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Best Man for Montréal

September 9, 2011

Grand Prix Cycliste Québec Montréal 2011 logo

First, Québec race recap

Philippe Gilbert toughened the pace with less than two laps to go in the Grand Prix Cycliste Québec and won Eddy-Merckx-style by attacking. He didn’t sit on a wheel. That deserves respect, indeed, applause. For a good summary of the race action, check out cyclingnews.com’s report.

For me, Robert Gesink is the story of the Québec race, the man who wins the passion prize.

His outstanding performance in Québec, so close to the one-year anniversary of his dad’s death in late October of 2010, is a tribute to his personal strength and growth. The death of a parent is for many one of the biggest losses they ever experience. To perform so well near this often first challenging milestone after such a loss is extraordinary, especially at Gesink’s age of twenty-five.

In February it seemed like Gesink had passed through the pain of grief. He won the fourth stage of the Tour of Oman and dedicated his win to his dad.

Robert Gesink in Oman, Feb. 2011

I did it for my dad,” an exhausted Gesink said at the finish of the fourth stage, fighting back the tears. “I tried not to think about him too much because I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get to the finish the way I did, but it was on the finish line, and just after, that I remembered him.”

Coping with such a loss isn’t often completed after just three months. I get the feeling from his comments at the September 8th Grand Prix Cycliste press conference that it still isn’t over for Robert. “My season was really difficult. In fall I lost my father in a bicycle accident and it’s something which is hard to cope with,” he said. ” I really want to show this season that I’m still a really good rider. At the moment, it’s a season to get through.”

A poor Tour de France result, which many say is due to his crash in stage 5, couldn’t have made the healing process any easier.

After such a loss, many live by going through the motions. Stopping isn’t a choice — if you stop, you disintegrate. Death is the equivalent of stopping.  Perhaps this is why Gesink continued in the TDF to the end.

It’s common after the loss of a parent to question your trajectory in life. Many people change their goals, their careers. In the middle of this reflection imagine feeling as if you are swimming in a fog. Is this what happened to Gesink after finishing 33rd in the TDF? In a telling comment just before the start of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, Rabobank trainer Louis Delahaye said, “For Robert, it is important that he enjoy sitting on the bike every day.”

Robert showed the world today that he’s doing just that.

Montréal Preview

The Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal parcours, about the same length as that of the Québec race, covers 205.7 k. Riders climb in total 12,770 feet, 751 feet for each of the seventeen 12.1 k laps. The final run to the finish is a slightly uphill 0.5 k at 4% grade. This circuit has been used multiple times in the past as: a World Championships course in 1974, Olympic Games route in 1976, a men’s World Cup course in the 1980s and 1990s, and a women’s World Cup course in the 1990s and 2000s.

Grand Prix Cycliste Montréal 2011 course

As mentioned in the previous piece, with 3,000 more feet climbed than in Québec, Montréal is the more difficult climber’s race. The main climb is up Mont Royal (what the city of Montréal is named after) which continues for 1.8 k at an 8% rise. The riders will reach the second hill, the Côte de la Polytechnique, just after the descent of Mont Royal; it rises for 0.8 k at an average of 6% with a section at 11%.

In addition to Robert Gesink, we should expect strong rides not only from guys (les mecs) who performed well in Québec, but from strong men (les costauds) who decided to conserve their energy and even did not finish the Québec race. If it comes down to a sprint finish among a select group, that climber will also have to manage a decent sprint. I’m not great at naming climbers with good sprints, and would love readers’ comments on that topic. Possible winners that come to mind aside from Gesink: Jeff Louder (BMC) who has won a similar circuit in Salt Lake City (SLC) in the Tour of Utah, Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ), Lucas Euser (CMS) and Pat McCarty (CSM) and Timmy Duggan (LIQ) who performed well on the SLC circuit this year, David Arroyo (MOV), Johnny Hoogerland (VCD), and Rigoberto Uran (SKY). Ryder Hesjedal (GRM) and Philippe Gilbert (OLO) go without mentioning.

Again, insight from Kevin Field, Team SpiderTech’s assistant directeur sportif: “The Montréal circuit really does come down to the climb up Mont Royal,” he said. “There are still transitional areas where attacks can and will go – like the climb up the Polytechnic hill. But in Montréal if you can’t climb well it is very tough to win.” At the same time, Field allows that a strong classics climber, like Gilbert, could succeed.

Here’s what Gesink thinks, from the September 8th press conference: “Montreal I think is a different race, it’s really tough parcours because the climb is longer. I expect also like last year, you can attack at the right moment.” Gesink concluded, “Of course it’s possible to do it the same way but this year everybody looks at Gilbert, he’s the man for the Classics and if he can do  again like he did this year, it will be very difficult to beat him.”

Unless, perhaps you are Robert Gesink who wasn’t happy with his second place in Québec.

2010 Montréal results (note: of the top 10, only Gesink, Hesjedal, Sanchez, Duque, and Ballan compete this year)

1 Robert Gesink, Rabobank 4:58:22

2 Peter Sagan, Liquigas-Doimo +:04

3 Ryder Hesjedal, Garmin – Transitions

4 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre, Team Radioshack

5 Maxime Monfort, Team HTC – Columbia

6 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez, Euskaltel – Euskadi +:09

7 Leonardo Duque, Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne +:14

8 Alexander Botcharov, Team Katusha

9 Francesco Gavazzi, Lampre-Farnese Vini

10 Alessandro Ballan, BMC Racing Team

Thirteen additional riders arrived in the +14 seconds group. Eleventh through 15th placed were: Chris Anker Sorensen Team Saxo Bank, Jakob Fuglsang Team Saxo Bank, Francesco Reda Quick Step, Thibaut Jpinot Française Des Jeux, Mauro Santambrogio BMC Racing Team.

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