Race Design Thread

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Anyone who knows what's happene to La Flamme Rouge's mapping engine? I get only error messages when I try to use it, and it's been the same for weeks.......
Not sure as I use cronoescalada, but it's worth noting Samu Cuenca approximated the Thüringen Rundfahrt route using it yesterday which suggests it's still online. Has there been a recent update to whatever mapping engine they're using as a client by any chance? That's what killed Tracks4bikers a few years ago and rendered Cronoescalada temporarily unusable a few years later.

Zam - I have a pretty heavy backlog of unpublished races. These include a Tour of Georgia and a Tour of Sochi and the Russian Kavkaz. Many of them, however, I'm not happy enough with to post and will need tweaks, edits and redrafts.
Reactions: Publiuszam
Not sure as I use cronoescalada, but it's worth noting Samu Cuenca approximated the Thüringen Rundfahrt route using it yesterday which suggests it's still online. Has there been a recent update to whatever mapping engine they're using as a client by any chance? That's what killed Tracks4bikers a few years ago and rendered Cronoescalada temporarily unusable a few years later.
I can't take any credit for that. They had already made the profiles before they got the official roadbook (I believe they might have got it from Movistar's website in the end), but they have now redone them.

I tried to use their mapping engine for the first time the other day, and I experienced the same problem as Olav, but I thought it was mainly because I didn't know how to use it properly.
Anyone who knows what's happene to La Flamme Rouge's mapping engine? I get only error messages when I try to use it, and it's been the same for weeks.......
The announcement on the site explains this, right?
IMPORTANT: Routing and Elevation API are limited to 7000 calls per day. In case they are expired, they won't work until limit is re-charged.
Or does uploading a GPX from elsewhere not work anymore either?
The announcement on the site explains this, right?
Yeah, but don't they ever recharge? I've tried at least half dozen times the last weeks without any luck.
Not sure as I use cronoescalada, but it's worth noting Samu Cuenca approximated the Thüringen Rundfahrt route using it yesterday which suggests it's still online. Has there been a recent update to whatever mapping engine they're using as a client by any chance? That's what killed Tracks4bikers a few years ago and rendered Cronoescalada temporarily unusable a few years later.
I also use Cronoescalada most of the time, but I have a sterrato stage I want to map. And LFR has a nice feature for that.
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Reactions: Samu Cuenca
I've been working on a hilly/medium mountainous one-day race in Salzburg/Salzkammergut.
I don't think the route is perfect, cause some of the roads might be too narrow to use in an actual race, especially used as descents.

I've also stumbled upon some problems with finding the route's exact amount of elevation gain. When I initially made it using plotaroute.com, they said it was approx. 5100m, but when La Flamme Rouge claimed it was 7000!
I then drawed the same route using Mapmyride, and they said it was 6000m (LFR claimed it was only 4600).
Then I uploaded the PMR file to Cronoescalada and they said it was nearly 5000m, but when I made the route with their editor it was only 4700 (and when uploaded to LFR it became 6100). So now I'm slightly confused, to say the least.

I have found profiles for most of the major climbs and they total about 4000m, so I can't see it being much more than 5000m.
Perhaps I'll be able to spot a bridge and/or tunnel somewhere that mess up the profiles, if I take a closer look at them.
I've been working on a hilly/medium mountainous one-day race in Salzburg/Salzkammergut.
I don't think the route is perfect, cause some of the roads might be too narrow to use in an actual race, especially used as descents.

I've also stumbled upon some problems with finding the route's exact amount of elevation gain. When I initially made it using plotaroute.com, they said it was approx. 5100m, but when La Flamme Rouge claimed it was 7000!
I then drawed the same route using Mapmyride, and they said it was 6000m (LFR claimed it was only 4600).
Then I uploaded the PMR file to Cronoescalada and they said it was nearly 5000m, but when I made the route with their editor it was only 4700 (and when uploaded to LFR it became 6100). So now I'm slightly confused, to say the least.

I have found profiles for most of the major climbs and they total about 4000m, so I can't see it being much more than 5000m.
Perhaps I'll be able to spot a bridge and/or tunnel somewhere that mess up the profiles, if I take a closer look at them.
You will get various results depending on calculation method: summation over official climbs length only will give a lower result than summation over all uphill sections (it can be done by adding differences between subsequent extremes of the profile). The second method is more commonly used. For example you can have a 20-km false flat (at 2%) that will give you an additional 400 m of elevation gain (though it isn't felt much compared to climbs as the majority of cyclists' power is used to overcome air resistance and wheels drag, not gravity).
Reactions: Samu Cuenca
You will get various results depending on calculation method: summation over official climbs length only will give a lower result than summation over all uphill sections (it can be done by adding differences between subsequent extremes of the profile). The second method is more commonly used. For example you can have a 20-km false flat (at 2%) that will give you an additional 400 m of elevation gain (though it isn't felt much compared to climbs as the majority of cyclists' power is used to overcome air resistance and wheels drag, not gravity).
Sure it's not weird that the results differ, but 1-2000 m in a 209 km race is quite a lot, and I onviously just want it to be as accurate as possible. I guess I'll just pick the one that seems to come closest to reality and then edit some of the numbers for the climbs if needed.
Some of the mapping engines have quite noisy elevation data, so you get small 'descents' on climbs like Alpe d'Huez. And so you likewise get small ascents on pure downhill sections.

EDIT; To give an example of a route with both tunnels and a dam, but where it's also obvious that there are noise in the rest of the elevation data:
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So there’s a lot of backlog for me for this thread. I’ve covered a fair amount of Asian races recently, and I have a huge backlog of Latin American races to post, but the problem with a lot of those is similar to the issue I have had with races like the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de Suisse and the Österreichrundfahrt, in that, you know, there is simply too much choice in the mountain stages, so I keep changing my mind on what to include and especially for areas which are fairly peripheral to cycling and only host minor races, doing multiple renditions of a race like I have done for the Deutschlandtour, País Vasco, the Volta a Portugal, the Benelux Tour or, most consistently, the Vuelta a España, is both time consuming to post, and repetitive or uninteresting to read. Plus by the time I’ve finished writing up one race I’ll probably want to move on to something else rather than go through the same race again from a different perspective.

The other issue with doing too much in Latin America is, well, among my last few races have been a 21-stage race in Brazil and a 10-day race in the Dominican Republic. I like to keep mixing things up and keeping some variety to keep myself interested in posting as well as just drawing up races (sometimes more successfully than others, given the backlog of races I have), and blending up some of my interests, I have something that is a bit more directly visible and achievable as a pro race, rather than far-flung obscurities like the HTV Cup and the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional, with plenty of cycling reference to be made as well as bringing in some of my other favourite subjects to reference as well (Nordic sports on this occasion, rather than Communist hagiography, which I’ve proven rather adept at lately). And somehow still fitting the theme while working on an area that I’ve never really set foot in.

The thing is, I’ve gone back through the annals of this thread and, by and large, I have focused as you might expect on races in Europe. There have been one day races, short stage races, Grand Tours, but most of the time I have covered the European continent, where the majority of the professional calendar takes place. When I’ve stepped outside of that, it has usually been to Latin America - I have done a number of Argentine races, as well as stage races in Uruguay, Brazil and the Dominican Republic as well as a Worlds course in Venezuela - and more recently, forays into East Asia (Vietnam, China and Taiwan all being investigated in the last 18 months) and occasionally North Africa and the Middle East (Tour du Maroc, Tour of Israel, Tour of Armenia, Tour of the UAE) and the occasional anomaly like my Tour of Almaty. Somehow, some way, I don’t think I’ve ever touched mainland North America, neither the Central American isthmus (though I have a Vuelta a Guatemala ready to go, and have had many abortive attempts at Mexico, the last genuine attempt at a Vuelta a Mexico in the thread I believe goes all the way back to the one designed by Craig Walsh, never to be finished as he was killed on a ride during the time he was posting it) nor the main continental landmass. Which seems strange, and though I’m perceived as being anti-the major anglophone powers in the sport, there can be no denying that the geography of North America offers a lot of opportunities, most of which (but not all) are not being taken, to produce what could be some truly epic races. And unlike a lot of Central and South America, the strong and well-developed infrastructure means much more freedom of choice in route design. Yet apart from a Nordic Series post investigating the Soldier Hollow cross-country and biathlon stadium’s potential for route design, I literally think I’ve posted nothing in the USA or Canada, despite having designed several races that I’ve then either abandoned because I’m not happy with or have tinkered with to the point of them no longer being feasible.

So why not combine these? Well, there’s many ways to combine North American race design with the cycling fanbase of Latin America, and there’s lots of options for great stage races in parts of the USA with large Latin populations. So of course, I’m taking precisely none of these. Instead, I’m looking at a completely different populace, which is… I guess “technically” Latin American? OK, probably not, but you know, they are their own unique and separate world within the Americas. They are the Quebecois.

Yea, I know, this really ain’t your dictionary definition Latin America. But hear me out. Latin America as a term was coined to separate the Americas ruled by the Romance-speaking peoples from the Americas ruled by the Germanic-speaking peoples. Quebec is the successor to Nouvelle-France, which was Francophone, therefore as French is a Romance language, it is derived from Latin, and therefore Quebec is a Latin part of the Americas, and therefore part of Latin America. Of course, in reality, it’s very, very different; it is not self-governing but part of Canada, but then Puerto Rico is owned by the USA and is often considered part of Latin America (the Caribbean is sometimes differentiated from the Central and South American mainlands). The majority of Latin America was owned by the Spanish (other than Brazil of course, as a significant exception) and culturally and climate-wise are significantly different to Quebec which is, well, cold and with very different mores to the Spanish and Portuguese parts of the New World. Most of Latin America is contiguous or part of the Antilles, and therefore Quebec was geographically hugely isolated from those other colonies, even before the Louisiana Purchase removed the French colonies of the present-day United States from the Empire. But one thing Quebec did inherit from its French heritage, and in common with many parts of the more conventional definition of Latin America, is that it is rather fond of cycling.

The majority of Canada’s main bicycle races are in Quebec province, with the Tour of Alberta the sole professional exception of any note (the White Spot Delta Road Race near Vancouver is pro-am), at least when it comes to recurring events, since obviously the one time the World Championships have been to Soviet Canuckistan (the only time a Communist country has hosted the Worlds since the fall of the USSR, arf arf) it was in Hamilton, Ontario. There are two World Tour one-day races, one in Montréal and one in Québec City, and prior to these being created there was a women’s World Cup one-day race in Montréal too. The women also have two one-day races in Gatineau, one against the clock and the other a normal road race. In addition to this there is a major espoir stage race around Saguenay/Chicoutimi, and perhaps more importantly for us there is the 2.2 short stage race, the Tour de Beauce, which has run since 1986 and includes the likes of Jonathan Vaughters, Levi Leipheimer, Mick Rogers, Svein Tuft, Paco Mancebo and Pello Bilbao among its winners. It often includes a stage in Québec City, so my thinking was, what if we expanded this out into a genuine pro race taking in the whole of the more populated parts of Quebec? Couldn’t that be a strong and varied race?

2016 Tour de Beauce

The nearest thing we’ve had to this is the Tour Trans-Canada, which ran as a one-off in 1999 through Québec and Ontario. The other thing is, being in a major developed and economically strong nation, running a 2.1 stage race, especially if well placed in the calendar, you could draw a stronger field for this than a lot of the races I’ve designed recently. Just looking at 2021 teams, you could easily see a pretty strong lineup. Astana might be a bit of a guess, since they no longer have Canadian sponsors from next year what with PremierTech running scared after very foolishly making an enemy of VINO, but, in Hugo Houle, they do have a local Quebecois favourite. Israel-StartUp Nation have four Canadian riders including the Quebecois Guillaume Boivin as well as, with James Piccoli and Michael Woods, realistic GC threats; and Groupama-FDJ have Antoine Duchesne. They are the only teams at the WT level with local interest, but EF and Trek being North American would be likely entrants, plus the French teams (other than Groupama who have already been mentioned) of course are also likely to have some sponsor interest in a fellow Francophone area. The same goes for the ProTeam level, where the obvious invites would be the North American Rally and Novo Nordisk teams, and the French B&B and Arkéa teams, while Caja Rural have sent teams to the Tour de Beauce before as well. There are two Continental teams out of Canada - X-Speed United and Yoeleo Test Team - plus some of the more outward-minded US teams like Wildlife Generation, Aevolo and Team Skyline (the latter two of which include some Quebecers) would be likely candidates for an invite. Round it out with a national or regional team and you’re all set. While I found it difficult to include all of the areas of the region of prominence, so you won’t find a lot of the scenic Gaspésie area in the race, nor the northern area around Rouyn-Noranda and Val d’Or with its goldmines (and also Amos, the hometown of many-time national champion Karol-Ann Canuel), geographically it’s going to be much more like a European race than the long, sweeping gradual inclines of the technologically advanced Rocky Mountain passes in US races or the long and gruelling mountain passes of the Latin American races (my fascination with posting rioplatense races notwithstanding), but I think I’ve found enough ways to make this a suitable, fitting race with its own Quebecois character. So calque all your English expressions into French, grab a quick tarte au sucre, and join me in a raucous singalong before we get going.

Stage 1: Montréal - Montréal, 11,0km (CLM)

Mont-Royal (cat.3) 1,6km @ 7,0%

We start off in the largest métropole of the Quebec region, with a route which should be familiar to you all. And yes, I have deliberately as an affectation used “contre-le-montre” in the title, this is a reference to the Quebecois, who have a number of calques and unique formations in their variety of French, born out of borrowings from English that have been loan-translated into French terms (for example, using “bienvenue” instead of “de rien” as a response to “thank you”, patterned after the English “you’re welcome”), and their rejection of even those Anglicisms which have found their way past the Academie Française (as examples, the use of “fin de semain” instead of “le weekend”). I mean, they insist on stop signs saying “ARRÊT” when even in France they use the universal “stop”. And to be honest, I actually like that. It’s like the Ampelmann in the former East Germany, this point blank refusal to pretend that their heritage isn’t there.

Either way, this is a route around Montréal which should be familiar at least in part. After all, Mont-Royal, in addition to being thought to have been responsible for giving the city its name, has been at the heart of the city’s involvement in most international festivities. In 1975 it was the home of celebrations of the anniversary of the city’s establishment, for which Gilles Vigneault wrote the song Gens du Pays that I have shown above, and which has become an unofficial Quebecois national anthem. Although some way south of the Olympic Park, it nevertheless still had a role in the 1976 Olympics, most notably in the cycling road race, when a circuit of a little over 12km in length was created, which would be tackled 14 times; the women’s road race had yet to be introduced to the Olympic program so the men were the only ones to race. In those days, the race was restricted to amateurs only, and successful amateurs from the west tended to turn pro immediately, so the only veterans were the eastern bloc riders. Sweden’s Bernt Johansson won the race, then turning pro the next season; he went on to win the Giro del Lazio and the Giro dell’Emilia, but is most remembered for his two stage wins en route to the Giro d’Italia podium in 1979. Veteran team manager Giuseppe Martinelli, who has spent the last decade with Astana, won the silver, and Poland’s Mieczysław Nowicki the bronze. Other recognisable names on show that day included Fons de Wolf, later a winner of Sanremo and Lombardia, longtime Total Énergies (and its predecessors) manager Jean-René Bernaudeau, multiple world cyclocross champion Klaus-Peter Thaler, Vuelta podium rider Sven-Åke Nilsson, maillot vert winner Frank Hoste, and a host of Eastern Bloc names like the Communist Cannibal Ryszard Szurkowski and fellow Peace Race winners Hans-Joachim Hartnick, Aavo Pikkuus, Vlastimil Moravec, Aleksandr Averin and Stanisław Szozda.

