The seven-day trip to Canada is usually a long haul loop for the European-based peloton but this year the two days of hilly circuit racing in Quebec on Friday and then Montreal on Sunday give some of the favourites for the rainbow jersey in Wollongong a perfect hit out before flying further west around the globe to Australia.
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost), Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco) and a number of their WorldTour team and national squad teammates have all opted to soften the blow of jet lag by selecting the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec et de Montréal as their final race before the World Championships in Wollongong. That has given the two races more prestige and a far better field than the Tour of Britain or other one-day races in Europe.
The Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec et de Montréal are both held on twisting and hilly circuits, much like that of Wollongong and so offer a final chance for riders to test their form, study their rivals and take moral-boosting victories. For the teams fighting WorldTour relegation, the two one-day races also offer valuable ranking points, while for Canada it will be a celebration of a successful summer of cycling that included local resident Hugo Houle’s moving Tour de France stage victory.
Each race sees riders tackle multiple laps of a circuit worthy of the World Championships – literally in the case of Montreal which inspired Eddy Merckx’s triumph in 1974.
Riders gathered in Québec on Tuesday. The racing gets underway on Friday with the 201.6km Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec, which takes in 16 laps of a 12.6km circuit that winds through the Parc des Champs de Bataille on the banks of the mighty Saint Lawrence river.
Each circuit features the short climbs of the Côte de la Potasse and the Montée de la Fabrique before a drag of more than 1 kilometre to the finish line on the Grande Allée. The sheer volume of climbing through the race’s 201km – almost 3,000 metres in total – is enough to soften the punch of all but the very strongest riders on the final lap and produce a finely balanced finale.
It is perfectly tailored for riders like Van Aert, Matthews and Sagan. Those latter two have both won here twice and it would not be a surprise to see Van Aert add his name to the list and so automatically make him an even bigger favourite for the world title.
The Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal comes two days after the Québec race, with riders transfering along the Saint Lawrence River on Saturday.
The second event is the harder of the two races, with 18 laps of a tough 12.2km circuit in the Parc du Mont-Royal that gives its name to the city. It is a loop with a considerable heritage. As well as hosting Merckx and Geneviève Gambillon’s rainbow jersey triumphs of 1974, it was also the site of Bernt Johansson’s victory over Giuseppe Martinelli at the Olympic Games two years later.
Extra laps were added in 2019 to create a near World Championship-length race. The extra kilometres remain in 2022, with the peloton facing a distance of 221.4km at the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal.
Each lap includes 269 metres of elevation across three short climbs, creating a total of 4,842 metres of climbing, similar to that of Liege-Bastogne-Liege. First up is the Côte Camillien-Houde (1.8km at 8%), followed by the Côte de Polytechnique (780m at 6%, including a portion of 11%).
Just like a great world championships course, the summit of the climb up Boulevard Mont Royal (800m at 4%) comes just under three kilometres from the finish line. After a section of false flat and a short descent, the road rears up once again in the final 500 metres on the drag to the finish line on the Avenue du Parc.
World Championship field
The Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec et de Montréal were created in 2010 thanks to the passion and business acumen of Canadian broadcaster and media owner Serge Arsenault. He helped the UCI make the WorldTour a near global race series by including races in North America and can proudly look on as his son Sébastien takes over as the president of the event.
Thanks to the Arsenaults’ hard work and the stepping stone benefits of the races leading nicely towards Australia, this year’s Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec et de Montréal have attracted one of the best ever fields. The same riders ride both races.
The field of 147 includes all the 18 World Tour teams, plus Arkéa‐Samsic, TotalEnergies and a Canadian national team.
The names of Van Aert, Pogačar and Matthews stand out on the entry list, but so do those of Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Geraint Thomas and Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers), Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies), Greg van Avermaet (AG2R Citroën), Romain Bardet (Team DSM) and David Gaudu (Groupama–FDJ), Jakob Fuglsang (Israel-Premier Tech), Christophe Laporte (Jumbo-Visma), Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) and Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious).
Some may be gradually winding down their season after the intensity of the Tour de France but it will be fascinating to see Van Aert, Pogačar, Sagan, Girmay, Powless, Bettiol and Matthews clash before the World Championships.
Van Aert took a month off from racing after his incredible Tour de France but carefully mixed his training with his holidays, including last week when he was in Sardegna for a friend's wedding. He was second at the Bemer Classic on his return but won the Bretagne Classic on August 28 with a fine turn of final speed.
Pogačar was only 89th on his return to racing in Brittany but the Slovenian has shown his Classics ability at Strade Bianche, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and last year’s Il Lombardia. He will be looking for a rapid signal of improvement here in Canada and form as his autumn campaign sets-up another gear and he eyes the World Championships.
Matthews travelled to North American early to ride the Maryland Cycling Classic but finished in the peloton after the big break of the race stayed away. He will be looking for better this weekend and has Canadian pedigree; doing a Quebec-Montreal double in 2018 and winning for a second time in Quebec in 2019. Similar results and the 500 WorldTour points for a win would be a boon for his BikeExchange-Jayco team as they fight to avoid relegation.
Sagan arguably also needs a result to get his season back on track and suggest he can be a contender for a fourth world title in Wollongong.
Girmay watched the Tour de France from Eritrea but is back competing in a final block of racing with Intermarché. His historic victory at Gent-Wevelgem confirmed he is a Classic winner and so a World Championship contender. He was second in the 2021 Under 23 race but seems ready and destined to win a rainbow jersey one day. Why not this year after a show of form in Canada?
Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious) is another outsider who could win in Canada and then perhaps even scoop up a world title. He won the recent Deutschland Tour and was third overall at the Tour de Pologne, and then there is also Powless who was third at the Maryland Cycling Classic.
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