint Louis, descends through the scenic Parc des Champs de Bataille (The Battle of the Plains of Abraham), a historical battle site between the English and French and winds its way down to shores of the Saint Lawrence River.
The men will weave their way up the steep inclines of the historical center then pass through doors to the city - Porte St Jean and Porte St Louis - before heading back up to the start-finish line on the Rue Saint Louis. The peloton will complete 15 laps for a total of 189km.
On September 12, the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal will take place on arguably the most historic location for a bike race in the nation. The same course was used as the World Championships in 1974, won by famed-Belgian Eddie Merckx, the Olympic Games Road Race in 1976 won by Sweden’s Bernt Johansson, a men’s World Cup course in the 1980s and early 90s and a women’s World Cup in the late-1990s and 2000s.
The riders will line up at the base of Mont Royal on the bustling Avenue du Parc where they will set off up a three-kilometre ascent to the top of the city’s famed mountain. The men will descend the Chemin Remembrance and wrap around to the second climb on Ch. de la Polytechnique before descending the Chemin de la Cote Ste-Catherine toward the finish line on Avenue du Parc. The circuit is 12.6km and the men will contest 15 laps for a total of 189km.
"Both cities are very historical in cycling and outside of cycling," Bauer said. "When you put cycling in cities like that, with circuits, you gain very historical and recognisable races."