Johansson takes the gold, something that would of course elude his namesake 40 years later

The course was a success though, a challenging but not too challenging course with a significant enough punchy climb that offered good possibilities for a range of outcomes. The women may not have got to race there in 1976, but come the late 90s, the landscape had changed. The circuit was used in the Tour Trans-Canada, but that was evanescent and didn’t last. However, with the instigation of the Women’s World Cup, the Coupe du Monde Cycliste Féminine du Montréal was created using a slightly modified version of the 1976 Olympic circuit and continued on for the next decade, with Diana Žiliūtė coming out on top in the inaugural edition. One of the catalysts for its inception, however, was a precocious French-Canadian superstar-in-waiting, who came from nearby Saint-Hyacinthe. Geneviève Jeanson - for ’twas her - would go on to win the race four times from 2001 to 2005, as part of a half-decade long reign of terror in North America where she would annihilate fields in the same way as Mara Abbott would later and Chloé Dygert has done in latter years when clearly ready to step across to Europe and face the crème de la crème of the international péloton. In those formative years of the World Cup, it was less viable for Jeanson to do that, so she instead focused on beating up on the North American scene, only racing Europe significantly in 2000 where she was required to as part of a compromise over a controversial Olympic selection criterion. However, her dominance was brought to an abrupt end in 2005 when she tested positive for EPO, and in early 2007, before her ban expired, she elected to retire at the age of 26, admitting to have essentially been consistently abusing EPO since the age of 16 under the influence of her coach and manager, and the physical and psychological changes in her while banned from the sport had rendered her previous life almost incomprehensible to her. The industrialised doping of somebody who, at least in some of the race jurisdictions in which she was competing, was a minor, became a very controversial subject and was later made into a film.

Despite the loss of its most marketable star in its home market, the race soldiered on for a few more years, with big name winners like Judith Arndt, and its final edition saw an epic win for Emma Pooley in what I guess we can now call the Anna Kiesenhofer method, as the pint-sized pocket rocket Briton likes what she saw in the parcours, and launched herself up the road right from the gun as soon as they left the neutral zone; when further break mates found their way across to her, Emma attacked them because she knew she wanted to be alone, and she eventually broke them 109km from the line and had the solo escapade she had planned on. She knew that the profile suited her with the uphill being reasonably steep and the downhill largely sauntering and easy (she was a very poor descender at this time, but a strong time triallist and an elite climber), and that as a sole attacker would be comparatively easy to catch and the Cervélo team was chocked full of secondary options who would be able to sit in and catch an easy ride if teams pushed too hard to chase her, there was likely to be hesitation in the bunch; she was right. The next time any of the other riders caught sight of Emma Pooley, it was when they arrived to contest the minor places and congratulated her two minutes after she finished.

That was to be the last edition of the Coupe du Monde Montréal, however; no chance for Pooley to defend her title. Instead, the organisers had pooled resources with neighbouring Quebec City and proposed to the UCI a ProTour-level pair of one day races on the old 1976 Olympic course. I remain disappointed at the loss of the Montréal World Cup round for the women, but I cannot deny that it made sense; with a number of prominent North American riders in the ProTour of the time and the bigger drawing power, the event had a much better chance of success than shutting down a major urban centre for the then-nascent Women’s World Cup; most women’s events that weren’t tied to a concurrent men’s event would tend to use smaller urban centres or suburbs of major cities rather than the beating heart of an international metropolis like Montréal so it was very much an outlier on the calendar. And, although I was very sceptical of them initially, certainly I think the Canadian one-day races have largely ingratiated themselves well on the calendar; they’re pretty well organised, have a good list of winners and their position as preparation races for the Worlds means they are pretty useful for that since they ape a range of undulating to hilly obstacles that resemble those on the vast majority of Worlds courses, and it’s only with the occasional outlier like Innsbruck that the races’ viability as Worlds prep has been reduced.

Greg van Avermaet wins the GP Cycliste de Montréal in 2019

GP de Montréal circuit

Of course, it would have been easy enough to have a circuit race on this course if we’re turning this into a stage race to replace the Tour du Beauce and those one-dayers, but I thought being additional to at least the WT races (and superseding but elevating the Tour du Beauce at least) would be preferable, and besides we already know that course, so I decided to make a few alterations while keeping true to the spirit of the course; simultaneously, for much of the week’s routing, ITT options were limited but I felt that the course needed one for balance; the length of the course was suited perfectly, but the shape of the circuit and where the finish is was not ideal, so I had a play about with what I could do, and I moved the start/finish, enabling me to switch around the section after Mont-Royal to be to the southeast rather than northwest, and voilà (natch), I had my plan. And, of course, where on earth would be better to start a sporting event in Quebec than the Centre Bell, home of the province’s only team in the Big Four North American sports leagues?

It is an old joke that if a Canadian asks you a question about sport and you don’t know what they’re on about, the answer is “Wayne Gretzky”. We all know it, (ice) hockey is practically religion in that part of the world, and they have two of the “original six” to show for it, as well. For a period they had to share Francophone Canada with the Quebec Nordiques, but since their relocation in 1995 following financial issues (Quebec’s fanbase was rabid but one of the smallest markets in the league, coupled with problems attracting players who did not want to learn French or did not feel comfortable in a monolingual French market, whereas Montréal’s market extended out into bilingual territory) the Montréal Canadiens have served as a de facto home team for all French Canadians, who affectionately know them as the Habitants, or citizens, which has become widely abbreviated to “Habs”, which is their default ‘short form’ in the same way as you have the “Leafs”, “Avs”, “Yotes”, “Pens” and “Canes”. Although they were originally founded in 1909 to be the representatives of the French Canadian community, they do not have any Athletic Bilbao/Chivas de Guadalajara-style prohibitive signing policy, however, though it is notable that often their French Canadian stars tend to be the most gleefully received by the local fanbase, and the few Quebecers that find their way onto their hated rivals the Boston Bruins are viewed with suspicion, since hating on the Boston Bruins is one of the most popular pastimes in the city (even surpassing the Leafs-Habs rivalry, though that comes with the additional zeal of representing the largest Anglophone and Francophone fanbases so becomes a bit politically charged, similar to the sectarian splits in Scottish football or the cross-bosphorus Turkish derbies). With 24 Stanley Cups (albeit the majority scored when there were only a small number of teams in the league) they are one of the most, if not the most, storied franchises in the history of the National Hockey League, having one of the highest numbers of Hall of Famers, from the likes of Maurice “Rocket” Richard through the likes of Guy Lafleur, Guy Lapointe and on to the more modern stars, like the iconic maverick goaltender Patrick Roy, known for many antics such as dropping the puck in the net while winding up heckling rival fans about the save he just made, demanding a trade directly to the general manager in the middle of a game, and most famously, one of the greatest hockey moments in history, when he got bored during an Avs-Rangers match and decided to carry the puck up the ice, deking Wayne Gretzky and doing a Spin-o-rama on his way. In the 90s they moved from the Forum to the Molson Centre, now the Bell Centre, but that has not impacted the rabid following in the slightest, and the iconic logo of the two overlapping, interlocking Cs with the H inside (standing for “Club de Hockey Canadien”) has become one of the most famous in sport, and spawned a number of imitators and copycat logo formats at various levels of hockey, while the ubiquitous deep red jersey with the blue horizontal band has become identified with the entire region since, at least now the Nordiques are gone, the entire province is more or less uniformly behind the Habs, and so their jersey has become ingrained as a part of Quebecois self-identity.

However, strangely enough, probably the most famous sporting event to take place in the Centre Bell was nothing to do with hockey. Or even, really, to do with sport. One of the other sports with a long and ingrained history in Montréal is professional wrestling; back in what they call the “territory days”, different parts of North America had various wrestling circuits rather than the dominant oligopoly that we have today, and as a result different styles developed around what was popular in those areas. Southern style wrestling was often more rough and ready and involved more bloody rivalries, West coast wrestling was influenced by the gymnastics and pageantry of Mexican wrestling, while the Canadian territories were largely renowned for high quality technical wrestling, possibly due to the bilingual nature of the country taking emphasis away from mic skills and more towards attracting an audience with the in-ring spectacle. Montréal, along with Calgary, was the biggest epicentre and a number of legendary wrestlers cut their teeth in the territory, including the first North American exposure for André the Giant, who came across from his native France because he felt more comfortable addressing the crowd in French. Along with fellow stars they founded Lutte Internationale, a bilingual company which hit its peak in the 1980s, but as New England was already WWF territory prior to its rapid expansion in the 80s, and Vince McMahon had already acquired the Detroit territory (which included Toronto), he came for the Montréal territory and, armed with superior budget (and signing up a lot of the French Canadian guys on big money and then booking them to look weak, killing the credibility of Lutte Internationale’s wrestlers), drove them out of Montréal, forcing them to Quebec City and other more distant areas like Rimouski and Chicoutimi. So, in 1997, when the WWF came to Montréal, it was the only game in town.

Bret “The Hitman” Hart was, at that time, a villain. Except he wasn’t, because they were in Canada. He was running a character complaining about jingoistic favouritism for Americans in the WWF that was screwing him over. The problem was, while he was hated all over the USA for it, overseas fans who were used to seeing things like Africans and Pacific Islanders being presented as uncultured savages, Native Americans being presented as one-dimensional cartoon stereotypes and patronising nationalised characters like The Mountie and the evil Russians, kind of agreed with Hart and would cheer him for calling the federation’s bias out. And he had agreed to jump from WWF to WCW after this pay-per-view despite being the WWF Champion at the time. He had agreed to lose to enable WWF to keep the title - but there was only one problem. Vince McMahon insisted he fight Shawn Michaels, who was known for being an entitled braggart and a backstage politicker, and who Hart hated. He refused to lose to Shawn so a compromise was reached where he would drop the title to somebody else on the following night’s TV taping. But then the WWF Women’s champion turned up on WCW TV while still the champion and dropped her WWF title in the trash, and McMahon panicked. What if Bret did that with his biggest belt? But he wouldn’t agree to change the plan on the night because he was not going to accept losing to Michaels on his way out. So instead Vince hatched a plan, and jumped up calling for a phantom submission a couple of minutes before the planned ending, forcing the title onto Michaels immediately. The fans who had just seen their Canadian hero proven correct about being screwed rained down boos and hurled detritus at the ring, and Hart, incredulous, spat at McMahon and walked out; it would take nearly 20 years for the two to speak again, with the bitterness exacerbated in 1999 when organisational recklessness on the part of the WWF resulted in the death of Hart’s brother Owen after falling from the rafters on a botched stunt. However, until this point, Vince McMahon was, to the outside world, just a commentator; people did not know the position of power he held. This moment, and the subsequent hand-wringing talking head segment the following night in place of the scheduled match where Hart was to have lost the title, gave birth to Vince McMahon the on-screen character, as well as the “evil boss” persona that would fuel the rivalry between him and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, which saw wrestling through its most successful ever era and switched momentum from WCW onto WWF once and for all, resulting in the destruction of the former and a monopoly of the industry for over a decade by McMahon’s company. The events in the Bell Centre became known as “the Montreal Screwjob” and have long since gone down in wrestling lore as one of the most controversial moments of all time.

We start at the back of the Centre Bell, on Place de Canada, a large open square which includes a number of Protestant churches and a replica of the London Cenotaph. Obviously neither the Centre Bell nor Place de Canada are part of the GP Montréal circuit, so the first thing we need to do is arrive at the point where we join that circuit, which entails a right hander at Dorchester Square and passing the Mary, Queen of the World and St. James the Great Cathedral (Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde et St-Jacques-le-Majeur), a mouthful of a title but one of Montréal’s most beloved scenic sites, a minor basilica designed and built in the late 19th Century to replace the destroyed Saint-Jacques cathedral, and modelled to be a scaled-down replica of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. We then take a left into Downtown Montréal and then loop round to Park Avenue, where the start/finish of the GP Montréal takes place.

This then enables us to follow the standard course as we go up and through Parc Mont-Royal, approaching the summit of this hill which overlooks the city. Montréal takes its name from the Île de Montréal, but the story of the hill and city is a little more complex. The most widely believed theory today is that it arises out of a slight misunderstanding; Jacques Cartier, the first to scale the hill, named it Mount Royal in honour of his patron, John Royal - but this was understood to mean royal as in the adjective by the subsequent settlers; cartographers from Italy referred to it as “Monte Real”, and this found its way into the local French as “Mont Réal” despite Cartier himself calling it “Mont-Royal”. For many years it was only accessed by funicular, streetcar or on foot, but in the 1960s the Voie Camillien-Houde, a thoroughfare ironically named after a controversial mayor who opposed the idea of paving routes to Mont-Royal, was inaugurated and has been the basis of all of the cycling events in the city since.

This serves as the first categorised climb of the race, with the king of the mountains jersey handed to the fastest time at the intermediate time-check at the summit. The climb is the same as this profile as far as the Belvedere Camillien-Houde, totalling 1,6km at 7%. The first 250m are at nearly 10% so this does have a bit of a challenge to it, but it’s on nice and wide roads which most riders are likely to be familiar with from the GP Montréal, so unlikely to be a major difference between the field. Mont-Royal was also, for our first venture into my beloved Nordic sports (we’ve already entered winter sports territory with the hockey arena), the site of one of the stages of the 2016 Ski Tour Canada, which spent its first four days in Quebec before transferring across to the west to compete in Canmore for the second half of the week. Mont-Royal was the site of the first distance race of the event, on stage 2, with the women taking on 3 laps and the men 5 of a 3,5km circuit in a mass start format, with Emil Iversen winning the men’s race with a short time gap over Petter Northug, and Therese Johaug doing her Therese Johaug thing to win the women’s race by a minute.

At the end of the slow, drifting downhill of the remainder of Voie Camillien-Houde, however, where the traditional race course turns right to circumnavigate the northern and western edges of the park at Côte-des-Neiges, we turn left to descend back towards downtown. There’s around 1,5km at 5% downhill but with no technical corners, just some undulating lefts and rights of shallow radius that should be easy to take for all but the most miserable of bike handlers especially on a relatively wide road. A left at Concordia University takes us to the Musée des Beaux-Arts, where we turn a 90º right and finish once more outside the Centre Bell.

You aren’t going to win the race on the first day, but this will set up some gaps on the timing screen for athletes to take into account in the days to come and start to tell us who might be in the best position to contend for the win in this one. So I will simply leave you with some haunting, beautiful words from arguably the greatest of Montréal’s sons and daughters. A little like how Jacques Brel, voted the greatest ever Belgian by the Walloon community, was in fact, though Francophone, Flemish; the greatest artistic son of Montréal came from its relatively small and largely Anglophone Jewish community, and much as Kafka grew up in a city largely speaking Czech yet went on to be one of the greatest writers of his era in his own tongue, it was for his words that Leonard Cohen went on to find fame, first as a poet and then, somewhat reluctantly and only well into his 30s, as a singer (though by his own admission he could “barely carry a tune” and his pessimistic, world-weary outlook lent him the image of a man out of time as he emerged out of the swinging 60s) - however, what he lacked in melodic range, he more than made up for in craftsmanship, writing timeless verses lush with religious imagery, thought-provoking questions, multi-dimensional characters and, despite his (often deserved) reputation as a purveyor of music for manic depressives, a healthy dose of black humour; plus, he was gifted as an orator as well, holding rowdy early 70s rock crowds in the palm of his hand not just with his acoustic guitar but with lengthy spoken word anecdotes.

While never the most prolific songwriter - he once quipped about a discussion with Bob Dylan about how long it took him to write ‘Hallelujah’ that it in fact took him about five years but he said three because he didn’t want to sound like he was dragging his heels. In reality it was more that he had written over a hundred verses to the song and spent several years testing it, editing it until he had the verses he was most happy with - and then when John Cale recorded a cover of it on a star-studded tribute album (REM, the Pixies, Tori Amos and Nick Cave are among those featuring on it. Strangely, it’s not even the only star-studded tribute album he has inspired, as a subsequent tribute album included Willie Nelson, Bono, Elton John, Billy Joel and Sting, and a third - tied to a live performance show - featuring Rufus and Martha Wainwright, Anohni, U2 and Laurie Anderson), he decided he preferred some of the previously expunged verses from live recordings; Jeff Buckley used this version as the basis of his own, which has become treated (not without justification) as the definitive version, and so lyrics which Cohen himself had rejected have become standard in the song. Not that Cohen himself would have minded too much, as he was fiercely self-deprecating. The juxtaposition of his modesty against the sycophancy of Bono towards him in the I’m Your Man documentary film is not accidental, while in the lyrics of ‘Tower of Song’ he posits that Hank Williams is “a hundred floors above me” in the fictitious, Borgesian tower - though as we found out when he died at the tail end of that worst of all years for musical legends, 2016, in his sleep at the age of 83, the legacy he left was very much of a resident worthy of the very top floor. Though he had been resident in Los Angeles for much of the later part of his life, he remained modest to the last (and not only in lifestyle, seeing as he was on tour throughout his late 70s to recoup money that had been stolen from him by former manager Kelley Lynch, who was later indicted for fraud after draining Cohen of almost all his life’s savings); in accordance with his wishes he was buried in an unadorned pine casket in his family plot in the Jewish Cemetery on Mont-Royal. An exhibition dedicated to his life and work at the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal was part of Montréal’s 375th anniversary celebrations and it is a testament to his popularity that this exhibition became the most attended in the museum’s history, and has subsequently been toured in various exhibition centres across Europe and North America. I love Leonard Cohen, and you should too.

