Will Gesink be saluting again this year in Quebec?
The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) has made expanding competitive cycling around the world one of its primary objectives.
The results have been the incredibly successful Tour Down Under and the new 2011 Tour of Beijing, but on tap for this week are the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec on Friday September 9 and the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal on Sunday September 11.
Last year’s inaugural events resulted in a solo win for Robert Gesink in Québec which set Gesink up for an impressive fall campaign, and a win by Thomas Voeckler in Montréal featuring his trademark attack on the final climb after the break had been caught.
The start lists contain some of the sport’s biggest stars, but here are 10 riders to watch out for this weekend in Canada.
Tejay Van Garderen has the ability to win this weekend
Tejay Van Garderen, the young American riding in one of the last races for the HTC-Highroad team, will be looking to capitalize on the solid form that he showed in the recent Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
The Québec course will offer the best chance for this lanky climber to take the victory that has eluded him so far this year. Watch out for him to jump from the bunch before the series of four climbs that end the criterium and use his impressive time-trialing skills to solo in Québec.
Van Garderen is a rider for the future who will undoubtedly win many major races in his career, and there is no reason Québec cannot be his first.
Pierre Rolland could be the big surprise this weekend
No one quite knows what to expect from Pierre Rolland.
He dropped some of the best riders in the world while serving as Thomas Voeckler’s primary lieutenant in the mountains at this year’s Tour de France.
He finished 11th overall while also claiming the Best Young Rider’s jersey, and his performance left some wondering what he could have done if he was allowed to ride for himself instead of in support of Voeckler.
His team, Team Europcar, will be looking for an impressive showing this weekend to help their chances of returning to the ranking of a Pro Tour team next year, and Rolland is their best asset in these races.
The Canadian races will be the first chance this 24-year-old gets at targeting overall honors. Will we see the rider that dropped Alberto Contador and Samuel Sanchez this weekend, or will he not have recovered from his massive exertion in July?
Flippo Pozzato has a lot to prove to himself, his team and the rest of the peloton.
The former Milan–San Remo winner has the legs to win either of these races, but 2011 has been the worst year of his cycling career. The only result to speak of is a fifth place at Milan–San Remo.
He has shown the ability to make the decisive selections in one-day races, but has historically been unable to capitalize. He needs a result not only to secure a place on the Italian World Championship squad, but also to remind himself that he is an elite rider.
George Hincapie winning the Queen Stage of the 2011 US Pro Cycling Challenge
BMC brings a roster with many riders capable of winning, but George Hincapie will be on a mission.
The recent signings of Phillipe Gilbert and Thor Hushovd signal that Hincapie may be lower on the pecking order for the BMC classics team in 2012, but this veteran still wants his chance at winning races.
A somewhat unexpected win on the queen stage and fifth overall at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge proves that Hincapie will come to these races with form that will allow him to win, but he will have to win from a group with the right composition.
Hincapie has the race experience to time his still-potent sprint to perfection, but if the wrong people are in the final selection, Hincapie will be fighting for the lesser honors.
Look for him to target Québec, as the false-flat finish suits his one-day style of riding.
It will be a win if Boasson Hagen is in the decisive selection
It is strange to think that a rider who has won five national championships, two of the largest one-day classics, three overall stage races and two stages at the Tour de France can only be 24, but it is true.
Boasson Hagen is one of few riders who has shown he can win in every single discipline of the sport.
He is adept enough at climbing to make the final selection, but the rest of the peloton would be unwise to bring any group containing Boasson Hagen to the finish line because he will destroy any small bunch sprint in either Québec or Montréal.
Boasson Hagen placed second at the inaugural running of the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec, and anything less than another podium appearance at these races would be a disappointment.
You can always pick out Cunego in a crowd
The Little Prince is the odd combination of a talented climber with an unstoppable sprint. Cunego has never matured into the grand tour rider many thought he was destined to be after his dominant 2004 Giro d’Italia victory, but his results would make most riders envious.
The three-time Giro di Lombardia winner excels in one-day races featuring enough climbing to dispatch of the true sprinters.
He was very active in Canada last year by making both final selections, but spent too much energy prior to the decisive move.
Look for him to learn from his mistake and at least make one of the podiums this weekend.
Samuel Sánchez looking pretty pleased with himself
Samuel Sánchez has gone from a name only cycling aficionados were familiar with to one of the most widely recognized riders in the pro peloton, and with good reason. The Spanish rider has made the top 10 in his last 10 grand tours including an impressive fourth and sixth in the last two editions of the Tour de France, as well as winning gold in the road race at the 2008 Bejing Olympics.
His sprint almost rivals Cunego and his climbing is equal to that of the Schlecks and Contador. He was denied a victory last year in Montréal by Robert Gesink’s brilliant attack; look for him to avenge that defeat this year. He is an odds-on favorite to win one of these races, but his unmatched descending skills forecast that Montréal will be his targeted race.
Canada will be looking to Ryder Hesjedal
Canada’s cycling star did not quite live up to the expectations others placed on him this year, but he has still had a solid season, highlighted by his significant contribution to Garmin-Cervélo’s team time-trial victory at the Tour de France.
He was the most consistent rider at the inaugural editions of both Montréal and Québec placing third and fourth, respectively. The organizers designed courses which play to Hesjedal’s power style of riding. Hesjedal will target both races again, and solid showings in both events are likely, and a win in one or both is not out of the realm of possibility.
Robert Gesink in action at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge
Robert Gesink is one of the most feared riders in the world. He is not quite at the level of Andy Schleck, Cadel Evans or Alberto Contador, but he is not far behind.
He took many, and quite possibly himself, by surprise when he won in Montréal last year, but this time he is not going to surprise anyone. Gesink has traditionally ridden exceptionally well in the last third of the season, and these events are the first set of races he will target, culminating with the Giro di Lombardia.
It is inevitable that Gesink will win something in the fall, whether it is in Montréal or Québec remains to be seen. Rabobank brings one of the strongest squads to Canada, and the smart money says Gesink will repeat in Montréal.
Look for this familiar victory salut to be repeated this weekend
No rider has been more impressive than Phillippe Gilbert in 2011. His results this year alone include both the Belgian road and time-trial national championships, a stage at the Tour de France, the Clásica de San Sebastián, and a clean sweep of the Ardennes classics (Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège).
He entered most of these races as the prohibitive favorite and still dominated the competition, so why assume that he will do anything but prevail in both Québec and Montréal?
The only way he does not win one or both of these races is if he is using them to build form in front of his attempt at winning a third consecutive Giro di Lombardia.