When the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, wins, he always does it in style, but today the Slovak BORA-hansgrohe rider made it extra special, claiming his 100th professional victory with a commanding win on a tough uphill sprint. From the start of the GP Cycliste de Québec it was clear the team had their eye on the win, working hard to control the race and deliver Peter to the line. The Austrian, Lukas Pöstlberger, also claimed the best climber’s jersey on a day where the whole BORA-hansgrohe team showed their strength on a demanding course.
Sixteen laps of a 12.6km circuit of Québec’s beautiful streets made up the 201.6km course for today’s race. While the laps themselves were short, the difficulty of the terrain made certain that this wasn’t going to be a straightforward race, with 2,976m of climbing over the day taking place on four steep ascents. The toughest of these would see riders battle against gradients of 13%, and the day’s finale, while on one of the more gentle hills, would take place on a 4% incline. The fine weather conditions would see riders start in high spirits – but after more than 200km on punishing terrain, there would only be a few riders on the start list who would be strong enough to contest the finish.
The day started at the highest point of the course, and so riders were eager to get into a break and put some distance between themselves and the peloton before the climbing started. After a few attempts were brought back in, a group of four managed to get away with just a few kilometres of the race covered. This small but determined group of four succeeded in building an advantage of a minute, before gradually extending this as the day went on – topping out at nearly ten minutes. This advantage put the leaders at more than half a lap in front of the peloton, at which point the bunch was spurred into action, with BORA-hansgrohe working to pull in the escape’s substantial gap to a more manageable 5:30 with 50km remaining.
The relentless pace of the break, combined with the pressure of the chasing peloton, saw the escapees starting to struggle, losing one of their number and making it harder to maintain the high speeds they had done over the distance so far, before losing another with 30km remaining. With the gap now approaching two minutes, it was clear that the peloton was working to make the catch ahead of a fast finale. In the peloton, UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, looked comfortable and was surrounded by his teammates and with only one rider remaining of the break and the gap down to thirty seconds, the race was really coming to life, the catch being made with 16km remaining. Attacks came and went, but there was no denying the sprinters, who massed at the front as the kilometres ticked down, Marcus Burghardt upping the pace in his distinctive German National Champion’s jersey and Lukas Pöstlberger setting a fast tempo. Swooping around his adversaries and making the most of a wide finishing stretch, the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, made it professional win number 100, the 4% climb barely registering as the Slovak rider surged to victory.
Having claimed his milestone 100th professional victory, Peter, as always, thanked his teammates, knowing how important they were in today’s win. “In the end, the result was very similar to last year, and the style of the race was similar too, even down to Uran attacking as always. In the finale there was a headwind, but I decided I had to start my sprint from further out. It was a very long sprint and the last kilometre being uphill made it hard. Thanks very much to the team. BORA-hansgrohe did an amazing job – they were pulling all day on the front and we were able to control the race on the last three laps. There were a lot of attacks and the guys did a very good job closing the gaps. 100 is a special number but it’s never enough. You can’t rest on your laurels – you always have to aspire for more. I’ll try again on Sunday, but races are always unpredictable – you need luck. You can be injured or crash, but I want to do my best with the team, and we’ll see what comes next in Montreal.”
For BORA-hansgrohe Team Coach, Patxi Vila, the whole team knew what they wanted the outcome of the day to be, and were eager to work for it. “Our clear plan this morning was to work for Peter in order to go for the win. He was victorious last year as well but this didn’t make things any easier – it was much harder than it seemed. It’s a tough race with a line-up of strong opponents and the entire squad today put in a fantastic effort in an exhibition of flawless teamwork. Everybody worked so hard and did everything we asked for. Our strategy was perfectly executed. Given the finale, we knew it wasn’t going to be a sprint with leadout teams but rather a battle between the main contenders. Peter was always protected by his teammates until the final kilometre and there he took the race into his hands. We expected this was going to be a fight between Peter, Van Avermaet and Matthews and this is what happened. It was a well-deserved win for Peter and the team. It is also an honour and a privilege for all of us today to have played a part in such a milestone, Peter’s 100th professional victory. Obviously, the morale is very high but Sunday’s race in Montréal isn’t going to be easy. It will be tough but, once again, we will give our best.”
Heading to Montréal to close off the weekend, another arduous day of racing awaits on Sunday. While the distance is similar to today’s race, at 205.7km, the parcours is an altogether different affair, with even more climbing than in Québec. Riders will climb 3,893m over 17 laps, with one long ascent – the 8% Côte Camillien-Houde dominating the profile. The finale will take place on another 4% climb, but while the all-rounders may have their eye on the win, there’s no telling who will come away with the victory on such a tough course.