Reactions: jsem94
I'm doing some research at the moment for a post on Andorra, and while the Spanish wiki for the 1965 Volta a Cataluña links to the relevant pages of Mundo Deportivo, I'm not able to discern what section of Rabassa was climbed in the 6 km long MTT split stage that year. It's also annoying that the relevant edition of Mundo Deportivo is missing for 1973 ...

And am I right that other than the Tour and the Vuelta, only the Volta ever had a stage in Andorra? From what I have seen, Setmana Catalana never raced in Andorra, and I can't think of other (professional) races held there.
Might be worth checking some earlier editions of the Tour des Pyrénées, as that could feasibly have gone there, but tended at least in later years to be further west. Likewise, the year during the Tour de la Communauté Européenne days that the successor to (and precursor of) the Tour de l'Avenir began in Portugal and travelled into France, they crossed from Spain to France over in the western Pyrénées to have a stage finish in... Pau. Well, of course they did.

Stage 2: Gatineau - Gatineau, 220km

Côte du Lac-Fortune (2,1km @ 5,7%)
Côte du Lac-Fortune (2,1km @ 5,7%)
Côte du Lac-Fortune (2,1km @ 5,7%)
Côte du Lac-Fortune (2,1km @ 5,7%)
Côte du Lac-Fortune (2,1km @ 5,7%)
Côte du Lac-Fortune (2,1km @ 5,7%)

This one is a pseudo Nordic Series entry as well as a stage on our way through Quebec. The first road stage of the race comes after a transfer over to the west of the province, in the city of Gatineau, one of the more bilingual parts of Quebec, owing to its position on the northern shores of the Ottawa River, opposite the country’s erstwhile capital which shares the same name; in fact although Ottawa is in Ontario, Gatineau is considered part of the “National Capital Region”, which makes it the only Census Metropolitan Area that is spread across two provinces. The CMA has a population of around 1,4 million, of which 320.000 are in Gatineau. It arose out of an earlier settlement by the English which was originally called Wrightstown after its founder but then renamed Hull, after the coastal city in eastern England. It was originally predominantly settled by Protestant Irish, but as the south side of the Ottawa became more popular with the Anglophone immigrants due to accessibility to the rest of Ontario following the opening of the Rideau Canal, the proportion of Francophones in the populace continually increased over the ensuing century until 1920 when it was 90% French. Following the reorganisation of the municipal boundaries in Quebec, central Hull was merged with four of its suburbs and the city was rechristened Gatineau, after the part of the city which had actually grown more populous than its centre. The county was called Gatineau, the nearby hills and park were both called Gatineau, and the Gallicised name was more in keeping with the Quebecois self-identification, so it had deep cultural roots and the renaming was more or less seamless. Its most famous son (at least outside of ice hockey) is probably the record producer Daniel Lanois, who emerged in the early 80s as a collaborator with Brian Eno after producing records for his sister’s new wave band Martha and the Muffins, and has then gone on to produce some of the biggest acts in the world, including U2, Neil Young, Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, and also some cult artists in completely different fields of music, such as break core maverick Venetian Snares. His own solo work has had the likes of Eno and members of U2 provide instrumental backing and his songs have also been covered by Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris and Dave Matthews.

Gatineau, like Montréal, has a bit of a cycling history and it is that which I have used as a bit of a guide to my stage, albeit with a bit of a twist as I actually arrived at it from another direction. You can consider this one an unofficial Nordic Series entry if you like, too. I will explain in time. Again, under its former name of Hull it was included in the Tour Trans-Canada, with a stage from Montréal to Hull won by Lars Michaelsen, but that is only the opening act.

In 2010, a new pair of women’s races were added to the calendar, not at the World Cup level but essentially replacing the calendar spot of the old Coupe du Monde Montréal. A weekend of racing in the Canadian capital region was considered a great potential addition to the calendar, but a quick glance at a topographic map immediately would show that Gatineau gives greater possibilities than Ottawa, and with the Quebecois wanting to replace their calendar spot, Gatineau agreed. A Critérium International format was initially suggested but rejected in favour of two separate one-day races, the first a standalone time trial event, and the second a traditional one-day race, both using a section of the Gatineau Parkway road into the Gatineau Hills, with the time trial being essentially an out-and-back which saunters uphill and then back down again, and the one-day race including a couple of laps of a hilly circuit including a 2km ascent and then a rolling short circuit in the city itself. Evelyn Stevens won the inaugural Chrono Gatineau, while the GP de Gatineau was won by Montréal native Joëlle Numainville. In the time since, with the exception of Clara Hughes’ victories in 2011 and 2012, the Chrono Gatineau has become something of a plaything of the US riders, often those who specialise in the contre-le-montre of course, with Amber Neben winning 3 editions into her mid-40s, Carmen Small 2, and Tayler Wiles and Lauren Stephens one each. The GP de Gatineau has a more varied winners’ list, but with the series of flat circuits often negating the impact of the hillier large circuit on the result, these have largely been sprinters - but of some pretty high profile, with two-time World Champion Giorgia Bronzini, Ina-Yoko Teutenberg, Shelley Olds and Kirsten Wild all on the winner’s list. Kimberley Wells also won a sprint in 2016 but has not gone on to compete in Europe, while the local riders have also won a number of editions, with Denise Ramsden winning from a small group in 2014, and Leah Kirchmann taking the win in 2017 and 2019.

GP Gatineau péloton

My course includes a significant circuit which is the same as the longer circuit from the women’s GP Gatineau, but I have a different start and finish as well as a long loop out before entering the circuit. That’s because it was not actually the women’s race which served as the inspiration for this stage but in fact a different sport entirely. Which will be obvious to everybody.


When the Worldloppet Ski Federation was founded in 1978, they sought to link all of the biggest ski marathons in the world. Named for Vasaloppet, “Loppet” races are mass start long-distance races usually longer and flatter than usually seen on the World Cup calendar and drawing their own specialised field. Canada was one of the biggest skiing nations not represented in the Worldloppet calendar, since the advent of the American Birkebeiner in 1973, and so Gatineau, with its enormous and well-maintained network of trails in the nearby Gatineau Hills, was selected as host, with the race taking over from the existing Rivière Rouge race in the area as effectively its direct successor. The race was named Keskinada-Loppet, patterned after the Loppet tradition but as a portmanteau of “Quebec” “ski” and “Canada”, then renamed Gatineau-Loppet in 2008, and it runs over 53km for the full event and 29km for the short version, starting in La Pêche on the A5 freeway and then travelling along the shores of a series of lakes before a severe climb in Parc Gatineau and then slowly descending downwards toward the Mont-Bleu suburb where the race finishes.

Simultaneously, however, when the Ski Tour Canada was inaugurated and the first stage was held in Gatineau, it was not in Parc Gatineau that the stage was held but instead on a short, sprint-based course in Parc Jacques-Cartier, in the middle of the city and on the western shore of the Ottawa River. As a result you got that series of small-field sprint races that don’t really involve the “cross-country” element of cross-country skiing, with generous bonuses paid in order to set up the GC for the stage race in the same manner as a prologue in cycling, with Sergey Ustiugov winning the men’s race and Maiken Caspersen Falla the women’s.

My thought, therefore, was to combine elements of both of these. My stage therefore starts and finishes at Parc Jacques-Cartier, but the actual course is more based on that of the Gatineau-Loppet, with a long, looping first section before six laps of the same style of circuit as seen in the women’s GP Gatineau, circa 20km in length and with the noteworthy climb of Camp Lac-Fortune, before returning to the city. This enables us to take in some scenic lakeland and the lowlands surrounding the Gatineau River, with the first 50km being along and around its shores, with some rolling hillside around Mont-Cascades, a ski resort by summer and a waterpark, golf club and spa resort by winter.

Gatineau river and lakeland, providing the scenery for the first 1/3 of the stage

A loop around Wakefield extends out this section of the stage, before we return to the shores of the river, on the other side this time, and head back towards the city. A right at Peter’s Point take us up toward Parc Gatineau where we enter the decisive part of the stage, the six circuits around the park which include the only categorised climb of the day (so there are six of them, as this climb is undertaken six times).

The circuit is essentially the same as that taken by the women in their one-day race, although I have made mine slightly shorter by taking a slightly shorter cut-through between parking block 8 (Chelsea) and parking block 9 (Dunlop) - while the women’s race takes Gatineau Parkway for this stretch, I take Chemin de Lac-Meech. It’s on google street view and is a well-maintained two-way road, so this should be no problem at all. This also takes us more directly past Camp Fortune, another small ski resort which also serves as a downhill mountain bike location in summer and also includes a Nordic ski and biathlon club. Camp Fortune is named after the nearby Lac-Fortune, and to the north of the lake is the Lac-Fortune Parkway, which links the Gatineau Parkway and Camp Fortune junction to the Keogan Shelter and the Champlain Parkway which accesses the Champlain Lookout.

Lac-Fortune Parkway, 2,1km @ 5,7%, photograph by Michael Sean Russell

Champlain lookout

The finish of the stage is not on this circuit, which then has a series of short undulations and slight digs as well as both intermediate sprints undertaken at the base of the downhills, not that they’re really a descent per se. The circuit is 19,9km to be precise, which means that with the final summit of Lac-Fortune being 24km from the line, the previous summits are at 44, 64, 84, 104 and 123km remaining. We do not, however, complete the circuit the sixth time, not descending to the intermediate sprint point in Kingsmere, but instead continuing along the route of the Gatineau-Loppet towards Mont-Bleu. This enables us to pass Lac-Pink and take our final 12km down to return to Parc Jacques-Cartier to finish the stage. This final stretch of the stage is largely flat and suburban, but we have some fast, sweeping curves similar to those in the descent of the first stage until about 6,5km to go, then we have a 180º hairpin as we move off of the parkways to the urban city roads, and then the last part of the stage will favour the bunch, with a small number of 90º corners to negotiate, but otherwise everything being fast and straight on wide roads. The final corner, onto Laurier Street, is at 500m remaining, a 90º right-hander before we head past the park to finish close to Le Domaine des Flocons, one of the attractions in the park, and close to the statue of the Montréal Canadiens legend Maurice “Rocket” Richard. Gatineau has a comparatively small hockey history, however, largely being overshadowed by nearby Ottawa, but it does have a team in the QMJHL (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League), one of the three Major Junior leagues that comprise the CHL (the others being the WHL (Western Hockey League) and OHL (Ontario Hockey League), the latter of which local rivals the Ottawa 67s play in), the Gatineau Olympiques, formerly known as Hull Hawks, Hull Festivals and eventually Hull Olympiques, whose major alumni include Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Claude Giroux, David Krejčí, Jose Theodore, Luc Robitaille and, most importantly, the legend that is Max Talbot. Why is Max Talbot a legend? Well, he’s a guy who was a sort of lower-line makeweight after being drafted in round 7 by the Penguins, who popped up to score the only 2 goals of game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup final to bring the Cup to Pittsburgh. He also went on to prank the people of Montréal, first by signing for the Boston Bruins, and then by posing as a roadside reporter at the Centre Bell to ask people’s opinion of Quebecers signing for the Bruins.

Parc Jacques-Cartier, which was named for the discoverer of the region, a French explorer searching for the Northwest Passage, is not just home to the occasional ski race, however; it is also one of the four homes of Winterlude, a major winter festival that draws huge tourist numbers to the Capital region. Though not competing with the Rideau Canal Skateway, the park is transformed into the kingdom of the snowflakes, a snow park with ice sculptures and essentially many of the amenities of a funfair and theme park - just constructed of snow and ice. So, you know, a perfect spot for a bike race. This stage will be either one for a break formed by the circuit, or a reduced bunch sprint. The options are open. It could be an interesting one especially late in the season if we have riders in Worlds tune-up mode.

Parc Jacques-Cartier by summer

Stage 3: Gatineau - Circuit Mont-Tremblant, 172km

Montée Demouchel (cat.3) 1,1km @ 6,7%
Côte des Quatre-Sommets (cat.3) 1,0km @ 6,8%
Côte des Quatre-Sommets (cat.3) 1,0km @ 6,8%
Côte des Quatre-Sommets (cat.3) 1,0km @ 6,8%

No transfer for the riders after stage 2 (which is why we can get away with the longer stage), but we’re heading back eastwards with this, a rolling stage into the low-lying arms of the Laurentian Mountains. We avoid backtracking because we took Montreal to Gatineau as a transfer between stages 1 and 2, which is useful because if we want to avoid the A50 Expressway, there’s not really much choice of route in the Outaouais region between Gatineau and Buckingham. My personal choice was to follow Highway 148 as far as the town of Thurso, a wood-cutting town on the St. Lawrence River, famous for its paper mill, which took its name from a high incidence of Scottish immigrants who were originally split on what to call the city based on clan names, and eventually settled on copying the name of the highland town from which many of them had departed. It is most famous as the hometown of “Le Démon Blond”, Guy Lafleur, a legend of ice hockey who spent nearly 20 years as a pro between the early 70s and the early 90s, with all but one season (with the New York Rangers in 1988-89) spent in his native Quebec region, mostly with the Montréal Canadiens (from 1971, when he was the first overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft, with the Habs giving up a king’s ransom to earn the chance to draft an elite French Canadian franchise cornerstone) to his initial retirement in 1985) but also suiting up for the Quebec Nordiques after coming out of retirement from 1989 to 1991 (he had also played his entire junior career in Quebec City-based teams). At the age of 39, and having decided to retire, he was selected by the Minnesota North Stars in the expansion draft and traded back to Quebec, having elected to take up an off-ice position with the team. He won 5 Stanley Cups, 1x League MVP and 3x League top scorer trophies, and is the Habs’ highest all-time points scorer, and second highest all-time goal scorer (after Maurice Richard), an achievement for which he saw his #10 jersey retired and hung in the rafters forevermore, and saw himself inducted into both the NHL and the Canadian Sports Halls of Fame. He has also hit the news for some more bizarre off-ice activities, such as his recording a disco album consisting of him reciting hockey training methods over French-language disco beats (I wish I was kidding, but there's proof online), and conspiring to help his son break curfew when under house arrest against allegations of sexual abuse, and slicing off part of his ear after falling asleep at the wheel. He has rehabilitated his image in part, however, by lending his name and support to an award encouraging elite junior hockey players to maintain academic positions, with the Prix d’Excellence Guy-Lafleur awarded to the player with the best combined academic and on-ice results in Quebec, either in Canadian college sports or in the QMJHL (Quebec’s Major Junior league).

From here we turn northwards into the Laurentian Mountains, though there’s not really much mountainous about the road, as it slowly, gradually saunters upwards on major highway roads, at least as far as the small town of Ripon, named for the Yorkshire town that reflects some of the strange dualities of French Canada, with towns which were established by Britons and carrying obviously Anglicised names but long-since acknowledged to be almost exclusively settled by the Francophone population. Many towns have since been renamed - for example we go through Chénéville, originally called Hartwell but then renamed in memory of a popular local politician; there are then some hybrid names that sound incongruous to metropolitan English or French-speakers, such as Saint-Émile-de-Suffolk (as well as a certain irony in that Suffolk was given as a name to this part of the Laurentides, with scenic lakes in it, when anybody who has watched the Tour of Britain or the Women’s Tour in the last decade can tell you that ‘mountains’ don’t even come into the equation in that part of the UK). Nevertheless, in the Suffolk municipality, between the aforementioned Chénéville and Saint-Émile-de-Suffolk, we have our first categorised climb of the day, a short 1km or so climb which follows off the back of another smaller, uncategorised ramp.

For the most part, however, the majority of this stage is rolling through the main roads that bisect these low-lying hills, taking us through Amherst and making a beeline for the resort town of Mont-Tremblant, which in theory hosts the stage finish but really doesn’t - “Mont-Tremblant” as a geographic descriptor is kind of vague and refers to a fairly spread out geographical area in general as well as a number of specific things within that area, so although my stage is listed as finishing in “Mont-Tremblant”, there are lots of different places within Mont-Tremblant that the stage could finish at from that definition and so it requires a bit more clarification. After all, I could, without being at all incorrect, state that this stage finishes with a 14,4km circuit around Mont-Tremblant which also includes passing through Mont-Tremblant and underneath Mont-Tremblant - but we don’t reach the circuit until after we’ve passed through a different Mont-Tremblant. Indeed.

