9/16/2013 12:00:00 AM - TEAM NEWS!
Peter Sagan wins Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal
Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal 2013
Ponzi outsprints Hesjedal for second
Peter Sagan (Cannondale) wrapped up his pre-Worlds block of North American racing the way it began nearly one month ago in stage 1 at the USA Pro Challenge - with a resounding victory. The 23-year-old Slovakian champion didn't rely on his sprint, however, to win the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal but instead launched a searing attack over the punchy Cote de la Polytechnique ascent at 5.5km to go and rode away to a solo victory.
The near 3,900 meters of climbing on 17 laps of the Montreal circuit had already taken its toll as only 11 riders remained at the head of the race midway through the final lap.
For a moment it looked like Canada's Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) would end a troubled season in fine fashion as he had preceded Sagan's attack with a solo move of his own on the Cote de la Polytechnique.
Sagan, however, sensing weakness in his rivals and not wishing to risk the chaos of a sprint finale, mercilessly delivered the final knockout blow in a flash of panache and raw power as he caught and dispatched of Hesjedal and kept his foot on the gas through to the finish line.
In Sagan's wake the irrepressible Hesjedal leapt away from the 10-rider chase group at the flamme rouge, garnering another roar from the partisan crowd, and was quickly joined by Simone Ponzi (Astana). The 32-year-old Canadian led Ponzi through the 180-degree turn at 500 meters to go but Ponzi was too quick on the rise to the finish and led Hesjedal across the line for second place four seconds after Sagan.
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), third on Friday at the Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec, won the eight-man sprint for fourth three seconds later.
It was a bitter pill for Sagan to swallow when he could only place 10th on Friday's race in Quebec, on a course considered better-suited to his talents, but as he's shown so many times this season Sagan can seemingly win at will on virtually any terrain.
"I'm very happy for this victory because I came here with my team with big objectives in Quebec and here in Montreal," said Sagan. "In Quebec I maybe threw away the race because I attacked too hard, too early - it was my fault that I lost. But today was better."
While Sagan employed similar tactics today, appearing fully satisfied with not waiting for a sprint finish by bridging to a threatening break on the penultimate lap and chasing down a solo Robert Gesink (Belkin) on the final ascent of the circuit's early and signature climb of Mont Royal, this time his reserve of strength seemed limitless.
"Other teams wanted to do a hard race and on the last lap I saw other riders going too hard on the [penultimate Mont Royal] climb so I thought maybe today I'd try an attack on the last climb," said Sagan.
Sagan revealed that his original intention was to work with Hesjedal over the Polytechnique, "two would be better than one," which drew a quick quip from the Garmin-Sharp Canadian at the post-race press conference. "Maybe you should have slowed down a little bit."
For Hesjedal, who repeated his third place result from the inaugural Montreal WorldTour race in 2010, it was a satisfying way to close out a year with more than its fair share of disappointment.
"I wanted to challenge for victory but there's a great field here and hats off to Peter," said Hesjedal. "It was a strong move - I didn't expect anyone to come around me on the Polytechnique - but I put on a good show and I'm really glad to be here on the podium in my last race of the season.
"Once Peter went people needed to chase and decide if we were going for the win or going for second place. I made my move, did the best I could, and was pleased with the outcome."
Ponzi, too, was pleased with his second place result - the first WorldTour podium of the 26-year-old Italian's career.
"It was a very good day for me," said Ponzi. "I was very happy to finish on the podium after Peter who was the strongest today.
"The team helped me in the finale to get ready for the sprint, especially Enrico Gasparotto who did so much work to keep the group together and let me find the best possible position."
How it happened
The Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal peloton faced 17 laps of a famed 12.1km circuit which over the years has been host to the 1974 world championships, the 1976 Olympic Games as well as men's and women's World Cup races in more recent years.
The circuit begins on the Avenue du Parc and the peloton immediately ascends the route's signature climb up Mont Royal (the Cote Camilien-Houde at 1.8km in length at 8% average gradient). The riders then descend the Chemin Remembrance and the Cote-des-Neiges before beginning a more technical stint through the downtown streets surrounding the Université de Montréal.
