By David Hunter
Montréal – Montréal 195.2km
Time for some circuit racing, Canadian style!
A race which is dominated by four climbs and is usually a very exciting race to watch.
Côte Camillen-Houde, 1.8km at 8%.
Côte de Polytechnique, 780m at 6%, but includes 200m at 11%.
Claude-Champagne, 800m at 4%.
Avenue du Parc, 560m at 4%.
This race can get very tactical. Strong teams make a huge difference, forcing others into burning domestiques. The climbs are hard enough to blow many riders out of the pack and the bunch will be relatively small for the final lap. Long range attacks rarely succeed, but a clever move in the last few laps can stick.
The hardest climb is the first one, which crests with 10km remaining of the circuit. The length of the climb is the main difficulty and this is where the “sprinters” can be put into difficulty. Up next it Côte de Polytechnique, which has some seriously steep slopes. In the last couple of laps, the pace will be high and this climb will help to slime the bunch down.
The finish is one that I enjoy. The riders have to deal with a u-turn and then it’s full gas for the final 500m. This corner has seen crashes, riders must be careful not to end up on the floor.
As Michael Matthews is the fastest finisher here, the other teams will look to put Sunweb under pressure. I expect to see BMC, Astana, AG2R and Lotto set a fast pace in the middle section of the race. The Sunweb squad is relatively strong, but they can be put into difficulty. In the closing stages, Matthews’ chances will depend on the strength of Kragh Andersen and Sam Oomen, we shall see if they can hold everything together.
A nice day for the bunch, no rain is expected.
Michael Matthews – despite a huge amount of climbing, this race isn’t too hard for the Aussie. He’s gone well here in the past, but hasn’t managed to finish on the podium. The big problem is that he’s the fastest sprinter and the other squads won’t simply tow him to the line. As I have already mentioned, this puts the team under enormous pressure. I don’t think they have the strength to hold the race together and set up a sprint.
Greg Van Avermaet – second in Québec, for the third consecutive year. It’s safe to say that Van Avermaet will be very happy to be in Montréal. He won here in 2016, beating Peter Sagan in the sprint. The final 500m rises at 4%, which allows Greg to challenge and beat the sprinters. BMC will be happy to hold the race together and see if their man can beat Matthews to the line, but I wouldn’t rule out a late attack either.
Diego Ulissi – the defending champion is back. Last year was a perfect example of what can happen in this race. A big break got away in the closing laps and most teams were represented, which meant the bunch didn’t chase. From the group, Ulissi won the sprint. This is a race that can reward attacking riders, something I think Ulissi will try again this year. He does have a fast sprint, but he won’t win from the main group.
Michael Valgren – the great Dane looked in fine form on Friday. It might not sound much, but Michael taking 9th in the sprint was a great result for him. This is his last big goal for the season and he will go all guns blazing! Astana were the strongest team in Québec and I’m sure we’ll see them making this race tough too. With a number of rivals having a faster sprint than him, Valgren will need to play it clever in the closing laps.
Tim Wellens – looked good on Friday, but a mechanical denied him the chance of sprinting. Lotto are here to fully support Wellens and this is a race he likes, he won here in 2015. The Belgian has enjoyed a brilliant season, I get the impression he’s hungry for more success.
Zdenek Štybar – the Czech star hasn’t won a race since March 2016, if you discount his national title in 2017. For someone so talented, this is a worrying period, especially considering the strength of the team he rides for. The good news is that in recent months, Štybar has looked more like his own self. Hopefully he gets a win soon.
Matej Mohorič – can he cap off a brilliant season with another win? This is a race that suits his characteristics, as it contains a lot of fast descents. After winning both the Binck Bank Tour and Deutschland Tour, he’ll be incredibly confident and calm too. Mohorič used to get a little too excited, but his wins will have calmed him down. Nowadays, it seems that he’s learned to time his attacks very well. If we get a small sprint, he’s fast!
I expect a very hard race and Tim Wellens to emerge victorious.
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