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GP Québec and Montréal back in the fast lane as WorldTour relegation race heats up

North America's only WorldTour races are back following a two-year hiatus with COVID with a superstar field.

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Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec: September 9

Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal: September 11

QUEBEC, Canada (VN) — Flights coming into this bustling historic city overnight were loaded with the crème de la crème of the WorldTour peloton.

Geraint Thomas, Biniam Girmay, and Jakob Fuglsang were among the big names packing into a flight for the revival of the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec on Friday and Montréal on Sunday following a two-year COVID hiatus.

Wout van Aert, Michael Matthews, Peter Sagan, and Tadej Pogačar flew in on a separate flight for the pair of one-day races in the French-speaking province of Canada.

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Or, as race organizers have it in their promotional poster, “the big return of the best,” le grand retour de meilleurs.

Many of the top contenders are Wollongong-bound, and riders like Van Aert and Mathews will travel directly from Canada to Australia.

The pair of one-day races are back just as teams try to squeeze out some final UCI points that could make or break their respective futures.

The races are North America’s only WorldTour events, and the teams brought some big names for the weekend of racing.

Neither are easy days in the saddle, but at least the weather is looking good, especially for Québec. There is an increasing chance of showers for Montréal.

If there’s anything that proves that the worst of the COVID pandemic is behind the peloton it is the revival of such far-away events as the pair of Canadian races, canceled in 2020 and 2021 as the pandemic swept the globe.

“We are especially pleased and proud to see the world’s élite riders return to Québec City and Montréal,” race organizer Sébastien Arsenault said. “We’ve worked hard over the past two years, which have been particularly challenging, to make sure that the story would continue.”

The Canadian races are North America’s only WorldTour stops

Greg Van Avermaert is back for this week’s races. (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

The sharp hills, narrow streets, and thumping crowds typically deliver some thrilling racing. There are no major tweaks to the courses last used in 2019.

The Québec race is contested over the hilltop overlooking the Saint Lawrence seaway, with 16 laps on a 12.6km circuit that includes four demanding climbs. The Côte de la Montagne (375 m, 10 percent), Côte de la Potasse (420 m, 9 percent), Montée de la Fabrique (190 m, 7 percent) and Montée du Fort (1000 m, 4 percent) are all stacked up on each lap, with the last climb often playing the decider.

It all adds up to 2,976 vertical meters on the Québec race, ideal preparation for the worlds as well as a chance to win a big race.

“It’s a very exciting group going to the Canada races. Firstly it’s Québec, a very punchy race with shorter but hard climbs, which always comes down to a select sprint group, and Montreal with more meters of climbing which should be a harder race,” said Bahrain Victorious sport director Neil Stephens.

“Montreal is a different story, and it really suits Pello Bilbao, 100 percent we are going for the podium with him. He’s very motivated. He’ll be doing Québec to try things out, he gets a decent result there normally, but it’s a podium finish in Montreal we are aiming for.”

The bunch travels to Montréal for the 219.6km race Sunday, also contested on a local circuit of 12.3km. With 4,842 vertical meters, it’s an even more grueling day in the saddle.

The route is similar to the world championships won by Eddy Merckx in 1974, with the Côte Camillien-Houde (1800 m, 8 percent), Côte de Polytechnique (780 m, 6 percent), and Avenue du Parc (560 m, 4 percent) featured on each lap.

“I remain very motivated for the end of the season races which are coming and in particular for the Grands Prix Quebec and Montreal,” said Aurélien Paret-Peintre of AG2r-Citroën. “These are two really beautiful races from a sporting but also an organizational point of view. I had the chance to do them in 2019 and I was able to see the incredible enthusiasm of the fans. This support is a pleasure to see and I think that after two years of not having the races, the fans will be even more supportive.”

After the race, some will pack back into planes to return to Europe to race the Italian fall classics, while others head to Australia for the worlds. A few might B-line straight to the beach as the season is coming to a close with a bang, at least for some.

GP Québec former winners:

2019 — Michael Matthews
2018 — Matthews
2017 — Peter Sagan
2016 — Peter Sagan
2015 — Rigoberto Urán
2014 — Simon Gerrans
2013 — Robert Gesink
2012 — Simon Gerrans
2011 — Philippe Gilbert
2010 — Thomas Voeckler

GP Montréal former winners:

2019 — Greg Van Avermaet
2018 — Michael Matthews
2017 — Diego Ulissi
2016 — Van Avermaet
2015 — Tim Wellens
2014 — Simon Gerrans
2013 — Peter Sagan
2012 — Lars Petter Nordhaug
2011 — Rui Costa
2010 — Robert Gesink