The ninth edition of the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec on Friday, September 7 will once again host the world's strongest one-day specialists, headlined by the participation of Olympic road race champion Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) as he looks to add a triumph to his four previous podium finishes at the Canadian WorldTour event.
"I always love racing in Canada, especially because the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec and Montréal are two races that really suit me," said Van Avermaet, who won in 2016 at the Montreal race, which is held two days after the GP Cycliste de Québec.
"I have raced well in the past, and I'm hoping to return to the podium again this year. The circuit in both races is not easy, which is better for me because I always have a better sprint after a long, hard race."
Van Avermaet arrives at the end of the season as a top contender having spent eight days in the yellow jersey at the Tour de France in July. He resumed racing in August with fourth place at the Clasica San Sebastian and sixth overall at the BinckBank Tour.
"I've had a good rest after the BinckBank Tour, and I'm looking forward to getting back into racing this week," he said.
Van Avermaet will have support from teammates Damiano Caruso, Kilian Frankiny, Michael Schär, Nathan Van Hooydonck, Danilo Wyss and Simon Gerrans, who won in Quebec City in 2012 and 2014, and in Montreal in 2014.
The circuit's puncheur-style climbs will, as always, favour riders like Van Avermaet, who has finished a frustrating three times as a runner-up: in 2012 to Gerrans, and in 2016 and 2017 to Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) on both occasions.
There will be a number of riders lining up on the start line who are capable of winning the race, however, and most notable is Michael Matthews (Sunweb), who finished second to Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First-Drapac) in 2015, and third behind Sagan and Van Avermaet last year. Cyclingnews recently caught up with Matthews in an exclusive podcast about his injury-marred season and his goals for the Canadian WorldTour events.
Also on the start line are Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates), who placed third in the 2015 edition and has shown good form after winning the final stage at the Tour de France in July. John Degenkob (Trek-Segafredo) won the cobbled Roubaix stage of the Tour and also arrives as a favourite for the Classics-style circuit.
Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) has had a breakout year having won three stages at the Giro d'Italia in May and will take the start line in Quebec, as his teammate Sagan has chosen to race the Vuelta a España instead to prepare for his world title defence later this month.
Astana brings in Michael Valgren, winner of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the Amstel Gold Race earlier this year. Zdenek Stybar has a chance to bring Quick-Step Floors a victory. There are also Tim Wellens for Lotto Soudal, Sep Vanmarcke for EF Education First-Drapac, Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) and recent winner of the BinckBank Tour and Deutschland Tour, Matej Mohoric, with his sprint teammate Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida).
Svein Tuft, who is set to retire at the end of the season, will not be joining Mitchelton-Scott in Quebec this year, but there will be a series of Canadians on the start line, including Hugo Houle (Astana), Matteo Dal-Cin and Adam de Vos (Rally Cycling), Guillaume Boivin (Israel Cycling Academy) and Alex Cataford (Canadian National Team).
Other former champions of the race include Thomas Voeckler (2010), Philippe Gilbert (2011), Simon Gerrans (2012 and 2014) and Robert Gesink (2013).
The peloton will embark on a challenging 12.6km circuit of the charming 400-year-old, walled-in Quebec City. Each lap includes 186 metres of elevation gain, mainly due to the circuit's two main climbs: Rue de la Montagne (10%), which passes the famed Chateau Frontenac and peaks 9.3km into the circuit, and the Cote de la Potasse (9%) that crests at 10.7km into the loop.
There is also a third, smaller climb over the Montée de la Fabrique (7%) that tops out at 11.4km into the circuit, and just over a kilometre away from the long, uphill drag back through the start-finish line on the Grande Allée.
Off the start line, the peloton descends along curving pathways through parts of the Parc des Champs-de-Bataille (Plains of Abraham) – an historic national battlefield – and down to Boulevard Champlain to race alongside the scenic Saint Lawrence River, which is the flattest section of the circuit, before taking on the three successive climbs and looping back around to the finish line.
The field will complete 16 laps for a total of 201.6km of racing that will conclude atop the highest point of the circuit, back on the Grande Allée, where the winner of the 2018 edition will be crowned.