The first Mont-Tremblant we pass through is the main village itself. Technically speaking Mont-Tremblant is a city, but that reflects the entirety of the area and given it is so decentralised, the specific village is where the majority of the permanent population of around 10.000 live. Four village municipalities were merged to create the current Ville de Mont-Tremblant, though Lac-Tremblant-Nord then re-split away from the remainder in 2006. The initial parish was established in the 1870s and named after a French calque of the Algonquin word for a nearby mountain (translating as “trembling mountain”) which overlooks what is now Lac Tremblant. This mountain also carries the name “Mont-Tremblant”. However, the advent of the railroad led to the establishment of two separate villages, built around the stations created when the Montréal railway was extended this far north. The original terminus was Saint-Jovite, which was reached in the late 19th Century, but then a second station was established on Lac Mercier a decade later, and the village which spread forth from this became known as Mont-Tremblant, despite being a few kilometres from the mountain of Mont-Tremblant or the lake. With the prominent number of lakes and waterways in the vicinity, a hydroelectric dam was established which provided electricity to Saint-Jovite and directed development in the direction of this town.

Although principally a logging town, the early 20th Century saw more speculators and investors seeing the potential of the Mont-Tremblant area, however. The railroad made it accessible from Montréal, while the clear air further from the railroad itself and the many scenic lakes made it a spot for a retreat in the summer, and the slopes of Mont-Tremblant itself made a perfect site for a ski resort, providing the biggest slopes within reach from Montréal and Ottawa. The resort was quickly constructed and opened in the late 1930s, under the name Mont-Tremblant Lodge, later just Mont-Tremblant. On the slopes of the mountain itself, the ski resort begat its own village around the foot to house the various seasonal inhabitants and temporary workers under the resort’s employ; so you now had two or three different populated locations named Mont-Tremblant within the Mont-Tremblant parish, only one of which (the newest) was actually at Mont-Tremblant itself (the mountain), and the municipality as a whole, population-wise, centred around Saint-Jovite, which would then be subsumed within Mont-Tremblant. Still with me?

OK, next complication, then. As the ski resort grew in popularity, various other amenities were added to the Mont-Tremblant municipality, including golf courses, waterspouts facilities and, perhaps most notably, in 1964, the Circuit Mont-Tremblant was opened, an exciting and unusual motorsports facility which included considerable elevation change and challenge to drivers and featured a short home straight with a double kink and a lengthy back straight with a huge blind crest known as “The Hump”, which caused the open-cockpit, closed-wheel Can-Am cars of the day to take off like a 1999 Mercedes. In 1968 and 1970, the Canadian Grand Prix was held at the facility, with Denny Hulme and Jacky Ickx respectively taking the wins. Indycar also competed at the circuit in 1967 and 1968, but “The Hump” was considered very dangerous for open-wheel cars at the speeds they achieved and therefore the site more commonly attracted sportscar series, but also the impact of Canadian winter and the isolated location made maintaining the tarmac more of a challenge and it became less financially viable. In 2000, it was purchased by fashion mogul Lawrence Stroll, showing he had interest in motorsport even before he was buying his pay-driver son a career at the top level. The hump was reduced in height to make the course safer, and Grand Am returned in 2002 before Champ Cars were brought back in 2007, the final year of the series before it was merged with the Indy Racing League; it was on the planned calendar for 2008 before the series folded, and the IRL - rebranded IndyCar Series following the amalgamation - elected not to keep the event, preferring to maintain its heavy oval-focus and keeping the rounds it acquired from the CCWS to the money-spinning street races like Toronto’s Exhibition Place. Today, it hosts a range of smaller series, usually motorbikes and touring-car-based, as well as track days and training classes primarily led by ex-racer Philippe Létourneau, now best known as one of the judges on long-running Canadian reality show Canada’s Worst Driver, which managed to become the world’s longest-running such series by the novel approach of being less about laughing at the poor drivers and more about teaching road safety and encouraging the learning process, albeit in an exaggerated and infotainment-based environment. Létourneau’s job is to teach drive-to-survive and high performances skills, and he sits on a panel alongside a fellow instructor more focused on ‘day-to-day’ fundamentals, a representative of law enforcement and a professional psychologist to assess the drivers’ suitability for returning to public roads, not just from a “who is the best driver” standpoint but a “who is the driver I would feel happiest being on a road with” standpoint also. The show has, however, been notably short on contestants from Quebec, as after all the French are famously good and safe drivers (citation needed).

It’s still a great circuit today, but sadly is seldom seen at the higher level. And, to add to the confusion, in its early years its official name was Circuit Mont-Tremblant but it would often be referred to as “St. Jovite” - in similar fashion I guess to Montmeló being Barcelona, or the Masaryk-Ring being Brno. However, the location of the Circuit Mont-Tremblant is close to the former railway station at Lac Mercier, where the village of Mont-Tremblant is based, a few kilometres away from Saint-Jovite, where the majority of the people in the Mont-Tremblant municipality lived at the time. Go figure.

The closing stretches of my stage connect all of these various Mont-Tremblant entities into one rolling, slightly hilly circuit, with two and a half laps of the circuit completed to the finish. After passing through Saint-Jovite, the main population centre of Mont-Tremblant, we pass the Le Maitre golf course and then the scenic Lac Ouimet on our right hand side. We shortly reach a roundabout, which is where we enter the closing circuit. This roundabout has Vélo Mont-Tremblant on it, which is the gateway and bicycle hire site for the mountain bike trails that circle the area. We turn right and head past Lac Beauvallon before crossing the Rivière du Diable at Pont Beauvallon. This is the main road to the Mont-Tremblant resort village, but we take a less established, older route to the right after the bridge called Chemin des Quatre-Sommets, or the road of four summits, which has the snowshoe trailhead at its actual high point. Overall, this road is essentially a kilometre at 7%, but with very inconsistent ramps and flattenings in its first half which sees gradients reach up to 14%.

In my original draft of this stage, the finish was located within the resort village, at the foot of the actual mountain that gives Mont-Tremblant its name. However, this put the final climb less than 2km from the finish and over-balanced the stage in favour of puncheurs, which I felt wasn’t ideal for the pacing of the race, and would encourage riders to not try anything until the final 3km, whereas here, the crest is 6,2km from home, making it much less certain that time gaps created on that climb will be decisive to the stage win. The riders will sweep down from the summit and through the resort village, before some swinging corners towards Lac-Moore, a small water feature to the east of Lac Mercier, around which the original village that took the name Mont-Tremblant is located.

Looking back to Mont-Tremblant resort village

We don’t make it all the way to the earlier village, however, as near the start, 1400m from the finishing line, we hang a 90º left onto a slightly narrower road which leads to the autodrome. At 800m to go we turn right as we arrive in the paddock of the circuit, before a sweeping 180º corner that enables us to, at 500m or so to go, enter the racing circuit just before the final kink on to the home straight. Although it’s a 180º corner, this is a wide open parking area and it can be done as a never-ending sweeper of a corner rather than a dangerous hairpin. The fact the start/finish straight at Mont-Tremblant has a left-hand kink in it will also complicate matters for the sprinters and make it easier for an escapee to get out of sight and out of mind.

Of course, this is only the finish on the third pass. On the first two, we still have time remaining, since the circuit is 14,4km in length (the cycling route, not the autodrome). The first part of this is heading around the autodrome with its undulating terrain - yes, I know typically circuits including auto racing circuits include the majority of the circuit prior to the finish, but the occasional one re-enters the circuit right at the end, such as the Imola circuit used in the 60s and more recently in the Giro (as opposed to the 2020 World Championships one which took the circuit in the opposite direction to cars) or even simply doesn’t have it at the start and finish at all, like the inclusion of the Goodwood Motor Circuit in the 1982 Worlds course, which instead finished at the horse racing track at the top of the hill. We then leave the course shortly after what remains of the infamous Hump, double back on ourselves and head back towards the southernmost part of the circuit, turning left onto Highway 327 to return to the roundabout with Vélo Mont-Tremblant at it, and re-acquaint ourselves with the Quatre-Sommets climb.

Overall, this is a stage which will probably be a battle between a late attack from a baroudeur and a sprint of the somewhat adaptable and durable sprinters, possibly one of those that’s a sprint of a group of around 80 just due to riders being burned off by the constant undulation of the final circuit even though the amount of what you’d term ‘real climbing’ is minimal. With the circuit being 14,4km in length, this means the summit is seen at 6,2km remaining, 20,6km, and 35km from the line, giving riders a chance to acquaint themselves with the finish but also enabling the climb to stand a chance of having an impact, more in the trying-to-form-a-cohesive-escape-group manner for most than a bid for victory solo, you would anticipate.

Circuit Mont-Tremblant. You can see our entry to the circuit bottom right, and where we exit on the right hand of the straight coming toward the camera in the centre. The vans are parked along our route out of the circuit, and then we turn left onto the road in the top of the screen; you can just about see the roundabout where we enter the circuit at the top about a third of the way along from the left
Stage 4: Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu - Trois-Rivières, 165km


Yes, it’s a pan-flat stage on stage 4, not a single climb to mark it as the sprinters will be licking their lips for this one, likely their last opportunity in the race. We have returned to the overall Montérégie that surrounds Montréal (a bit of an odd race design but it has its reasons), with a stage beginning to the east in the city of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, a transportation hub on the Richelieu river which is home to 100.000 people. Constructed by the French as Fort-Saint-Jean, it changed hands a number of times during the French and Indian Wars and the American War of Independence, but after British rule was secured it then became a crucial logistical site after the first railroad in British New America was constructed to link the city to the St. Lawrence River at La Prairie, a mainland suburb of Montréal. It is also connected to the river by a canal, as well as having also been a stop on the historic International Railway of Maine due to its proximity to the American border.

Being in the general sphere of influence of Montréal, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu has largely become a commuter town for the affluent middle classes, and its celebrity offspring largely reflect the influence of the neighbouring metropolis. When running down the factors of Montréal’s sporting life, I focused on a couple of specific sports which have strong tradition in the city, and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu has provided the city with many of its success stories in those trends dating back decades. For example, there’s Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion, a legend of the Montréal Canadiens in the 50s and 60s who was part of their dynastic order, albeit overshadowed by the likes of Rocket Richard and Jean Béliveau, with whom he made the deadliest line in the NHL - thereby it is little wonder he was perceived as the third wheel on the line. Nevertheless, he is a hall of famer credited as one of the pioneers and innovators of the slap shot. His number was retired by the Canadiens in 2006; the honour had been bestowed on him in 2005 but the ceremony was given a specific planned date five months later. Tragically, during that five months Geoffrion was diagnosed with cancer, and passed away on the same day as the ceremony. He had married the daughter of fellow hall of famer Howie Morenz, who had in 1937 become the first Montréal Canadien to have their number retired, after a tragic early death brought on by blood clots after a horrific leg break in a match, and his number was placed beside his, which had been lowered to half-mast, to symbolically link the two families in the hearts of the Habs faithful. Other hockey stars to call Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu home include pre-war Habs favourite Art Alexandre and 21st Century goaltender for the Oilers and the Ducks, Jeff Deslauriers, and ten-year veteran defenceman Denis Gauthier.

Also on ice but not relating to hockey, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu is also the hometown of Isabelle Brasseur, a figure skater who, together with her skating partner Lloyd Eisler, won two Olympic bronze medals (at Albertville and Lillehammer) and a world championships gold in the pairs competition. Away from the ice and in a profession also popular in Montréal, and somewhat less known for its elegance, we have some professional wrestlers - most name value at least at present would be Kevin Steen, best known by his WWE persona Kevin Owens, a big, bearded rough-and-ready man who looks far more like your average bar brawler than the regular chiselled, be-Spandexed men that populate the pageantry of the world of wrestling - though more recognisable to many of a certain age would be Claude Giroux. No, not that Claude Giroux (it’s painful enough just to acknowledge the existence of the Philadelphia Flyers) - this one is a midget wrestler recognisable to many as Dink the Clown, the midget sidekick of evil circus attraction Doink, one of the most cited embodiments of the stupidest era of WWF wrestling. The city also attracts many for its festival of hot air ballooning.

But there is one sport associated with Montréal that I have avoided thus far, and eagle-eyed readers may have wondered why it wasn’t brought up when I was talking about sports in Montréal, since I do frequently bring up motorsport in these travelogues. And there’s a good reason. Because it’s impossible to talk about motor racing in Montréal without mentioning one man, and that man is the reason I’ve selected Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu as a stage host, an icon of Quebecois sport and Canadian sport in general, a favourite across the world and a man who has left an indelible legacy despite never taking home the big prize à la Poulidor. That man is Gilles Villeneuve.

I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that Villeneuve is a motor racing equivalent to the likes of Pantani or Vandenbroucke, great but flawed legends whose results never quite truly reflected the legend of their exploits. He’s a tragic hero, a swashbuckling romantic who lived and died on the ragged edge in the car, who was many things at once: incredibly talented, captivating, but fearless to the point of recklessness. One thing Villeneuve was not - ever - however, was boring. He was blindingly quick, and if there was an extra tenth to be found he would find it or die trying. He would try overtakes that other drivers wouldn’t consider even if they needed to pass, and on occasion he would try them even if it was in his interest not to. Because Villeneuve lived for racing, and racing was enlivened by his participating.

Gilles was a pretty unique racer with a novel route into the sport - he started out drag racing using his road car, before moving into circuit racing. However, with the limited Quebecois racing scene and with no backing from teams or sponsors, he made the majority of his comparatively meagre income from snowmobile racing, spending four years in Formula Atlantic funding his own entries with the money earned from the snowmobiles, and lying about his age so that he didn’t seem too old for promotion. In fact, the only sponsor he had for much of this time was his snowmobile manufacturer, Skiroule. He was far from the glamorous image of the rich jet set racing driver that often endures. All that changed late in 1976, however, when organisers of a Formula Atlantic race in Trois-Rivières, Quebec decided to pay some appearance fees to spice up the event with some top level F1 drivers - as often happened in those days - only to find the local Atlantics driver with no sponsors defeating the likes of incumbent F1 World Champion James Hunt. Hunt was suitably impressed to get Villeneuve a part-time contract in an extra car for McLaren in F1 in 1977, where he impressed by outperforming Hunt’s teammate Jochen Mass on debut despite racing in the previous year’s car. However, his performances meant that securing his services on a full-time basis were too expensive for McLaren’s tastes, so it fell to Ferrari to offer him a ride after Niki Lauda’s shock departure at the end of 1977; he visited Enzo Ferrari in Fiorano, and old man Ferrari was immediately taken by the young Canadian, bringing him in with immediate effect.

It was not an auspicious beginning, though, with Villeneuve colliding with Ronnie Peterson early in the Japanese Grand Prix, and being sent airborne, landing in the crowd and killing two people, one spectator and one race marshal. With 1978’s Ferrari being heavy on the problematic new tyres and Villeneuve’s never-say-die racing style, he almost lost his seat, but the intervention of Enzo, along with a brilliant triumph at the brand new semi-permanent facility in Montréal at Île Nôtre-Dame late in the season, secured his drive for the following year alongside South African Jody Scheckter. This was a season where Villeneuve could have been champion, but agreed to not jeopardise the team’s position by attacking Scheckter at the last - however the South African’s win was largely overshadowed as the main thing the 1979 season is remembered for is the dramatic conclusion of the Swiss GP at Dijon, with Villeneuve in the Ferrari vs. René Arnoux in the Renault creating one of the all time greatest Grand Prix duels, with several passes and even more occasions of contact between the two cars in the last few laps cementing Villeneuve’s reputation as one of the most fearsome and talented drivers on the grid. The latter point was further confirmed in a dismal practice at Watkins Glen for the US Grand Prix at the end of the season when, in appalling rain, Scheckter came back into the pits saying he had never been more scared in a racing car, and had gone the fastest it was humanly possible to go. But when they looked at the timing screens, Scheckter was just 2nd, having outclassed all but one driver. There, a full eleven seconds faster, was Gilles, in the same car. This kind of margin was unthinkable in the F1 of then, let alone today, and despite being the reigning champion, Scheckter expected to be the support driver to Gilles for 1980 after his teammate had played nice in Monza to preserve the Ferrari 1-2 and ended his own title bid.

