In the end, Tim Wellens won but not before half the field, or so it seemed, had a crack at getting into the break and it wasn't until about 80km left of the 205.7km race that one finally established and lasted beyond a couple of laps of the 12.1km circuit in Montréal. The move contained Thomas Voeckler, Louis Vervaeke (who was in the day-long break last year) and Manuel Quinziato and was launched moments after Michal Kwiatkowski had been pulled back by a large group that contained the likes of Romain Bardet, Warren Barguil and Jakob Fuglsang among several others and that had survived for a handful of laps building a lead of more than one minute at one stage. That group however, like the half a dozen moves before it, was eventually swallowed up by a peloton in panic at the kind of names trying to get away and the brief lull allowed the Voeckler group to establish itself.
The rain eased after the first five or six laps, even allowing the sun to crack through briefly, but the racing rarely abated and the quick start and constant attacks over those early laps soon seen the field splitting up with a large group distanced from the main bunch on that testing 1.8km climb at an average gradient of 8%. It may not seem like much, but when you tackle it 17 times as they did in this race, it quickly becomes a true weeding out process as tiring legs begin to struggle to stay with the pace each time up.
The weather no doubt played its part in the number of abandonment's and by the time the skies opened and the thunder rolled with three laps to go for the heaviest downpour of the lot, the field was down to just 64 of the 167 starters (minus Sky's Bernard Eisel who broke his arm at the Quebec race two days before). And with just a lap to go the break that now also continued Andriy Grivko, having bridged across when he left behind Chris Juul Jensen--himself active in a handful of moves in the early going--was finally reeled in as counter attacks on the last run up the climb gave us our final selection for victory.
The race was wide open to a dozen high profile names but from the move emerged Wellens and Adam Yates and they maintained it to the finish. Not that those of us waiting at the finish knew. The storm that was passing over had cut the local feed to the big screens and word of mouth via those with access to Twitter kept those around them informed of what moves were being made. By the time they splashed under the 1km kite, revealing themselves to those waiting directly opposite at the start/finish line, on their way down to the hair-pin bend for the final time, it was Yates on the wheel of Wellens with a select group of about 12 a handful of seconds behind and what was left of the main field a few seconds behind that. Out of the turn and up through the feed zone Yates ended the game of cat and mouse that threatened their catch when he made the first move, but Wellens countered and took the sprint with relative ease. Rui Costa, previous winner here and perennial podium man who came second last year, came home third this time as the rain tailed off.
Wilco Kelderman, Bardet, Robert Gesink, Philippe Gilbert and Kwiatkowski, who had all tried to force the issue on the final run up the Mount Royale, finished within a handful of seconds of Wellens and in doing so highlighted their intentions and form for the upcoming World Championships. The elite men's road-race championship takes place two weeks after this race and it remains one of the ideal preparation races for it.
The team of the day was no doubt Lotto Soudal and not just because of Wellens's victory. They were also the only team in which all eight men finished the race, especially impressive given the course and the conditions, and their young star, Louis Vervaeke, aged just 21, was rewarded for his long stint in the break by winning the climbing prize.
This Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal never fails to deliver and on the three occasions I have went up to it over the last three years, I've only ever seen good racing. What makes it so brilliant is the fact it is on a circuit. To those watching on TV, that isn't always the greatest way to watch a race when you prefer to see them cover great lateral distances through towns and countrysides, but for the fans that turn out to watch, it's probably the best form of racing.
17 laps of a 12.1km course taking the winner over 5 hours means that you see action all day. You don't stand around waiting for the race to flash past and then head home again, but rather wait less than 20 minutes for it to come through each time while moving around various points on the course to experience different aspects of the race. And it's not too short either to have that feel of a crit, but long enough for plenty to take place within a lap with plenty to challenge a rider on a single lap. Frequently on Sunday we seen breaks go more than half a minute clear, but be caught and a new move launched all within the space of a single lap.
While you don't see what all goes on around the back of the course, it passes you by enough for you to get an idea of what is going on and get the sense that you are watching the entire race develop before you, long before the TV pictures would go live around the world. And this year highlighted that better than ever with attacking all day long in a race that had dozens of pontential contenders.
Post race, Julian Alaphilippe described it on Twitter as "one of the most difficult races of the season", while Lotto Soudal's Greg Henderson celebrated his teams fine performance but called it the "hardest bike race ever", on his Twitter feed.
And yet despite its difficulty, along with the Friday race up in Quebec City, the riders who come across to be a part of it, find it one of the best of the year. The hotel accommodation is as good as they get during the season, and the circuits are unique and challenging. As a one-day race with a World Tour rating, it attracts a strong field of classic type riders and remains arguably the best preparation race for the World Championships. It's just a shame it overlaps with the final weekend of the Vuelta.
I know I'll be back next year, though I hope the rain isn't, and I still retain ambitions of one day taking in the Quebec City race as well on a long-weekend road trip.
|1. Tim Wellens |
2. Adam Yates
3. Rui Costa
4. Jan Bakelants
5. Tiesj Benoot
6. Wilco Kelderman
7. Romain Bardet
8. Robert Gesink
9. Philippe Gilbert
10. Tom Jelte Slagter
12. Michal Kwiatkowski
23. Michael Woods
35. Chris Juul Jensen
47. Thomas Voeckler
52. Louis Vervaeke
|in 5h 20' 9" |
@ 1' 18"
@ 4' 59"
@ 6' 41"