Peter Sagan, Greg Van Avermaet, Chris Froome, Thomas Voeckler, Philippe Gilbert – the Grands Prix Cyclistes de Québec and Montréal have been attracting the world’s top cyclists since 2010. But each year, among the WorldTour and pro continental teams, there’s always a group of Canadians in national team kit. Usually, WorldTour events are only open to first- and seconddivision squads. Since the creation of the Quebec races, however, organizers have always had special permission to include a national team. “Our mission is to bring the best in the world here to Canada, to Quebec, for the races and also to have the opportunity for young, promising riders to go elbow to elbow with the top riders and to showcase the local talent here,” said Marcel Leblanc, executive vice-president of the races. The events not only have a role in showcasing Canadian talent, but they seem to play a part in building it. François Parisien, Hugo Houle, David Veilleux and Antoine Duchesne all rode on the national squad before later moving on to pro continental or WorldTour teams.
In 2016, the Canadian squad was active in both races. Nicolas Masbourian of Montreal was in the breakaway in Quebec City. Two days later, Benjamin Perry of St. Catharines, Ont., and Matteo Dal-Cin of Ottawa were part of a group of escapees in Montreal. Almost a year later, riders, all former teammates on Silber Pro Cycling, reflected on how those performances played out and what the Quebec races mean to them.
Nicolas Masbourian, 23
I was pretty nervous. Quebec and Montreal are bike races that I’d seen a lot, but never raced. Young Quebec riders watch the races and want to be in them. I was one of those young riders a couple of years ago. At first they look impossible. Then you start knowing people on the national team who’ve done them. You think, “Well, maybe one year it could be me.”
Benjamin Perry, 23
The first year, I remember thinking it was going to be really hard, but it was harder than I expected. You can watch the races on TV and think, “Oh yeah, I ride my bike hard, too. I can go as fast as these guys.” But then you do it and actually see the struggle.
It’s comforting to hear from guys like Guillaume Boivin and other WorldTour riders about how Quebec and Montreal are serious and hard WorldTour races. You might think that they are just two one-day races that overlap with the Vuelta. Maybe there are WorldTour races that are more serious than those? But it’s competitive at each race.
Matteo Dal-Cin, 26
They were difficult when I did them first in 2014. I didn’t go for the breaks. That was for some of the more senior riders. I just stayed in the pack, did the best I could and tried to help out the guys like Ryan Anderson and Mike Woods, whose goals were more results-oriented. It was more of a survival type thing for me.
Last year, Ben, Nic, Alex Cataford and I all had the opportunity to go for the break if we were feeling capable. The king of the mountain competition is often the goal for Canada. It’s a way we can feature in the race and is a realistic expectation. Getting a top 10 is extremely difficult in those races. So, the national team targets that KOM prize as a way to get something out of the race.
Getting into the break is always kind of a lottery. The race could go on for five or six laps before the break goes. Or it could be the first attack. In Quebec City, I knew I could get in, but it would be hard.
The first couple of guys went after the Parc des Champs-de-Bataille, when it gets technical on that fast downhill on Gilmor. Then a couple of attacks went on Boulevard Champlain. Everything was brought back together. All the WorldTour teams were trying to close the road so the break would stick. I would say that halfway along Champlain, I attacked with Jan Barta. We bridged to the break. Before the first climb up Côte de la Montagne, the break was established, so it took about 7 or 8 km. It was pretty fast.
After Nic went across to the break, I tried to launch across. I was on my own and got maybe to within 20 seconds of Nic and his group. But they were going full out trying to establish the break. The pack was feathering it out, but the break wasn’t going to be slowing up at that point just to bring on one more guy. I floundered a bit and then ended up going backwards.
They were all super experienced breakaway riders. We rotated through for 150 km. Collaboration was really good.