Sadly for Gilles, however, the 1980 Ferrari was an absolute pig of a car, although it did create one part of his legacy in an unintended fashion; until recently F1 cars were numbered on a system based around the Constructors’ Championship - but at some point in the 70s the system became fixed, so teams would keep their numbers from year to year. As a result, teams would only shift numbers when they won a driver’s title and inherited cars #1 and 2. For example, Lotus drove most of the 80s with cars #11 and 12, because when Scheckter won his title driving car #11, Mario Andretti was the outgoing champion, so Lotus acquired these numbers and, as they never won another drivers’ title, kept them. Most of the long-running teams had low numbers (for example, Tyrrell had #3 and 4, and Brabham #7 and 8), and new teams that had proliferated in the 70s therefore had to acquire new numbers near the back of the grid. One of these was Frank Williams Racing, or simply Williams as most people know them. In 1980, they were running cars #27 and 28, and with the Ferrari of the defending champion being so poor, and other teams like McLaren and Lotus struggling to produce competitive machinery, this resulted in Alan Jones winning the title for Williams, relegating Ferrari to cars #27 and 28 for 1981, where they would remain until 1990 when they signed defending champion Alain Prost, then return to for much of the 90s until Michael Schumacher righted the ship. Formula 1 was in the process of transitioning across to the turbo era, and the 1981 Ferrari was also regarded as a boat, with insane throttle lag and later car designer Harvey Postlethwaite regarded Villeneuve being able to win in Monaco despite the shortcomings of the car to be further evidence of his incredible talent. In 1982, the car was much better, and Villeneuve went into the season as one of the favourites.

Anybody who knows F1 will know that 1982 is probably the most disrupted, most bizarre season there ever was. From the normally-aspirated cars running the “water cooled brakes” loophole to enable them to run underweight, to Brabham introducing the modern pitstop, to the FISA-FOCA War, nearly every race had some controversy or slight involved. Villeneuve was disqualified in Long Beach for running a car with a sailplane rear wing - or rather two sailplane wings attached overlapping to in theory give more downforce but in reality flapping around and making the car harder to handle. In Imola, the controversy over the disputed decision where several non-turbo cars had been disqualified for running the water-cooled brakes trick resulted in several teams boycotting the race, leaving the turbo teams to fight the back markers only. The two Ferraris, streets ahead, began entertaining the crowd with some wheel to wheel staged action, before they were told to cool it and slow down for the finish. However, Villeneuve’s teammate Didier Pironi, sensing a chance to stake his own claim for the title, stole past him at the last, infuriating Villeneuve, who in a rare moment of Gallic temperament vowed to never speak to the Frenchman again.

It was a promise he, inadvertently, would keep; the two did not see each other until qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder, and no words were exchanged before Villeneuve went out on track. Coming through the sweeping left-hander at Butte, before the Kleine Chicane had been built, Gilles was on a hot lap while former teammate Jochen Mass was off pace on an in-lap. With the woodland around Zolder and the high speed of the Butte corner, it was an unfortunate racing incident; Mass was travelling slower and the appearance of Villeneuve in his mirrors gave him little reaction time, while Villeneuve likewise would have flown around the corner at high speed and the blind kink would have meant Mass would not have appeared in his line of sight until quite late; Mass moved to the right to yield the racing line to Villeneuve, with the latter on their hot lap, while Villeneuve had a split second to guess which side Mass would move to and steer to the other. He guessed incorrectly, colliding with the back of the Arrows, which took the car airborne. After 100m in the air the car speared nose-first into the ground, disintegrating its safety cage, tearing off Villeneuve’s crash helmet and hurling him, still strapped to his seat, into the catch fencing at 140mph. He was kept on life support until his family could arrive, but by the end of the day the machines were switched off and Gilles’ passing was announced to the world. He was 32.

Gilles’ F1 career lasted only four full seasons, and a small part of 1977 and the first few GPs of 1982. He only won 6 Grand Prix, and never won a world championship, but his legacy is greater than many that have won titles or more GPs or both. Debate will always rage as to the greatest driver to never be crowned World Champion, but alongside Stirling Moss and to a lesser extent Ronnie Peterson, Gilles’ name is always one that remains in the mix. His heyday was brief, thanks to his late and rocky start and his early demise, but the reverence with which his fellow drivers spoke of him and his legendary and fearless exploits had rendered him a folk hero and crowd favourite long before his death, feats which have only grown in stature with his untimely fate. The Île Nôtre-Dame circuit, in Montréal and just down the road from his hometown, was renamed the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve even by the end of 1982, and has become the permanent home of the Canadian Grand Prix, while the first part of the double-right-hander of Terlamenbocht at Zolder, where his fatal accident occurred, has been turned into a chicane which carries his name. And, though he only drove it for a year and a bit, car #27 is now permanently attached in fans’ memory to Gilles. Formula 1’s numbers being fixed to teams until very recently, and the driver merry-go-round, means that it is rare for a driver to become associated specifically with one particular car or number the way Richard Petty’s #43 or Valentino Rossi’s #46 have become universal. Nigel Mansell’s “Red 5”, which he drove across two stints with Williams in the mid 80s and early 90s, then took to CART with him, is the closest other than Gilles. But it’s a mark of how popular and beloved Gilles was that he managed to accomplish this iconography in a car that he drove for fewer than 20 Grand Prix (Zolder was to be the 20th). In 1985, when it was known that the Belgian GP would return to Spa-Francorchamps the following year, Michele Alboreto won the final F1 Grand Prix at Zolder driving Ferrari #27 to a great ovation; perhaps even bigger, though, was the 1995 Canadian Grand Prix, when attrition led to the talented, mercurial but often snakebitten Jean Alesi, who also made Ferrari #27 his own in the early 90s (and drove it for 5 years and 80 Grand Prix, four times as many as Gilles), took his one and only Grand Prix victory, in the car that was forever associated with Gilles at the circuit that carried his name. It was a classic moment and somewhat bittersweet in retrospect for Alesi, who would go on to accumulate some 200 GPs, never really getting the machinery to enable him to acquire the results his talent suggested he should - and yet his single, solitary career win saw him overshadowed by a man who had been dead for over a decade. That’s how much Villeneuve meant.

Of course, the Villeneuve family had unfinished business with the sport. Gilles’ brother Jacques was also a racing driver, entering F1 as a back marker in the early 80s and having a mid-field CART career in the mid-80s. He is nowadays known as “L’oncle Jacques” or “Uncle Jacques” due to the far greater success accumulated by his nephew, Gilles’ son Jacques. Jacques Villeneuve is a strange case within motorsport, in that he became a big star early on and indeed won that world title that his father never managed - however after this his ego consumed him and after setting up the BAR team with one of his business partners, the team was essentially surrounding him with yes men and pumping his tyres, and a series of questionable decisions followed by some pretty mediocre results in the twilight of his career when motivation was gone have meant that he is sometimes treated as a sort of impostor world champion, but that’s not really fair; this approach viewed through the prism of late-career Jacques does not give him full credit for how good his early career had been; he won the Indy 500 before the CART-IRL split, so while it was still a huge deal and before the split eroded its prestige; he took to Formula One like a duck to water and within a year he had Frank Williams wilfully letting the current World Drivers’ Champion walk to ensure he could keep Villeneuve on board another season, and even if the main thing people remember about that season was Schumacher failing in his attempt to take Villeneuve out the way he had Damon Hill in 1994, Villeneuve was the stronger driver throughout in 1997 and, while it wasn’t the strongest era of F1, with Senna dead and Mansell, Prost and Piquet all retired, while McLaren had not yet provided Mika Häkkinen with sufficiently competitive machinery to truly show what he could do, the title still needed winning.

However, his later-career problems with lacking motivation at uncompetitive BAR and Honda outfits, his bad attitude towards some teammates and an overvaluing of his market position led to a succession of mediocre rides and eventually an ignominious retreat from the sport in 2007 because he did not want to compete for his drive. He entered Le Mans with Peugeot in their diesel-powered 980HDi-FAP in an attempt to win the Motorsport Triple Crown, but 2nd place was the best he could manage and after mediocre showings in 2008 he was dropped for the 2009 event when the Peugeot team finally took the prize. By this time Jacques was bouncing around NASCAR feeder series, Stock Car Brasil, V8 Supercars Series in Australia, and is now bouncing around lower level GT series championships as well as, somewhat unbelievably, throwing in a cycling connection, as he can now be found in the Whelen Euro Series, racing against luminary motor racing legends such as former cyclocross world champion Niels Albert, and some guy called Tom Boonen, who you might have heard of.

No, seriously. Niels Albert and Tom Boonen were racing against a former F1 World Champion.

Of course, I’m wittering about motorsport because this stage has very little by way of defining features. It’s pan flat and apart from crossing the St. Lawrence river late on, by one of the few bridges that span it this far up, in order to approach the city of Trois-Rivières, there isn’t really much to define it. It’s not a particularly windy area, there are no climbs to speak of, and the road is all well-paved. This is a pure transitional stage and picking Gilles Villeneuve’s hometown was so that I at least had something to talk about, and since you all will likely be aware I am a fan of his, even though he had died before I was born, it was probably as inevitable as… something coming up later in the race.

The only other point of interest on the route realistically is Saint-Hyacinthe, where the first intermediate sprint takes place early in the stage, the hometown of Geneviève Jeanson - but as I went through her story on stage 1 and have already run into several paragraphs talking about motor racing, I will spare you the repetition. Instead we head directly, through the floodplains of the St. Lawrence river, to Trois-Rivières, so called because its location at the confluence of the St. Lawrence and Saint-Maurice rivers sees the Saint-Maurice split into three streams, with two islands - Île Saint-Quentin and Île Saint-Christophe - dividing the city’s terrain. Nowadays there are actually more islands, but that’s the genesis of the name.

Historically an Algonquin summer resting spot, a permanent settlement at the site of Trois-Rivières was set up in the mid-17th Century, making it the second oldest city in New France after Québec. It was the first to become an industrial city, largely as a metalworking town and a lumber town. After being divorced from metropolitan France the city became a paper processing capital, producing some of the most paper in the world, but in recent years this has declined and the city reflects several fading industrial cities, losing prominence and having to try to reinvent itself. The Saint-Lawrence River’s width has historically meant connecting the two banks has been a challenge, and it was not until the opening of the Pont Laviolette in 1967 that its width was spanned in the region - and this is in fact the only means of traversing the river between Montréal and Québec City without the use of watercraft. So of course that is the route we are taking, because there is literally no other choice. However, this has been rather too little too late in terms of establishing the city as a vital trading post, as with the administrative functions of Québec being housed in its capital, and with Montréal far better suited to rapid development and communication across the nation as Canada became less dependent on Europe following independence, Trois-Rivières could not develop at the pace of the two metropoles it sits between, and so its development has topped out at around 135.000 people, keeping it in the same realm as the likes of Sherbrooke and Gatineau for size, but with its location equidistant between the two major French-Canadian cultural hubs keeping it prominent.

Like many cities in this part of the world, prominent Trifluviens include a number of hockey players, most notably André Dupont, one of the Philadelphia Flyers’ (not again! Twice in one post!!!) infamous “Broad Street Bullies” back in the 1970s; however, Trois-Rivières is kind of unusual among Quebecois cities in that it doesn’t really have a prominent hockey team. Although the president of the QMJHL is from Trois-Rivières, they have not had a Major Junior team since the Draveurs left town in 1993, and there hasn’t been a professional team since the 1960 EPHL, a successor to the former QHL which ran in the 50s. By and large the biggest team in town has been part of the LNAH, or Ligue Nord-Americain du Hockey, an amateur league widely renowned purely for its engagement of enforcers and relentless fighting. That is set to change this year, however, with the Trois-Rivières Lions being added as a new ECHL franchise, the third tier of professional hockey in North America, as the equivalent of an AA-affiliate of the Montréal Canadiens.

There are other sports in Trois-Rivières instead. The only French-Canadian to ever serve as a starting quarterback in the CFL, Luc Tousignant, calls the city home, and was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 1982 but chose the CFL instead as he was likely to be well down the depth chart in the NFL. He’s a real two-sport athlete as well, having competed at the 1976 Olympics as a teenage handball pro as well. But the main reason for sport in Trois-Rivières? Well, I already mentioned it. Because it was here that Gilles Villeneuve beat the incumbent F1 World Champion in a Formula Atlantic race, on the street circuit in the centre of town - which will serve as the finish of my stage too.

One of the unique and most interesting features of the circuit is the passing through the Porte Duplessis arch, and although its short (2,4km), uncomplicated (10 turns) layout means it is too small for major series, it has been home for events on the Trans Am, Formula Atlantic, Indy Lights and World Rallycross events. The biggest events have probably been the sportscar events, with the CanAm series showing up in town in the 70s, and two rounds of the American Le Mans Series in 2002 and 2003, as well as the Gran Am Series in 2000 and 2001 (so they traded up from Daytona Prototypes to Le Mans Prototypes, since that first generation of Daytona Prototypes were both slow AND ugly. The new ones are infinitely better). Two drivers stand out with four wins at the venue - Andrew Ranger with four wins in the NASCAR feeder cup events here, and Jacques Villeneuve Sr. with one win in CanAm and three in Formula Atlantic, bringing us full circle.

This one will be a sprint finish.
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Stage 5: Drummondville - Observatoire Mont-Mégantic, 195km

Côte de McFarland (cat.3) 1,0km @ 12,5%
Côte de Minton (cat.3) 1,4km @ 5,8%
Côte de McDonald (Montée Dunant)(cat.3) 1,8km @ 8,8%
Mont-Mégantic (cat.1) 5,3km @ 9,6%

Although this is not the queen stage, this is the primary mountaintop finish of the race - in fact the only such finish outright, on stage 5 as we transition from the first half of the race, which had been mostly flat to rolling, towards the second half which is full of more significant climbing. And we move down from the St. Lawrence shores towards the US border in the south of Québec Province and into the classic terrain of the Tour de Beauce.

I had originally planned another rolling stage in and around Shawinigan here but the route was getting repetitive and would become too long a race if I tried to get literally everything in. So instead, we’re back on the south bank of the St. Lawrence river, around 50km south of Trois-Rivières, in the city of Drummondville, a city of 70.000 which was established as a military garrison town to station British troops during the War of 1812. The city was named after Sir Gordon Drummond, then-governor general of Upper Canada, a historical province including parts of present-day western Quebec and southern Ontario, largely bounded by the Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers along with the Great Lakes. Its main attractions are a hydroelectric dam which provides the city with its power, and the Village Québecois d’Antan, a living museum complex celebrating early European settler life. It is also famous for a festival celebrating that most Canadian of traditions, the culinary heritage which the peasants and kulaks of Soviet Canuckistan have fed themselves for centuries (or, really, since the 1950s), and which was derided and mocked as a sign of poverty or uncultured background only to then become celebrated as an iconic dish - the infamous poutine.

Drummondville’s famous children are pretty universally from the field of ice hockey, as might be expected considering the town’s only sports team to any reasonable level is the QMJHL’s Drummondville Voltigeurs, who play at the Centre Marcel Dionne, named for the city’s most beloved son, an iconic player for the Detroit Red Wings, LA Kings and New York Rangers who was inducted into the hall of fame in 1992 and who is now the highest ranked player of all time to have never won a Stanley Cup, thanks to consensus pick for that title, Ray Bourque, securing a late-career trade from his long-time home of the Boston Bruins to the Colorado Avalanche, winning the Stanley Cup at the age of 40 and retiring immediately thereafter. His much (nearly 20 years) younger brother Gilbert was a far less successful player in terms of individual results, but did play a strong part in the Montréal Canadiens’ Stanley Cup win, at the end of the same season his brother was inducted into the hall of fame. However, his career fizzled out quickly and saw him play out his days in the minor league affiliates, a far cry from his brother’s high-ranking high-profile roles. Former Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators goalie Patrick Lalime, and another member of that 2001 Colorado Avalanche Stanley Cup-winning squad, Éric Messier, also call the city home, as does, somewhat more prominently, former Montréal Canadien Yvon Lambert, part of the 1976-1979 Habs dynasty that won four back to back Stanley Cups. But Marcel Dionne stands above them all.

