QUEBEC CITY, Canada (VN) — The list of contenders to win this year’s Québec City and Montréal Grand Prix Cyclistes is long and varied. However no matter who is asked at the historic Fairmont Le Château Frontenac hotel, which serves as the race’s headquarters, the same names keep popping up. Here we lay out the five top favorites for the podium in Canada.
The Québec race is Friday and the Montréal race is Sunday.
1. Philippe Gilbert (B), Omega Pharma-Lotto
Why he can win: There’s no one in pro cycling better at winning one-day races than Gilbert. Both races have uphill finishes, which suits Gilbert’s strengths to perfection.
Why he might not win: The Belgian national road champion and current UCI world number-two ranked rider claims he’s not currently in the same condition he held from April through August — although Gilbert at 90 percent on an uphill finish is still probably strong enough to win. However his Omega Pharma team may not ride for him with the same gusto now that he’s announced he’s headed to BMC Racing in 2012.
2010 results: Did not race
Recent quote: “We checked the (Québec) climb, and with a 12 km circuit, it means we’ll have to climb it regularly. It’s going to hurt. The finale suits me but I was told there was a strong headwind last year which will make it difficult for a rider to surge.”
2. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor), Sky
Why he can win: Why can’t he win? At 24, Boasson Hagen has proven he can win on just about every type of terrain contested in professional cycling — uphill finishes, mountainous grand tour stages, time trials — and the overall classification at small stage races like Tour of Benelux. Simon Gerrans, Michael Barry, Juan Antonio Flecha, Jeremy Hunt, Rigoberto Uran and Christian Knees will support him. Underestimate Boasson Hagen at your own risk.
Why he might not win: Gerrans could go up the road in a winning breakaway move, forcing Boasson Hagen to sit in the bunch.
2010 results: In 2010 Boasson Hagen won the bunch sprint for second in Québec, and was in the front group on the final lap in Montréal before he crashed on the course’s 180-degree right-hand turn.
3. Robert Gesink (Ned), Rabobank
Why he can win: His results last year demonstrate that he clearly knows what it takes to fight for the victory. In Laurens Ten Dam and Stef Clement, Gesink has capable lieutenants.
Why he might not win: His 2011 season has been less than stellar. Crashes led to injury and disappointment at the Tour de France, and Gesink was a non-factor at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge last month, finishing 16th overall.
2010 results: Gesink won in Montréal and finished third at Québec.
Recent quote: “I’m motivated to do well again. The Colorado racing was a good warm-up for this race. I think I’m in good shape. It’s good for me if it’s a difficult race and everyone has to go to their maximum.”
4. Ryder Hesjedal (Can), Garmin-Cervélo
Why he can win: A strong all-rounder, the courses’ profiles almost perfectly match Hesjedal’s characteristics. And with Christian Vande Velde, Tom Danielson, Dave Zabriskie, Matt Wilson and Peter Stetina riding in support, Hesjedal should have all the help he needs.
Why he might not win: Last year Hesjedal was arguably the strongest man in both races, yet his blatant desire to win on home turf was his weakness — the rest of the front group used and abused him, repeatedly looking to him to chase down moves, to which he obliged. Having been so close in 2010, Hesjedal wants the victories even more this year. And once again, his opponents know it.
2010 results: Third in Montréal and fourth in Québec.
Recent quote: “I see myself as the Garmin-Cervélo team leader here. I want to perform well and stand at the top of the podium.”
5. Levi Leipheimer (USA), RadioShack
Why he can win: Following a disastrous Tour de France marred by crashes and injury, Leipheimer has taken overall wins at the Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, including impressive uphill wins in Crested Butte and Vail. Leipheimer finished in the main chase group in Montréal in 2010, 14 seconds behind Gesink. In 2011 he’s supported by Jason McCartney, Ben King, Philip Deignan and Gregory Rast.
Why he might not win: With all the merger controversy of the past week, and several riders unclear on whether they have a 2012 contract, RadioShack is not the most motivated team in the peloton. And should it come down to a bunch sprint, Leipheimer can’t match the finishing speed of riders like Boasson Hagen and Gilbert.
2010 results: 86th in Québec, 22nd in Montréal