The riders then face the circuit's second climb, the Cote de la Polytechnique (780m at 6% average gradient) mid-way through the circuit and descend along the Cote Ste-Catherines back onto Avenue du Parc. The flamme rouge is adjacent to the finish line as the riders descend slightly for 500 meters, negotiate a 180 degree turn around the center median, then climb a 4% rise for 500m to the finish.
Soon after the peloton rolled off the start line at 11:00am, riders from the Canadian national team came to the fore and ultimately instigated the day's early break. Canadian champion Zach Bell, competing as part of his national team at the Quebec and Montreal WorldTour races, escaped and was joined by Sergio Paulinho (Saxo-Tinkoff), Danilo Hondo (RadioShack Leopard), Ruben Perez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Valerio Agnoli (Astana), who also was in the early break in Quebec on Friday. The five-man group grew to seven with the addition of Adriano Malori (Lampre-Merida) and William Clarke (Argos-Shimano) who bridged across at the completion of the opening lap.
The peloton trailed at 48 seconds after the first lap, but were spread across the width of the road and content to let the break roll ahead. One lap later the break's advantage had ballooned to nearly five minutes and with Omega Pharma-QuickStep and Sky setting tempo at the head of the field the gap stabilised at approximately 4:30 for the following six laps.
Midway through the race Petr Ignatenko (Katusha) jumped away from the peloton in pursuit of the break and later on the ninth lap his teammate Rudiger Selig, too, escaped from the field. At the end of lap nine Ignatenko trailed the break by two minutes, Selig followed at 2:35 while the peloton, still led by Sky and Omega Pharma-QuickStep, had trimmed the break's advantage to three minutes,
Selig's solo effort came to naught as he was swept up by the peloton on lap 10, while his teammate Ignatenko pressed onwards but trailed the break by two minutes at lap's end. Ignatenko held off the peloton's pursuit through the top of Cote Camilien-Houde early on lap 11, but was caught soon after its summit with Team Sky leading the field.
The British WorldTour squad continued to push the pace with six riders on the front and their prolonged stint at the head of the field finally resulted in the early break's demise on lap 13 with 53.5km remaining.
FDJ and Lotto Belisol took over the reins and set a blistering pace, stretching out the peloton in a single file and ultimately causing splits. For the next lap and a half a bevy of squads tried to assert their will on the race, but other than whittling down the peloton to about 60 riders nobody was able to escape.
The elastic finally snapped on the 15th ascent of the Polytechnique as seven riders went clear: Jesus Herrada (Movistar), Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha), Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida), Daniel Oss (BMC), Gorka Izaguirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Tim Wellens (Lotto Belisol) and Cyril Gautier (Europcar). Heading onto the penultimate lap the break held a 25-second lead with Cannondale now at the front of the field leading the chase.
The 16th ascent of Mont Royal saw the first appearance of pre-race heavyweights attacking in earnest. Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) jumped away from the peloton and was marked by Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and Jan Bakelants (RadioShack Leopard). The trio bridged to the break at the summit and none other than Peter Sagan (Cannondale) jumped across on the descent. Any semblance of cooperation came to a cessation and the move was caught at 18km to go.
Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEdge) was the next to play his hand and the 32-year-old Swiss jumped away with 15km remaining. The peloton, now only about 40-strong, momentarily sat up and as Albasini crossed the finish line and heard the welcome one-lap-to-go bell he led a solo Amael Moinard (BMC) by seven seconds while the field came through at 15 seconds.
On the final Mont Royal ascent both Moinard and Albasini were caught with 10km remaining and another fierce round of attacking detonated what was left of the peloton. Friday's winner in Quebec, Robert Gesink (Belkin), made a strong surge and was quickly marked by Sagan. Over the top of the Mont Royal climb about 20 riders remained in front and soon another flurry of attacks were launched by Chris Froome (Sky), Bakelants, Hesjedal and Gesink - all of which were neutralised.
The attacking further whittled down the lead group to only 11 riders and on the final ascent of the Cote de la Polytechnique an attack by Hesjedal was countered by Sagan who would stamp his authority on the day's outcome.
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Photo: © James Startt