Well, except maybe Kéven Lacombe, who played for the Voltigeurs, but after ageing out of the NHL Entry Draft without a selection, he changed tack and switched to cycling full-time - he had done this as a means of keeping healthy in the summer and won the Canadian Junior TT championship in 2003 - going on to ride several years in the North American péloton, winning several stages of the Vuelta a Cuba and the GP des Marbriers, a 1.2-category one-day race in the Nord-Pas-du-Calais Département of France.

Marcel Dionne at his peak

The first part of the stage is straightforward enough, fairly typical rolling terrain which the riders have got somewhat used to so far, and it is only on arrival in Sherbrooke after 67km that we reach the beginnings of some marked changes to the terrain. At the confluence of the Saint-François and Magog rivers, Sherbrooke is the 6th largest city in Quebec, with over 200.000 inhabitants, and named after Sir John Coape Sherbrooke, Governor-General of British Canada, and it is one of the best examples of British-style architecture in the otherwise very Gallic Quebec province. However, for many the city is best known as the hometown of the fictitious young sailor who narrates Stan Rogers’ modern sea shanty Barrett's Privateers, which has become a famous Canadian drinking song and has often been mistaken for a traditional due to its authentic details; its repeated refrain of “how I wish I was in Sherbrooke now” is a ubiquitous feature and is immortalised in the national psyche. It is home to the Sherbrooke Phoenix ice hockey team, another QMJHL stalwart, as well as Mont-Bellevue Park, which boasts urban alpine skiing in winter. It is also the home of Ralph M. Steinman, born into the same Ashkenazic Jewish community in Montréal that gave the world Leonard Cohen; but while Cohen went into the arts, Steinman went into something that provides something more effective than joy to the masses (not that Leonard Cohen has ever been associated with joy in any meaningful capacity, since his reputation is as a favourite of depressives worldwide even though his work is laced with a healthy dose of humour) - life. He graduated McGill University in Montréal and did his doctorate at Harvard, going on to study and make advancements in immunology. He also created a bit of a stir inadvertently, as he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2011 - unfortunately this was awarded three days after his death, unbeknownst to the Nobel Committee, of pancreatic cancer. As the rules of the Foundation forbid posthumous awards, this created a quandary, but in the end as it was decided the decision had been made in good faith, the award would stand.

The important thing about Sherbrooke, however (how I wish I was in Sherbrooke now!), is that it is built around a range of small hills, giving us the opportunity to force a bit of climbing on the péloton. Not all of it is categorised either, as we loop up and around the hills overlooking the city for the next 50km of the route, which will start to burn off some of the weaker climbers in the bunch.

The first climb is uncategorised (how I wish I was in Sherbrooke now!), but would probably have been categorised in an earlier stage, as the ascent to Mont-Bellevue is 3km at 4,1%, a perfectly reasonable climb for this kind of stage, not too steep but long enough that it will be at least noticeable even if not much of an issue to traverse for the average pro. We could head direct to the village of Minton here, but where’s the fun in that? Instead, therefore, we take a fast descent through Parc Mont-Hatley, and then a double right to take us onto a savage Ardennes-style ramp, the Côte de McFarland. According to climbbybike this climb is 950m long and ascends 119m in that time for an average of 12,5%. Pretty brutal wall, and certainly could be a major feature of a one day race or championships route around Sherbrooke. It’s over 100km from the line so it won’t be particularly important here, but it’s, well, got its uses as a leg-softener here. Especially as there’s no respite after it, as when we get to the Chemin du North Hatley we turn back southward and away from Sherbrooke in order to take the Amstel Gold-type 1300m at 5,8% climb up to Minton before any respite follows with the descent into North Hatley itself. Another short ramp at around 4-5% then gives way to false flat uphill towards the feed zone at Waterville, before we loop back toward Sherbrooke, onto the 108 highway back into the city, briefly, before taking on the third categorised climb of the day, the last categorised one before the summit finish, at 1500m averaging a little under 8%. Being 85km from the finish again this is more about softening the group up than actually finishing people off. We almost reach Sherbrooke again, but instead turn right during the descent, into the neighbouring suburb of Lennoxville, which was an independent city until 2002, when the municipal reorganisation saw it subsumed within Sherbrooke. Like Sherbrooke it was named for a Governor-General of Canada, but is predominantly known for being where Confederate President Jefferson Davis relocated following the Confederacy’s defeat in the US Civil War.

After this we have an uncategorised ramp and some rolling terrain before the intermediate sprint in Cookshire-Eaton (how I wish I was in Sherbrooke now!). This essentially reflects the pattern of the second half of the stage, as after we have a brief descent to the Pont McDermott, constructed in 1886 and one of Quebec’s oldest covered bridges.

Things get undulating and frustrating for the bunch from here (how I wish I was in Sherbrooke now!), with around 25 “flat” kilometres that ascend around 300m in fits and bursts - not sufficient to be really noticeable but enough to make it harder than just flat riding as much of the race has entailed thus far. There is then a fairly rapid descent into La Patrie, before another 20km or so of undulation which climbs around 150m in various false flats with the occasional ramp and repecho thrown in as well as a second intermediate sprint in Nôtre-Dame-des-Bois. This then leads us on to the most famous, and severe mountaintop finish in Quebec, so you had to know it was an inevitability on the route… right?

The Inselberg of Mont Mégantic sits around 15km north of the US-Canadian border and is considered by many geologists to be part of the Monteregian hills (how I wish I was in Sherbrooke now!), although it is somewhat separate from the majority of them by several kilometres, like an isolated outreach from the rest of the mountainous path. It’s kind of to the mountain chain what Barbados is to the Lesser Antilles - the rest of them form a fairly clear linear path which Barbados clearly deviates from - but it’s also clearly part of the group. At its summit sits the Observatoire du Mont Mégantic, which is jointly operated by the universities of Montréal and Laval and was opened in 1978. Today it has an interactive exhibition and is open to the public, but in order to facilitate its research under threat from light pollution, largely from nearby Sherbrooke, the world’s first “Dark Sky Order” applies to the land around the observatory.

But, more interestingly from a cycling point of view, at 1111m it is the highest altitude accessible by paved road in Quebec. And even more interestingly, the road to get there is, well, pretty severe. And it has plenty of cycling history too, thanks to the Tour de Beauce. First introduced in 1986, this is a somewhat unusual race in that it’s a tour of an area that doesn’t really exist so to speak; the Beauce is named for a historic electoral district, but the name has been passed down over the years for the area south and southeast of Québec City on the south side of the St. Lawrence River and is imprecisely defined; the name survives in some of the historic county names (in much the same way as Bremen and Hamburg retain the “Hansestadt” nomenclature) and the area claimed as the Beauce largely corresponds to the modern Chaudière-Appalaches département, but not quite. Even so, neither Québec City nor Mont-Mégantic are part of the Beauce region under most definitions but both are fixtures in the Tour de Beauce. As such, it’s a bit of a vague race to define geographically; Europeans are used to tours of historic areas that do not correspond to their present boundaries expanding into those claimed or traditional areas - the Vuelta al País Vasco and the Tour de Brétagne are two notable examples - while races that are tours of areas much larger than their defined central point are rarer, but still exist; the Tour de Langkawi, for example, takes its name from a small island but tours the entire Malay peninsula, while the women’s Tour de l’Ardêche takes its eponymous département more sa a hub to work around, having many of its more decisive stages in a variety of other départments on all sides, including Tarn, Gard and Drôme. But the race wasn’t really wide-reaching enough to be a full Tour of Quebec, which is probably why Beauce was chosen as a region because Saint-Georges, the historic capital of the region, was its epicentre.

The Mont-Mégantic mountaintop finish has been part of the Tour de Beauce throughout its existence, appearing every year save for 2005 since its introduction, and a number of pretty major North American names - plus some from elsewhere, albeit usually on North American teams - have triumphed on its slopes. The first decade of the race was dominated by home talents, but the nascent dominant American entourage that came with Lance Armstrong’s reign of terror and the riders that became part of that North American invasion then came to the fore. Jonathan Vaughters won the race in 1997, then Levi Leipheimer won the race twice back to back in 1998 and 1999, including winning the Mont-Mégantic stage. Other recognisable names to win on the summit include Sergey Lagutin in 2006, Darwin Atapuma in 2009, Marc de Maar in 2010, Toms Skujins in 2014 and breakaway cult hero (and later Velon turncoat) Amets Txurruka in 2015. It’s become a bit more of a plaything for the local riders lately, with the last three winners being Canadian domestic riders, though James Piccoli has gone on to the top level since his win in 2019. The king of Mont-Mégantic is, however, veteran Spaniard Paco Mancebo, who won in 2011 and 2013 and was 2nd in 2012, as part of his long exile in North America which forms one era of his storied career of trying to make ends meet after becoming persona non grata in Europe following Operación Puerto and then subsequently being associated with the controversial Rock Racing team.

I’ve omitted one notable winner from the list, not because I don’t want to talk about him (I don’t, but that’s not the reason) but because he demonstrates just how difficult the climb is, to give a feel for what to expect. I thought about trying to hunt out some footage of this and setting it to O Fortuna, but then I’d have to look at his face, and then I’d become angry. That’s because we’re talking a very steep climb here. Not pleasant at all. How steep? Sepp Kuss, the man whose soporific, bored expression as he sits in the group doing no work for his team leader makes John Gadret look like a selfless superdomestique, the man who is only interested if the stage finishes on a steep climb… he deemed this climb steep enough to be worth his time.

Veloviewer regards the whole climb as being 9,4km at 6,1%, but the crucial part is that the final 5,3km average 9,6%. The maximum gets up above 20% and there are sustained verified ramps of 18%. This puts it in the same kind of terrain as Peña Cabarga (5,6km @ 9,4%), Puerto de Urkiola (5,7km @ 9,1%) or Sierra Road, and a little bit tougher than Planche des Belles Filles or Petite-Forclaz. But the good thing about those climbs is that in and of themselves, though tough enough to open up gaps, they aren’t going to completely wreck the GC and make it a one-stage race; the top 10 can still usually be covered by around 45 seconds to a minute, and therefore leave us with some time gaps which are big enough that you know there’s been decisive racing, yet not enough to say that the race is over. Definitely not with the stages I have to come…

Stage 6: Saint-Georges - Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, 233km

Côte du Saint-Magloire (cat.2) 3,6km @ 6,2%
Côte de Beaulieu (cat.2) 4,2km @ 5,5%
Côte de Saint-Fabien-de-Panet (cat.3) 2,5km @ 3,7%
Côte du Lac-Trois-Saumons (cat.1) 3,9km @ 8,3%
Côte du Lac-Trois-Saumons (cat.1) 3,9km @ 8,3%

With the race’s main plot lines now hopefully well established after the Mont-Mégantic MTF on stage 5, stage 6 is a long - very long - medium mountain stage which will test the recovery as well as put the pressure on to the race leader’s team to defend the gains made on the mountain yesterday, as we take an endurance trip north, up from the heart of the Beauce region to the southern shores of the St. Lawrence River to the east of Quebec City.

Saint-Georges (sometimes Saint-Georges-en-Beauce in order to differentiate it from other towns and villages of the same name in Quebec, although this is by far the largest and best known) is around 80km north of Mont-Mégantic, and entails travelling through Lac Mégantic (the town, not the lake itself, obviously), which held the national championships a few years ago, to get there. It is the capital and heart of the county of Beauce-Sartigan within the Chaudière-Appalaches region, so serves as the de facto centre for the conceptual Beauce region, in a similar fashion I suppose to other centres of non-specific regions, such as Bautzen for the Sorbengebiet or Ciney for the Condroz. With a population of 30.000 it is the largest city in the Beauce region, and serves as its cultural and industrial epicentre - yet it was not accessible by autoroute until 2016 when the freeway from Quebec that previously terminated in Beauceville was extended to Saint-Georges. It was originally Algonquin land and, though visited on numerous occasions, no permanent settlement was established for a century here; however eventually seigneuries were set up and eventually amalgamated into a parish in the mid-19th Century, named for the German Johann Georg Pfotzer, who purchased the land and established the formal village, and took the Anglicised name George Pozer. A collaborator of the Britons who had fled America following independence and who had built a fortune in real estate, he attempted to set up a Protestant German settlement and region, but eventually collaborated with the Francophone locals after a wildfire killed many of those initially attracted by his advertisements back in Germany.

Saint-Georges, with its wide boulevards with some tricky slopes on them, is a very supportive cycling town, as might be expected considering it’s the epicentre of the region that most supports the sport within Quebec. The Tour de Beauce features an annual circuit race over a reasonably hilly loop around Saint-Georges and it has also served as the stage start for many stages, particularly those finishing at the Mont-Mégantic Observatory, over the years. In earlier editions there would also be a split ITT and criterium day in the city as well, before the criterium was relocated to Quebec City. Tour de Beauce winners in Saint-Georges include pre-facial tattoos David Clinger (1999, criterium), Svein Tuft (2001 and 2011, circuit race and 2008, ITT), Diego Milán (2013, circuit race and 2019, road stage), Stefan Schumacher (2014, ITT), Toms Skujins (2014, circuit race), Carlos Barbero (2015, road stage), Guillaume Boivin (2015, criterium), while local favourites Rob Britton and even more so Quebecer Pier-André Côté have taken 2017 and 2018 stages for Rally Cycling.

In addition to this, the city uses this circuit frequently to host the Canadian national championships and, in fact, more or less every time the championships come to Quebec, it is here in Saint-Georges that said championship takes place - with this meaning that the town has hosted the event six times in the last fifteen years, with three back to back in 2007, 2008 and 2009, then 2013, 2015 and most recently 2019 also seeing the maple leaf jersey being fought out in the city. So really, it was a must on the route.

On the start line in Saint-Georges

Here, however, it’s just a stage start as we have a long and arduous stage ahead of us, heading on an undulating, rolling journey that gradually ascends up to an early intermediate sprint in Sainte-Justine. After this we ramp up the difficulty with two category 2 climbs, twice traversing the Massif du Sud range to extend out the stage distance. Neither of these are especially hard, the length of the stage makes them look steeper than they are on the profile. Nevertheless, however, they are some effort to pass, and the fact that after the second of these climbs there isn’t really any flat terrain for 60km means that this could be a challenging one - even though only one cat.3 climb decorates this middle section of the stage, it’s nevertheless not easy. The climb has been more categorised on the basis that there needed to be some points to reflect the difficulty of this section of the stage, but the individual climbs aren’t super tough. We run very close to the American border, skirting along the boundary with Maine for a while between the feed station in Sainte-Lucie-de-Beauregard and Les-Quatre-Chemins before turning back northwards and towards the St. Lawrence, which entails going up over the crest of this area, where the Massif du Sud has turned into nothing more than rolling hillside that slowly slopes down to the river, and descending down through to our second sprint in the village of Saint-Cyrille-de-Lessard.

We don’t go all the way down to the St. Lawrence, however, as we turn right in Lamartine, home of the Club Sportif des Appalaches, and head towards the final climb of the day. Well, the penultimate, because we undertake this climb twice, but it’s a potentially tricky obstacle, the Côte du Lac-Trois-Saumons. The Massif du Sud has now ended and we are at the edges of the Notre-Dame Mountains, a northern extension of the Appalachians which largely constitutes the Gaspésie peninsula.

Lac-Trois-Saumons is a scenic mountain lake in the municipality of Saint-Aubert, cut at comparative altitude (around 450m) and with sparkling fresh water with abundant fish, especially trout, which has made it an attractive spot for camping, fishing and other outdoor pursuits. In fact, it was the opening of a fishing camp on the shores of the lake in 1904 which paved the way for the tourist potential of the area, which had largely depended on subsistence agriculture and maple syrup production until that point. The main road from Saint-Aubert to Lac-Trois-Saumons is the one which we descend, however the fishing camp and the holiday belvedere is at the opposite end of the lake, so a second road was constructed to the west of the existing highway to facilitate ease of travel for those approaching from the more populated cities of the western part of the province, south of the St. Lawrence and not requiring ferry crossings at Saint-Jean-Port-Joli or further east.

