Following its Olympic heritage, some 43 years after the 1976 Games, the Mont Royal in Montréal hosts the world’s top cyclists for the UCI WorldTour Grand Prix de Montréal. And the stars have returned to Canada for this event: the world number one Julian Alaphilippe, the world’s most famous cyclist Peter Sagan, and many more will line up in Montréal two days after its partner event, the Grand Prix de Québec.
Back in 1976, only amateur athletes were welcomed at the Olympic Games, so the likes of Eddy Merckx, Bernard Thévenet and Felice Gimondi weren’t in the picture: Sweden’s Bernt Johansson won the road race solo. Interestingly, three of
the top 10 became Sport Directors who are still very influential in professional cycling today: Astana’s Giuseppe Martinelli (2nd) Total Direct Energie’s Jean-René Bernaudeau (7th) and Mitchelton-Scott’s
Vittorio Algeri (8th). The race was contested on 26 July over 14 laps of a 12.5km circuit on the Mont Royal. Other cities such as London (Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic), Paris (Tour de France), Melbourne (Cadel Evans Great Ocean
Road Race) and Barcelona (Volta a Catalunya) host the UCI WorldTour competitors on an annual basis after having organised the Olympic Games, but the GP of Montréal is probably the one whose identity comes closest to what the Olympic road race
It was TV producer Serge Arsenault who revived the race’s heritage through the FICP World Cup in 1988 after the inaugural win by his compatriot Steve Bauer who remains Canada’s cycling icon – even though Ryder Hesjedal has subsequently
won the 2012 Giro d’Italia. The late Franco Ballerini won the race in 1990 in epic conditions as torrential rain washed out the riders from start to finish. However, pro cyclists in the early 80s loved going to the French speaking Canadian city,
praising its remarkable hospitality.
The only North American leg of the UCI World Cup had fully embraced the concept. From start to finish the TV show was interrupted by summaries of the previous races in the series so the audience could see Gianni Bugno winning Milan-Sanremo, Moreno Argentin
making his comeback at the Tourdes Flandres, Eddy Planckaert beating Bauer in a photo-finish at Paris-Roubaix, and so on. They also showed Miguel Indurain, who was not yet the Tour de France winner, taking victory at the Klasika San Sebastian and
Charly Mottet, now the Technical Director of the Canadian races, taking the defunct Züri-Metzgete in Switzerland.
The first version of the Grand Prix des Amériques lasted from 1988 to 1996. Arsenault relaunched it in 2010 as he witnessed the emergence of the UCI ProTour – now UCI WorldTour. From this year’s tenth edition he can look back with the
satisfaction at the record of prestigious winners: Robert Gesink (2010), Rui Costa (2011), Lars Petter Nordhaug (2012), Peter Sagan (2013), Simon Gerrans (2014), Tim Wellens (2015), Greg Van Avermaet (2016, after his Olympic title in Rio de Janeiro),
Diego Ulissi (2017) and Michael Matthews (2018).
But Arsenault came back on the international cycling scene with two events instead of just the famous one on the Mont Royal: the Grand Prix de Québec was created to give the champions two chances within three days to shine in the region. The capital
city of the province of the same name has also crowned top riders: Thomas Voeckler (2010), Philippe Gilbert (2011), Gerrans (2012, 2014), Gesink (2013), Rigoberto Urán (2015), Sagan (2016, 2017) and Matthews (2018). The only two riders
to have won both races consecutively, Gerrans and Matthews, are both Australian.
Regular contenders Sagan, Van Avermaet and Matthews are back looking for more success as they gear up for the UCI Road World Championships in Yorkshire, Great Britain, at the end of September and the lumpy terrain of the Canadian races offers an ideal
warm-up. Super champion Vincenzo Nibali is highly awaited by the North American fans as well. But all eyes will be on the new star Julian Alaphilippe who caught the heart of many cycling lovers during his 14 days in the yellow jersey at the Tour de
France. In the early part of his pro career, the Frenchman took part in the Canadian races in 2014, 2015 and 2016. His best result was tenth in Montreal three years ago. After he resumed racing at the Deutschland Tour, he’s ready for another
stint of glory in the final part of the season.