They let me have the first KOM point the first time up Côte de Glacis. They said, “Just take it.” So I did. But then my plan was to go for the KOM, even though the first 10 laps only award one point on the climb. I was trying to save energy for later when I could win three or 10 points. They let me get the lower points, but when there were more points to win, it got really hard. Jan Barta got in the mix. Then we were brought back by the peloton too early so we couldn’t get any 10-point KOMs. In the end, no one from the break got the KOM.
It was an incredible experience – the best race experience I’d ever had. To be able to race in the break at my first WorldTour race, and in my home province of Quebec with people I know cheering for me, was an exceptional experience.
In Montreal, I attacked Lukas Pöstlberger and Fabien Grellier on the climb. I looked back at Matteo and thought, “What is he doing?” He was dragging the peloton. He gave another dig and came across. It was a gamble for Matteo to keep me so close to the peloton, but it worked in our favour.
I had watched two editions of Montreal and participated in one. It seems the break always goes up Camillien-Houde. If it’s not there, then it will go sometime later in that first lap. I knew that it would be important to be ready to go for it. I made sure I was attentive up front. It felt a bit crazy doing a flat-out effort up the climb on the first lap.
Ben and I tried to see if the others in the break were interested in the KOM. Still, you can never be sure. Someone might say, “Oh, you can take the points,” and then sprint you each time. Ben and I elected to have Ben go for all the points because he has a better sprint than me. I wasn’t going to go for them from midway or the bottom of the climb. The safe bet was with Ben with the better kick. He could follow guys who might be interested in it, then just outsprint them. It was also better than splitting the points between us. We could get jumped in the points later. Ben won a few KOMs pretty handily. I think Grellier went for a couple. But, the competition kind of waned when everyone realized Ben was super committed and that he had a really good sprint. It was a tough combo for the others to compete against.
I was really happy with how it went for us. Matteo was really strong. He did a little too much early on. But breakaway riders like Jasha Sütterlin, who is WorldTour, and Sean De Bie, who has won Driedaagse van West- Vlaanderen, were both dropped a few laps before Matteo and me. Pöstlberger and I were the last to get caught. Actually, I think Pöstlberger had 50 m on me. And of course, then we were just spat out the back.
The break was losing time with maybe four laps to go. I did a few turns at the front that were a bit longer to make sure we could hang on for a bit more so that Ben could see more of the 10-point climbs. When they went for the next round of points, I never made contact with the group again. I got caught by the pack at the bottom of Polytechnique. I wasn’t able to hang on, and then stopped in the feed zone. I watched the last lap with a couple of the other guys who had also not finished and with a bunch of the staff. Ben kept going as he had to continue to secure jersey.
After that day, I was really happy. Even talking with my coach, we could see it was a breakthrough performance in terms of statistics and the stress I put my body under. It was a new best. It was also the first impact that I’ve ever made on a WorldTour race. To get on the podium of a WorldTour event, even though it’s the KOM of a one-day race (not a highly sought-after prize), it was really cool to be up there. It was cool TV time.
I think having the national team at the Grands Prix Cyclistes de Québec and Montréal is a huge privilege given to us by organizer Serge Arsenault. It’s a good opportunity for us to develop. To have someone like Ben go out and return that favour with the effort and a successful podium ride, even if it’s not the finish podium, it shows well for the country and Canadian cycling.
Last year was also a lot of fun because I knew a lot of people on Mont-Royal. You’re only climbing at 20 km/h so you can see all the faces. Every 20 m, it’s like, “Oh, there’s my mom. There’s Matteo’s dad. And there’s this guy I used to race as a junior. There are my Silber teammates who aren’t racing this weekend.” It was almost like, “Oh hey! How’s it going?” (Really, I’d nod at the odd person because it was not easy being up there.) It’s weird: when you’re racing in front of tons of people, it feels like it doesn’t hurt as much to go really hard. It’s even more so when you feel like you know everyone in the crowd. Obviously, I only knew about two per cent of the people, but it felt like I knew everyone.