This is not a climb to be underestimated, though. In this race it may be cat.1, but in most races it would be a cat.2, averaging just over 8% for almost 4km, with the last 2km averaging 10,9%. It gets steeper as it goes as you can see from the profile, and includes some ramps of up to 20%, so with this cresting at 40km and 17km from the line, especially the second time, we should see a bit of action here. Arriving at the summit, the riders then have a short track along the edge of the lake before taking the descent into Saint-Aubert. It’s a very straight descent, literally only two corners, neither of which are sharp or technical, so that’s not going to be too decisive. The first time, we arrive in Saint-Aubert and turn left to return to the base of the climb once more, which is why the kilometres to go at the two summits are not consistent with one another. As a result, the second summit leads to a straight and fast and hard descent directly into the finish at Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, however, with the final 6km being almost entirely ramrod-straight, this will make things unclear as to whether the chasing pack will be able to bring back any groups - 4km at 8%, 2km at 11% should get rid of anybody but real puncheurs and climbers, but they need to work hard together to break the opposition sufficiently to be able to get out of sight on the descent, because the road being so straight will make it hard to not be a target up the road for any chasers that still have enough legs to contend.

Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, finish

Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, where the stage finishes, is a smallish maritime town which nevertheless punches well above its weight when it comes to tourism, thanks to its scenic marina, and its heritage in the creative arts, with numerous traditional wood carvers, craftsmen and artists, as well as hosting an annual festival of sailors’ songs (how I wish I was in Sherbrooke now!) which focuses on the maritime history of the St. Lawrence estuary and the towns of the area, god damn them all! I was told we’d cruise the seas for American gold, we’d fire no guns, shed no tears! Sorry, that’s two straight stages with Stan Rogers interrupting us.

In the winter, Saint-Jean-Port-Joli also hosts a winter sculpture festival, and was Canadian Capital of Culture for 2005 in recognition of its preservation of local and colonial arts and crafts. It is largely associated with the politician and seigneur Philippe-Aubert de Gaspé, a prominent 19th-Century Quebecois politician who was imprisoned after becoming embroiled in scandal, and retired to a quieter life in the ancestral home of Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, spending the last 30 years of his life studying and documenting life in the small town. This led to the publication of his magnum opus, Les Anciens Canadiens, a mostly factual narrative drawing from historical record and his own personal experiences which delved into the lives, culture and business of the people of Quebec, and the transition from New France into the newer regimes (coloured with a healthy dose of rose-tinted hindsight and something of that quintessential Quebecois longing for a less isolated identity, as the only Francophone region and surrounded on all sides by the Anglophones both at home and abroad) and its impact on the daily lives of everyday Canadians. While his subsequent memoirs were popular and remain an important document of life in Quebec in the 19th Century, Les Anciens Canadiens has retained a level of importance as a novel in the region and in many schools still remains part of the syllabus, illuminating an era of local history which is largely poorly-documented and little studied in comparison to the initial settlers, the conquest of North America by the Europeans, the war of 1812 and more modern events. He lends his name to Saint-Aubert, indirectly - like many towns and cities around here, the choice of a saint’s name just happened to coincide with that of the local figure that they wanted to honour - but it is with Saint-Jean-Port-Joli that he is forever associated.

This is our last stop off south of the St. Lawrence. I think realistically we will need to travel to Lévis and cross the bridge at Québec City following this stage, but it’s also more than achievable to head further northwest up the riverbank to Rivière-du-Loup and Trois-Pistoles and cross across to the historic town of Tadoussac. Somewhat disappointingly, I couldn’t find a way to include Chicoutimi or Tadoussac into the race without extending the race days, but they have plenty of history and tradition worth investigating. Nevertheless, from a cycling parcours perspective, there is less to offer (and the Coupe de Saguenay already does about everything that’s possible with the Chicoutimi area anyway). We’re into the late goings of the race now, so everything has to be made to count. Tomorrow is the probable queen stage, so riders will want to rest well.
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Stage 7: Baie-Saint-Paul - Baie-Saint-Paul, 153km

Côte du Saint-Hilarion (Montagne de la Croix)(cat.2) 6,9km @ 5,3%
Côte Bellevue (cat.2) 2,9km @ 7,8%
Rang Saint-Antoine (cat.2) 3,0km @ 9,0%
Côte à Godin (cat.1) 2,2km @ 13,5%
Côte à Godin (cat.1) 2,2km @ 13,5%
Côte à Godin (cat.1) 2,2km @ 13,5%
Côte à Godin (cat.1) 2,2km @ 13,5%
Côte à Godin (cat.1) 2,2km @ 13,5%
Côte à Godin (cat.1) 2,2km @ 13,5%

Now on the northern side of the St. Lawrence, we have the queen stage of the race and one which will break the bunch to pieces on a stage which is, although not particularly long, going to be a stage of constant bombardment for any rouleurs still in the GC mix, as the puncheurs and climbers take on a loop around the riverbank that is more akin to something we might expect from the French Basque Country than French Canada, at least in terms of profile.

The stage begins and ends in Baie-Saint-Paul, a city of seven and a half thousand people which is located at the confluence of the Gouffre river as it drains into the St. Lawrence. It is a main stop and the largest population centre on the Charlevoix tourist train, which runs from the eastern edge of Quebec City to La Malbaie through the shores of the river and the Laurentian foothills. It is known for its expanses of art galleries and its artistic counter-culture, the most famous exponent of which is Caroline Tremblay. Its biggest claim to fame, however, is that in 1984 this was where the world-famous Cirque du Soleil was founded, when former Quebec street performers Guy Laliberté and Gilles Sainte-Croix, members of a performance art troupe called Les Échassiers who had been asked to perform at an exhibition marking 450 years since Jacques Cartier’s voyage, elected to bring their performance into an organised, touring ensemble under the name Le Grand Tour du Cirque du Soleil. Baie-Saint-Paul was their original centre, harking back to an inaugural circus fair organised by Laliberté, to publicise which he stilt-walked all 56km from the town to Québec City’s municipal offices. Nowadays, though many peaks and troughs have been occurred along the way, the troupe is an international byword for the modern performance-art circus, with contortionists, acrobats and death-defying balancing acts and stunts to a level beyond what had historically been possible or advisable.

Although we start and finish in Baie-Saint-Paul, however, this is no circuit race. Instead, however, the format is rather similar to that of stage 2, in Gatineau, where there is a long loop first, then a number of circuits taking in the stage’s primary obstacle, before a run-in from this circuit to the finish. A similar format was used in stage 6, albeit with a significantly reduced number of said circuits and only taking on the keynote climb twice. The Charlevoix region is known to local cyclists as “Les-Petites-Alpes” so you know that this is going to be a key stage for the GC.

This stage has a lot more by way of obstacles before we get to the circuit, too - including one right from the word go. There are two parallel roads out of Baie-Saint-Paul to the northeast, one above the shores of the St. Lawrence and one higher road along an intermediate plateau in the Laurentides. There are a number of interesting steep roads out of the smaller road closer to the river, so as you can probably imagine, we’re doing the plateau bit first. Which means more or less starting the stage with the longest climb of the day off a complete cold open. Nice. This is, overall, about 10km in length, climbing just under 400m, but the climb gradually gets easier, with the first 2,5km averaging 7% and then letting up slightly. I have put the categorised climb at the end of the first 7km, whereafter there’s a slight dip and then the climb turns uphill for a fairly gradual coda to the ascent at Montagne de la Croix.

Saint-Hilarion, foothills of the Laurentides

This then leads us into what is, surprisingly enough, the longest stretch of flat road in the entire stage, 15km of slightly downhill but easy riding before the descent into first Clermont and then into La Malbaie, at the mouth of the eponymous river and taking a slightly derogatory name deriving from the French for “bad bay”, due to Samuel de Champlain’s inability to find sufficiently stable anchorage when exploring the area in the early 17th Century. For many years while Canada was under British control it was known as Murray Bay, though the French toponym never left common use among the inhabitants, so this isn’t a case like Gatineau where it has been renamed, it’s just that with the population being largely Francophone, La Malbaie has long since become the common defined name. It became a popular second home for many well-to-do rich people in Canada and the northeastern US, with President William Howard Taft being the most high profile, spending all of his summers in La Malbaie when not holding office, also serving as president of its golf club, the oldest continuously-running course in North America (both courses which are older have relocated). It is famous for its Manoir, a grand hotel in the European style, and the attached casino, as its proximity to the US made it an attractive place to travel for gamblers during the period this was strictly regulated and limited in the Continental US, especially for those in the north east for whom Havana and Las Vegas were both more difficult to access. It is also the home of Ann-Renée Désbiens, an ice hockey goaltender who made waves when she became a real-life Lisa Simpson, making waves when due to her standout youth performances she was drafted to the Quebec Junior AAA Hockey League, the second highest Quebec hockey league for development… for men. She also attended training camp for the Shawinigan Cataractes, a QMJHL team, although she failed to make the cut, and went to join the NCAA leagues where she was a star for the Wisconsin Badgers despite limited grasp of English when she first committed. She was the highest goalie drafted in the 2016 NWHL draft but did not wish to compete in the underfunded league, instead participating in the Canadian national development program, enabling her to win a silver medal at the Pyeongchang Olympics before competing in the Great Lakes Hockey League, a men’s semi-pro division.

La Malbaie

The climbs start to pile up here now. The Côte Bellevue, overlooking La Malbaie, is another cat.2 climb of just under 3km at just under 8%, before a short plateau and descending into the intermediate sprint at Saint-Irenée. This leads us on to a potentially under-categorised climb where we briefly leave the main road to head up toward Saint-Irenée-les-Bainsk - the 3km at 9% Rang Saint-Antoine is similar in characteristics to the Côte du Lac-Trois-Saumons from stage 6, but whereas that was given cat.1 status, this is cat.2; the reasoning behind this is largely based on this climb being 90km from the finish rather than at a point where racing is likely to be on; here however we have 10km of slightly uphill flat riding (in much the same way as there was earlier the downhill) along the plateau; the main road will rejoin us not long after Lac-Saint-Antoine, but this route that I have chosen is much more tricky, as you can see from Climbbybike, even if it lends itself to a slightly longer flat run. Because that takes us to Les Eboulements, and there, the fun begins. Les Eboulements, and by extension its shoreside hamlet of Saint-Joseph-de-la-Rive, formerly known as Les-Éboulements-en-Bas, is a renowned scenic spot which is a member of the Association des plus beaux villages du Québec, patterned after the similar French and Belgian associations; but what the riders will see of Les Eboulements, although scenic, will not be particularly beautiful at all. Welcome to 11,9km of a circuit built on pain and suffering, which the riders must undertake five and a half painful laps of before they are allowed out of the torment of this particular circle of hell.

From Les Eboulements we descend down the Côte des Eboulements to the village of Saint-Joseph-de-la-Rive, from whence we must find our way back up to the La Malbaie-Baie-Saint-Paul highway, which entails taking an ungodly steep ribbon of tarmac known as the Côte à Godin. Or, alternatively, less typically but more evocatively, the Côte de la Misère.

This is a brutal, twisty path which takes us from the ferry port to the Île-aux-Coudres up to the Sommet de la Seigneurie des Eboulements, and although relatively narrow, is a two-way road, rather than a goat track. Which is kind of strange since its gradients are something akin to a traditional goat track that might be found in a European race such as Tirreno-Adriatico or the Vuelta al País Vasco. In fact, one can only surmise that the original French settlers of the region were from Iparralde, seeing as the kind of road we have here is much more akin to one you might find in the French Basque Country than elsewhere in France. The official summit seems poorly defined, as while the start seems to be universally agreed upon, Veloviewer records the climb as being 2,2km @ 13,5%, with a maximum gradient of 27%. Climbbybike records 1,9km @ 14,8%, with a maximum of 24%. RidewithGPS provides 2,6km @ 13,2% with a maximum of 20%. Strava agrees with Veloviewer on the overall stats but records a maximum of 25%. Some seem to use the junction with the 362, the main road which goes from Les Eboulements to Baie-Saint-Paul, as the summit, some acknowledge that turning right at this junction entails a slight extension to the ascent between the junction and the subsequent Sackgasse to Some de la Seigneurie, while others branch off of the Côte à Godin near its summit onto another road, the Rang Saint-Pierre, which joins the 362 slightly further west and then continues to climb at low gradient in the direction of Baie-Saint-Paul until a small group of buildings including the Concept Bike hire shop which comes just after the high point of the road on this route.

Under any of these definitions, however, this is a monster. It’s not long, but it’s severe, and taking this one on six times will be absolutely savage. Now, as mentioned, the road isn’t super narrow or a goat track and is decently paved (although at the moment due to landslip there has been some damage due to trees and detritus falling in the road). As a result, the best facsimile for the climb I have been able to find in major races has been the Mirador de Ézaro, the Galician monstrosity from the Vuelta a España, used in road stages in 2012, 2013 and 2016 and in an ITT in 2020. The similarities are strong - both ascend out of a slightly sheltered bay, although the Côte à Godin is on a riverbank rather than an ocean - though the St. Lawrence is several kilometres wide at this point so the feeling will be more akin to a shoreline - and carry their steepest gradients in the middle. The 1,8km @ 14,8% stats bring the climb in line with the Climbbybike estimate, whereas the maximum gradient of 29% is more in line with Veloviewer’s estimates for its Quebecois doppelgänger.

However, the thing about the Mirador de Ézaro is that to climb it multiple times would necessitate a long and drawn-out circuit, whereas with the Côte de la Misère, we can chain it together several times. The climbing record for the Quebecois climb is 10’45, but that is by an amateur. The record for Mirador de Ézaro is 6’46, set by Joaquím Rodríguez in 2012. There is, definitely, the risk that if the race explodes right from the first ascent of the climb, that stragglers may find themselves lapped, but then, the circuit is 12km in length and the climb is only 2,5km or so of that, the rest is flat, rolling and descending, so to lose 12km in distance means you’d probably be struggling all out anyway. The first time we crest the Côte à Godin there are 71km remaining; this means we subsequently pass it at 59km from home, 47km, 35km, 23km and, for the final time, just 12km out. I would think it’s probably on the antepenultimate passing that the stage really gets ramped up and selective, and then the final two ascents will be brutal as the puncheurs and climbers try to take their final chance climbing up a hill better known for its potential as a sledding Mecca in winter

For the record, this is the easy part - that we descend

Whereas on the first five ascents of the Côte à Godin, when we rejoin the 362 we turn right and pass over the high point of the road close to the turning for Sommet de la Seigneurie, on the final time we turn left at this point, and then take the gradual uphill to the Concept Bike shop as mentioned above, meaning while the brutal climbing is over, when the riders crest the Côte de la Misère for the final time they still have about 1,5km of uphill false flat to cope with before they can earn themselves a rest, and I’d hope that with the road being as steep as it is that we have riders strewn all over the road by this point. Again, using the Mirador de Ézaro as a guide, although that climb was used as a finish which of course impacts effort, it was climbed just the once and also would be in a higher-depth field than we would have here seeing as it was a Grand Tour: in 2012, Purito crested 8” ahead of Contador, 13” ahead of Valverde, 20” ahead of Gesink and 23” ahead of Froome. 36” covered the top 10 and 26 riders were inside a minute. In 2016, Geniez won from up the road, 21” ahead of Rubén Fernández and 26” ahead of Valverde, Froome and Chaves. Discounting Geniez, 33” covered the riders from 2nd to 11th and 27 riders were inside a minute. Those are plenty enough gaps to ensure some frantic chasing and differences on the final run-in in a race where the mountains aren’t so severe, and besides, after six ascents of the climb I think we can amplify the time gaps somewhat. You can perhaps therefore better compare using stages like the Alto de Aia País Vasco stages. In 2015, Mikel Landa won with 4 riders inside 30” and 8 inside 1’00”. 2010 saw a descent finish with a group of 12 (including Valverde, who has been expunged from the record) coming in behind Purito and the Horner/Samu duo at 20”, but then only 4 further riders inside a minute.

After cresting the secondary summit the descent into Baie-Saint-Paul is pretty fast, with its corners being mostly wide and sweeping enabling pace to be kept up, rather than making significant technical challenges. The only 180º corner is at 5,7km from home, and then it’s just a left-right flick on the rest of the downhill before the road flattens out, with a 90º left-hander at 1500m from home and a sharp - circa 120º and tight apex - right hander at 500m from the line. Yes, that’s perhaps not the smartest but at the same time, with 6x Côte à Godin I’m really not envisioning a full péloton arriving here contesting the stage, are you?

Baie-Saint-Paul, finishing straight
Reactions: jsem94
2,2km @ 13,5%? Lord have mercy..

