Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec

3 Oct

Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec – Vieux Quebec City

September 10, 2010


If you have spent any time at all on this blog you know I like bikes.

If you were around last July or if you’ve looked around much and noticed the 30+ posts I wrote on the Tour de Franceyou could correctly conclude that I must love bike racing.

Race day – Hotel Frontenac

Put those two things together, mix in our bike trip to Quebec City – add the first ever North American UCI Pro Tour race in Quebec City – and wallah – you’ve got it!

After our bike ride from Vermont to Quebec City we stayed on to watch the top professionals in the world, many of whom raced in this year’s Tour, compete in Quebec City Friday, September 10, 2010 in the Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec.

The riders came into Quebec Tuesday before the race via a charter jet from Paris.  We saw them several times riding the course and at the Hotel Frontenac before Friday’s race.

Training on Côte de la Montagne
10 – 15 % gradient on the Côte de la Montagne
Damn, this hurts!

One evening we went to dinner near the Frontenac so walked to the hotel afterwards.  We saw these two young guys with Footon – Servetto also hanging out in the lobby.

Pro bike racers are such nice guys – can you see a pro football player doing this?
Favored Canadian and very nice guy, Ryder Hesjedal (finished 4th in TDF)

On race day, like every other day in Quebec City we walked – no need for a car here. And, like nearly every day in Quebec, that walk took us up the la Montagne – 345 miles on the bike, then 25 miles plus walking around the hilly Old Quebec – my calves – and feet – thighs – had frankly had enough, but we persevered.



We walked to the Hotel Frontenac, where all the teams and entourage of the race stayed. All the team cars were parked and loaded up with bikes (drool). There were several riders inside the large tent warming up and getting ready. It was a sight!
 
Toy Store!

All the bikes were beautiful – we could get as close as we wanted – it was cool to see the frames and gruppo of each bike. There were people everywhere and a lot of excitement in the air.
 

Quebec is so geared toward cycling, we expected them to come out to watch and they had. As we walked on past the Frontenac toward the start line there were people starting to congregate. The streets were barricaded and police were on hand.  It was still hours until race time so not too many people to wade through.

Like us, most of the crowd seemed headed for the start – although when we walked up the la Montagne quite a few people were already starting to congregate. It was still a couple of hours until start time.

Ready for the race!

There were lots of people along the barricade but it was easy for us to find a spot right at the front, reasonably close to the start and stage where the teams and riders would be announced.

Shortly before the start of the race.

Although it had been very cloudy and cool, the sky was starting to brighten and it was warming up a bit. There was a lot going on – racers riding by, race officials on motorbikes and in cars staging, SRAM was there as were other sponsors.

Will Swetnam, photographer, works for Graham Watson.

Race official telling me to get back!
I want her job!

When certain riders rode by the crowd would cheer and bang hands against the signs on the barricades – clapping. The people standing next to us were fans of Tommy Voeckler, as am I.

Tommy Voeckler, French Champion, riding for Bbox.


When Canadian, Ryder Hesjedahl rode by everyone cheered loudly – including me – I like him too – what a Tour he had! George Hincapie, another class act, decked out in his stars and stripes US national champion’s kit rode by.

Americans, Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner of Team Radio Shack, also rode by warming up and we cheered loudly. Horner smiled. Neat guy.

The extra cool thing about this event, is that it was a criterium race; meaning the racers did 15 laps of a 12.6 km circuit in Old Quebec (hilly Old Quebec) – 189 km – approximately 4.5 hours of racing.

We had options watching a race of this type (circuit).  We could hunker down in one spot (start/finish) or move around the course to get a different vantage point of the race – say watch them struggle up the very steep (13% grade in sections) Côte de la Montagne ("Hill of the Mountain").

Photo by Francois Thevenin
Training ride.
George Hincapie in the stars and stripes.

Or we could do both – guess which we did.

At the start-
And they’re off!
At the finish
In the middle
Outside a bistro during the middle of the race where we enjoyed;
Brick oven pizza and local beer

When we heard the motorbikes approach, we would get up from our table, walk a few feet outside to the street and watch the lead group race by, then the peloton, then the stragglers, then go back inside for about 20 minutes until they would come by again.
 
Another good cappuccino

It worked out perfectly. Pizza, beer, coffee and bike racing – a perfect day.
Photo by Francois Thevenin

 
 
I will tell you nothing comes close to capturing the SPEED these guys ride at.  Seriously, they go by in a blur.  When we were at the finish, up against the barriers, the last 3 or 4 laps they came so close to the barrier I couldn’t believe it.
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When we would see them approaching, I would take my camera and reach over the barrier to take pictures.  Moments, really just a couple of seconds before they approached I would jerk my hand and body back.  If I hadn’t god knows what would have happened – I might have lost an arm.  Or worse, they would have made me leave for endangering the riders!

 

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It was a great race and an obviously difficult one.  I think it would be fair to say a surprisingly difficult race from the riders standpoint.  We saw riders dropping (out) like flies.  Before the race was over 63 riders would drop out – about 1/3rd of the number that started – an unusually high number for any race.  It was obviously a grueling course.

When the race started, there was a break almost immediately of about 13 riders.  A core group of riders stayed away until the last lap. 

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We watched the break survive lap after lap.

 

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Just about the time they were caught, Ryder Hesjedal attacked, Damiano Cunego attacked on the leg killing Côte de la Montagne - the same place the 1st attack occurred that resulted in the 13 rider break.

voeckler and jens

(Photo by Francois Thevenin)

It was a punishing attack by Hesjedal to try and claim a victory and fell just short.  He was doing all the work and simply couldn’t maintain the brutal pace.  When the group slowed down momentarily. Thomas Voeckler shot off the front at a turn and because of the indecision and/or fatigue of the group, by the time they reacted – it was too late.

voeckler takes off by  Jean-Francois Lafrance

(Photo by Francois Thevenin)

 

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Here he comes – we were maybe 50 meters from the finish!

The French Champion claimed the win by just 1 second over the chasing group.  Edvald Boasson-Hagen came in second, Robert Gesink was third, and Ryder Hesjedal fourth.

gp winners

(Photo by Velo News)

The evening before the race, who should Mark and I run into at the Chateau Frontenac – but Thomas Voeckler.  Voeckler is one of my favorite racers and has been ever since I first saw him race in 2004.  He is gutsy and as tough as they come.  His first year in the TDF (2004) he held the yellow jersey for 10 days, 9 days longer than anyone expected when he captured it.

No one counts him out any longer.  He won Stage 15 in this year’s Tour (my post on stage 15).  He is tenacious and one savvy bike racer.  I was so happy to get my picture taken with him – he even had to wait until Mark could fix the camera after I inadvertently pushed a wrong button.  Instead of getting frustrated and walking off he smiled and waited – I’m sure thinking stupid American.  Nice picture though!

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Thomas Voeckler, Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec Champion, 2010

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