Once a year, for five muscle-burning, perspiration-pouring hours, many of the world’s elite cyclists – competitors in the Tour de France, the Summer Olympics and the like – bring peak athletic performance to the peak of Mount Royal for the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal.
For its seventh edition this year, 17 World Teams, three Professional Continental Teams and one Canadian National Team – comprised of 168 of the best cyclists on the planet – will converge on Montréal, September 10-11, for one of only two Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) World Tour races in North America. (The other takes place in Québec City on September 9). In other words, it’s a big deal.
Organizers describe the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal as a key strategic race for the development of elite cycling on this side of the Atlantic, showcasing road racing for North Americans. Among the many notable peddling pros competing this year will be Québec City and Montréal Grands Prix Cyclistes (GPCQM) defending champions Rigoberto Uran, Tim Wellens and Tour de France stage winner Michael Matthews.
Montréal’s 12.1 km Grand Prix Cycliste race course winds in and around Mount Royal Park on the city’s iconic Mount Royal. And while perhaps more unassuming than others when it comes to imagining Canadian mountains, don’t underestimate our little guy.
“Many people will come up to me and say, ‘Why Mount Royal? I don’t understand, it’s not a big hill, these guys are used to riding in the Alps,’” says Marcel Leblanc, Executive Vice-President, GPCQM. “And yes, of course, but the thing about having a 12 km urban circuit here in Montréal is that they need to climb two of the hills of Mount Royal 17 times. So at the end of the day they’ve climbed nearly 4,000 metres of elevation, and that’s equivalent to an Alpine stage on the Tour de France.”
And they have to do it over and over again, so recuperation time is minimal, which is why the riders don’t look at the Montréal race as a day in the proverbial park.
“Last year,” adds Marcel pointedly, “of the 166 riders who took the start, only 67 crossed the finish line.”
Apart from the competition itself, Leblanc also cites the city’s cultural diversity as a key component of the excitement the race is generating more and more, year over year.
“The beauty of Montréal is also that – for the Spanish, Italian and French riders, for example – you will have all the different communities coming out to the race and cheering on their riders,” enthuses Leblanc. “It makes for a pretty cool party.”
Not only that, it’s completely free. It’s one of the only top-tier sporting events in the world where you don’t need to buy a ticket to see the race live. The spirit of inclusiveness extends to the Fans’ Village, set up in Jeanne-Mance Park across from the race’s Parc Avenue start line, where there will be many exhibitors representing cycling, gastronomy, travel and more. There will also be a rock climbing wall, inflatables for kids, prizes to be won, a terrasse and giant screens to take in the race.
“You can come with the family and the kids and have a picnic on Mount Royal, and you’re not confined to the same seat all day,” says Marcel. “You can also shake hands with the riders, get autographs and take pictures. More and more people are starting to realize that, in September, the same teams and riders that they spend three weeks watching on TV during the Tour de France are going to be right in their own backyard.”
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