When the international peloton arrives in the Canadian province of Quebec for the Grands Prix Cyclistes Quebec City and Montreal held on September 11 and 13, respectively, riders will have two goals: to claim victories at one of the last WorldTour events on the season, and to fine-tune form ahead of the UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia, at the end of the month.
The peloton will showcase riders of all talents including world champion Michal Kwiatkowski and teammate Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep), Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge), Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) and recent winner of the Tour of Alberta Bauke Mollema (Trek Factory Racing).
Australian sprinter Simon Gerrans stunned the cycling world with a stellar end-of-season run last year by winning both events before securing a silver medal at the Worlds in Ponferrada, however, he will not be on the start line this year. Instead, his equally-as-talented-teammate Matthews will be at both one-day classic-style events, and he is taking aim at victories before turning his attention to Worlds.
Matthews is coming into the two events in good form having won a stage of the recent Tour of Alberta, where he also briefly wore the leader's jersey and won the points jersey. "It was good racing and a good hit-out for the upcoming races," said Matthews, who last competed in the pair of Quebec races in 2012 while racing with Rabobank. "I had some good hard racing… now I have the two classics in Quebec and Montreal, followed by the team time trial and then I'll finish it off with the road race at the World Championships."
Kwiatkowki, winner of the rainbow jersey in Ponferrada last year, will be on the start line with his Etixx-QuickStep team. The Polish riders is a solid one-day racer who has also won the Paris-Nice prologue and placed second overall, and won Amstel Gold Race, both in April. Kwiatkowski is using the two races as a last-minute preparation for Worlds and he will be joined by teammates Tony Martin and Tom Boonen.
"I want to show my best here," Kwiatkowski said. "I believe it's the best way to prepare for the World Championships in Richmond. I don't have the best memories from the past here. I didn't finish in Quebec and then in Montreal. But I'm super motivated. I trained hard to be in great shape for September. Everything is going in the right direction. I will see how the legs react. These classics suite me and racing in Canada is really a pleasure."
Mollema, who placed 10th in both races last year, has expressed an interest in improving on those performances. He showed that he is well prepared for top results having recently won the Tour of Alberta. "Both races are equally as important but I think the second race in Montreal has a longer climb and normally that would suit me a little bit better," Mollema said in Alberta. "I like the first race also in the city of Quebec and it is a nice finish."
His compatriot Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo) will also be on the hunt for two victories, and he has the experience to back up his goals having won in Montreal in 2010 and in Quebec City in 2013.
"I've been doing pretty good here in the past and I'm motivated to do good again," Gesink said in the pre-race press conference held at the Chateau Frontenac. "I tried to be here a bit early and get the good vibes from the last time I was here. Winning Quebec was a great memory and it's really special to be here. I've been working hard and I hope to be as good as I was in the past."
Gilbert is also hoping to pull off a victory in Quebec, and both parcours suit the Belgian rider. He noted that adding the Quebec races to his schedule is a change from the norm since he typically competes in the Vuelta a Espana ahead of Worlds. He last raced these two events during the 2011 edition where he won in Quebec City and placed third in Montreal.
"Let's say that this is an unusual approach to the World Championships for me as I'm more an adept of the Vuelta," Gibert said in the press conference. "It will be a great rehearsal on Friday and Sunday with the hope of clinching good results and maybe a win in either one."
The events in Quebec City and Montreal are also a chance for riders to move up in the WorldTour ranking before the final event is held at Il Lombardia in Italy at the beginning of October.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is leading the ranking ahead of Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), however, neither will be present in Quebec. Several riders from the top 10 will be on the start lines including Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) in fourth, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing Team) in seventh and Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) in tenth.
The racing will start on Friday along the Grande Allée for the sixth edition of the Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec City, routed through the heart of the 400-year-old, walled-in city. Riders will complete 16 laps of a 12.6km circuit for a total of 201.6km of racing. The challenging course offers several climbs including the steep Rue de la Montagne and a long drag to the finish line along the Grande Allée.
On Sunday at the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal, the racers will start on the wide-open Avenue du Parc before climbing up Mont Royal along the Cote de Camillien-Houde. They will take on a smaller climb over the Cote de la Polytechnique located half way around the circuit. Racers will contest a U-turn along the Avenue du Parc on each lap, which is located just 400metres from the finish line. The race will include 17 laps of a 12.1km circuit for a total of 205km of racing.
Although both races offer a decisive amount of climbing: 2976m in Quebec City and 3893m in Montreal, they haven't always been won by riders with pure climbing abilities, rather they have shown to favour both powerful climbers and sprinters alike.