Loving these writeup, you're certainly putting a ton of effort into it and it is rewarding to read and learn. I've thought about a Tour of Quebec before, but never bothered putting in the time to make it happen - I love seeing this come to fruition at least on here. I've never gone across the pond, but visiting some of the towns along the St. Lawrence is actually a dream of mine. There is something quite interesting about the unique identity, typically non-North American archtecture and the history.
If anything, too much effort into it - the doc on this one tops 30.000 words, for an 8-stage race. My summaries and write-ups had been getting ever longer anyway, but I think with the pandemic they've gone from lengthy to ludicrous, I think, such that the write up takes way longer than the design and the amount of time required for it is the greatest impediment to my posting these races. At the same time, the size and length of some of these posts likely dissuades others from participating in the thread, which is not my intention either, so I am going to try to cut these down somewhat. I have a few races on the go that might need to be worked through, some will see the light of day and some won't - the Tour de Québec idea is actually over a year old, but I never got round to finishing it off as I got distracted by some rather more fanciful ideas like the HTV Cup and the Tour of Sichuan, and also finishing the long-planned but never completed Brazilian GT route.

Stage 8: Mont-Sainte-Anne - Québec-Ville, 173km

Mont-Tourbillon (cat.3) 2,1km @ 6,0%
Les Trois Petits Lacs (cat.3) 2,9km @ 4,5%
Québec-Ville (3ème passage)(cat.3) 3,6km @ 2,5% (inc. 4 different smaller climbs)

Time for the final stage of the Tour de Québec, as we move along the northern slopes of the St. Lawrence riverbanks towards the erstwhile capital of the province, and the administrative centre of Francophone Canada. The chances are that the race caravan, hotels etc. will have been based there for the last few days regardless, but either way, if so then we’re headed out in the same direction as yesterday’s stage to set off from our stage start today, since Mont-Sainte-Anne is roughly halfway along the Charlevoix route between Baie-Saint-Paul and Quebec City.

Mont-Sainte-Anne is a world-renowned mountain overlooking the town of Beaupré, known primarily because it is home to probably the best known and best revered ski slopes in Quebec. The first trails were cut here all the way back in 1943 but there were other things going on in the world at that point that meant establishing ski resort infrastructure was not a priority, so it remained something of an adventurer’s resort, with the first competitions, in 1946, being held with competitors having to scramble up the mountain carrying their equipment on foot, and the grooming of the trails was the responsibility of volunteers using their back-country skis. In the early 1960s, however, with the plans afoot to establish an ongoing Alpine Skiing World Cup, the proximity and ease of transport from Quebec City made Mont-Sainte-Anne an attractive site for a French-Canadian round of the World Cup, and the resort’s infrastructure was implemented, with several runs, gondola lifts and hotels and restaurants being constructed and inaugurated in 1966, the year the World Cup commenced.

The World Cup has been to Mont-Sainte-Anne on 12 occasions, six times for men (1969, 1971, 1973, 1976, 1980 and 1990) and six times for women (1969, 1971, 1973, 1976, 1980 and 1984). It holds 71 trails, 10 of which are homologated for FIS competition, almost entirely in Slalom and Giant Slalom. Since the 1989-90 season the venue has been off the calendar, though it has hosted the Junior World Championships in 2000, 2006 and 2013, and also has been the main basis of the Alpine venues for the Quebec bids for the Winter Olympics, first losing out on the Canadian nomination to Vancouver in 2010, and subsequently being outbid by Beijing and Milan/Cortina d’Ampezzo. The biggest problem, however, is the maximum drop of 625m, lacking sufficient altitude to achieve a proper homologated Olympic downhill. Many venues on the World Cup calendar can get away with this, just hosting slaloms, giant slaloms and maybe Super-G (examples of such venues include Zagreb/Sljeme and Levitunturi in Finland), holding a Winter Olympics without the downhill Alpine is like holding a Summer Olympics without the 100m. While the summit of Mont-Sainte-Anne is high enough, in order to extend the run long enough to produce a sufficiently-sized downhill route, the course would need to extend beyond the resort into the popular natural beauty spot that is Canyon-Sainte-Anne, and that seems unlikely and undesirable at this point in time even if it were to be allowed, as even beyond the environmental damage and the travesty that impacting such a scenic spot would be, such construction would also need to demolish part of the resort or the golf courses, and traverse the highway. This has been the biggest problem faced by the Quebec bids; they have looked to - as the Junior World Championships have done - hold the Downhill events elsewhere (the Junior Worlds used Stoneham Mountain Resort for smaller events in 2000 and Le Massif de Charlevoix in 2006 and 2013 for the downhill) but the need to have an Olympic sized outrun means that they’d need to construct out into the St. Lawrence in Le Massif, which has been a bone of contention with the IOC. In the absence of the skiing world’s elite, however, the venue has contented itself with mountain biking’s elite, hosting the Mountain Bike World Cup almost every year since its introduction in 1991, and hosting the World Championships twice, in 1998 and 2010. In the latter, José António Hermida and Maja Włoszczowska became world champion, while the junior events have been good to the French, with Julien Absalon winning the men’s juniors in 1998 and Pauline Ferrand-Prévot winning the women’s juniors in 2010.

Jolanda Neff on the charge in Mont-Sainte-Anne

Again the stage design has some similarities with that in Gatineau and Baie-Saint-Paul, as though we aren’t looping around from a start-and-finish in the same town this time, we do head directly toward Quebec City and then have a lengthy loop around it. The opening part of the stage is following the scenic Charlevoix tourist train route, on the adjacent highway, and this essentially means following the St. Lawrence down towards the suburbs of the city. We don’t head all the way into the city, however, as we hang a right in the first suburbs to head into the backwoods hills that roll up from the river to the Laurentides; Québec-Ville is where the river narrows (well, strictly speaking it is, you could argue that its splitting into two at the eastern tip of the Île d’Orléans is where it really narrows, but it then funnels around the western end of the island to a much narrower river at Québec-Ville) but simultaneously this gives way to a floodplain, as while the river is at its widest, the Laurentides rise straight out of the river (as seen in stage 7), once it has narrowed there is sufficient flat land on the north of the river for cities like Shawinigan, Trois-Rivières and Saint-Raymond, and the transition from the river’s floodplain up to the mountains becomes gentler and less immediate.

The catalyst for our turn onto our undulating, rolling loop to the north of the city is crossing the Montmorency river, and we cross it at one of Quebec’s natural beauty spots, La Chûte de Montmorency, or Montmorency Falls. Although far narrower than its more famous counterparts, Montmorency Falls has a gigantic, thunderous plunge of 83m, a full 30m more significant than Niagara Falls, and serves as the mouth of the river as it drops into the St. Lawrence. Immortalised in the works of Keats, a suspension bridge has been constructed over the waterfall to enable tourists to view both sides of the natural park in which it is set, and the road comes close to the falls enabling some excellent tourist shots from the helicam.

From here we turn right, northwards, to avoid too much urban riding just yet. This is gradually uphill, before a slight downhill onto an elevated plateau and then a categorised climb to Mont-Tourbillon, a couple of kilometres at 6%, and passing Le Relais, the cradle of downhill skiing in Quebec, dating all the way back to 1936, but smaller than the other resorts in the orbit of the provincial capital. Nowadays, advances in the sport have meant its small size has rendered it of less value for major alpine disciplines so it has been repurposed for the various aerial disciplines, otherwise known as skiing for people who don’t want to do real skiing. We then turn back northeast for a lengthy loop away from the city, past Lac-Saint-Charles and Le Relais’ big brother, Stoneham Mountain Resort. This is also relatively small in terms of its vertical reach, but is at least significant in size to host a World Cup slalom back in the 90s, as well as regularly hosting the Snowboard World Cup. Running up parallel to this is our second climb of the day, longer but shallower than the first, being about 3km long but at under 5% average gradient. This takes us to a nordic spa at Tewkesbury on the opposite side of Stoneham Mountain from the resort, and the Rivière Jacques-Cartier, which we subsequently follow for the next section of the course.

This takes us to the village of Saint-Gabriel-de-Valcartier, where we take what, to the untrained eye, is a pointless detour. Instead of following the road we are already on through Bull Pen, we instead take a longer loop to the west which is an additional 8km of stage distance. It is all flat to rolling, and adds no categorised climbs, sterrato, cobbles or significant obstacles, while the difference in stage length is small enough to be inconsequential. And it also entails travelling onto military land. So why do it? Well, this is the “something that you’ll see later” that was described as being so inevitable that I mentioned when eulogising Gilles Villeneuve earlier in the race. In 1914, Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Valcartier was established as a military training camp in order to train the national expeditionary force to enter World War I. The demand was so high that tents had to be erected while accommodation was constructed, but now into its second century the base is home to the 2nd Canadian Division and hosts over 6000 active military personnel, employs a further 1500 civilians, and has 9000 reserve troops tied to it. And it has a training centre for those wishing to employ their military training in the noble art of target shooting on cross-country skis.

The Centre de Biathlon Valcartier held the Junior World Championships in 1998 and, following this success, was introduced to the World Cup in 1999, as a replacement for Canmore as the Canadian round of the championship. The Biathlon World Cup only periodically travels to North America and tends to package those rounds together to save on travel costs, and with several of the US venues being clustered around the north east (Presque Isle, Jericho and Fort Kent all being in New England, and Lake Placid being in upstate New York), Valcartier was a more attractive cost-conscious option than flying all the way to Calgary to go to Canmore. However, two things converged to make this the only time the venue would appear at this level. Firstly, the 2002 Olympics being in Salt Lake City opened up another US venue which was more conveniently linked to Canmore and, later, Vancouver after the Canadian bid for the Winter Olympics succeeded for 2010. And, secondly, the woman whose success was the primary reason for wanting to bring the World Cup to Quebec in the first place, the woman whose name the venue now bears, retired just before the season the event was scheduled for.

Born in Loretteville, between Québec-Ville and Saint-Gabriel-de-Valcartier, Myriam Bédard was a gifted endurance athlete who learnt to shoot in the cadet corps of the local military facility, and this quickly resulted in her taking up biathlon, in which she excelled. At 22 she was taken to Albertville to compete in the first women’s Olympic biathlon events, as this was the first Games where women had been allowed to compete in the sport, and she won a bronze medal in the 15km Individual. Better was to come in Lillehammer, however, as the transition of the Winter Games from being the same year as the Summer Games to the current format suited her, and she won gold in both Individual and Sprint events, the only individual events at the time. She won the Lou Marsh Trophy, Canada’s Sportsman of the Year award, and was something of a star back at home. She took time out to have a child, but her post-childbirth comeback was hampered by injuries and certainly it didn’t have the galvanising effect it did on Marie Dorin-Habert or Anastasiya Kuzmina. In the end, after slumping results and a nondescript Nagano Olympics, Bédard retired from biathlon at 28. Her post-biathlon career was a trainwreck, however. It started with an abortive attempt at converting to speed-skating as she missed the spirit of competition. Then it got weird as she accused various executives at a major national company of forcing her to resign due to opposition to illegal sponsorship and marketing scandals, and many of these executives were forced to resign under public pressure, only for Bédard’s claims to fall apart in court and result in arbitrators concluding her resignation had been voluntary and that, regretting this, she had pulled the ultimate George Costanza. Rock bottom was reached in 2006 when she became a fugitive on the run after abducting her own daughter in contravention of child custody agreements and escaping to the US. Happily it seems that the probation and community service that resulted has straightened her out and she has returned to normal life, but it’s been a long and weary fall for eastern Canada’s former golden girl.

Returning to the 371, we turn right and pass through Bédard’s hometown of Loretteville and wind our way towards Québec-Ville. This takes us through Wendake, past the Les Carrières industrial centre and down towards the northern edges of the city centre, where we encounter the Centre Vidéotron, another landmark of Quebec, but one that’s kind of looking for its own mark to make, since it has been built not to honour the history but in anticipation of the history that it can potentially - and hopefully in time will - make.

The Centre Vidéotron is Quebec City’s premier indoor arena, and the seventh-largest indoor arena in all of Canada. The only six which are larger are home to six of Canada’s seven NHL teams. It was built as part of the same complex as the iconic, historic Colisée de Québec, later renamed the Colisée Pepsi, which was opened back in 1949 and renowned for its Art Deco stylings. It was known as “the house that Béliveau built” due to the popularity of the young Béliveau while playing for the Quebec Aces, and later that success followed when Guy Lafleur starred for the Quebec Remparts, the QMJHL team which survives to this day. But most people know it from its days hosting the #1 most missed franchise in the NHL, the team that people have begged for the return of since pretty much the first day they left: the Quebec Nordiques.

When the upstart WHA was set up in the early 1970s, Quebec City was not one of the first places sought for a franchise. However, it had a rabid hockey fanbase, its AHL team, the Aces, had just moved out as part of the NHL’s southward expansion, and therefore it already had a working venue, that just needed its seating capacity increasing, so when a San Francisco-based bid failed, Quebec was a logical entrant. They took the name Nordiques after their northerly location and the Norsemen who first discovered North America, and the team swiftly became an offensive juggernaut, bolstered by local favourites JC Tremblay, Real Cloutier and Marc Tardif. They won the WHA’s main trophy in 1977, but after the league collapsed in 1979 were absorbed into the NHL due to a condition in the merger agreement that dictated all of the Canadian franchises must be accepted into the NHL. They were buoyed in their expansion aims by the Czechoslovak brothers Peter and Anton Šťastný, but the divisional structure forced them into playoff fixtures against the Habs and Bruins continually, two of the biggest powerhouses of the era.

The relationship between Montréal’s traditional “original six” franchise and the perceived upstarts of Quebec had never been good, and after a particularly ill-tempered game in 1984 known as la bataille de Vendredi-Saint, or in English the “Good Friday Massacre”, games between the two became hotly anticipated due to the ongoing bad blood. By the late 80s, though, the core of the Nords’ team was ageing, and they ceased to be competitive. Young blood was on its way, but not quickly enough; star draftees like Joe Sakic and Mats Sundin would go on to become elite, but in the early 90s, the combination of a poor exchange rate for Canadian dollars and an issue attracting talent especially from the USA due to the team being the only monolingual French squad in the league hit the Nordiques. It is a popular myth that attendance was an issue but the Nordiques never had an issue with ticket sales. Other costs were the problem, and the disastrous debacle with consensus first overall pick Eric Lindros refusing to sign or wear a Nordiques jersey, the team drafting him anyway, then his holding out until Philadelphia mortgaged the farm to get him, put a fork into them. They were done, and despite the single biggest turnaround in a single season in the sport’s history to that point, a subsequent lockout rendered the team untenable in its current form, and eventually in the mid-90s the team was relocated to Denver, where they became the Rocky Mountain Extreme Colorado Avalanche. And, buoyed by making out like bandits in the Lindros trade, promptly won the Stanley Cup.

But Quebec City never stopped pining for its team. Every time since the loss of the Nordiques that the NHL has announced it is considering an expansion team, Quebec’s hills have been alive with the sound of fans screaming for the return of their beloved Nordiques. They’ve even interfered with games between US sides, in the US, to campaign the authorities for their team’s return. However, the ageing and increasingly outmoded Colisée was seen as an obstacle and most of these proposals depended on a new arena with the Colisée as a temporary home at most. The Centre Vidéotron was constructed from 2012 to 2015 both in the hopes of providing a home for a successful return of the Quebec Nordiques and as a hub for a potential Winter Olympics bid. Neither of these stated aims have come to fruition, but the venue is now the home for the Quebec Remparts, but other than them the venue largely plays host to pop concerts; the NHL has made it clear that their preference in expansion will be larger US markets, with Las Vegas, Seattle, Nashville and Columbus (and Minneapolis, though they had a previous franchise) joining the league in the last 20 years, as well as Atlanta, whose franchise relocated to Winnipeg with some reluctance from the authorities; these larger potential audiences in perceived untapped markets sit better with the aims of the organisation than smaller, but guaranteed audiences in hockey hotbeds like Quebec City. A lot like cycling’s global expansion, the promise of a theoretical audience is seen as more important than servicing an existing fanbase. Go figure.

This takes us to our closing circuit, and once more it’s one we know well, as we arrive in the historic heart of Québec-Ville. Known and renowned - rightfully - as one of North America’s most beautiful, this is very much a piece of chocolate box European architecture and scenery carved into the hills and cliffs of the shores of the St. Lawrence, and is more like something you’d see at Le Tour de France than anything else you might see anywhere in the continent. Quebec is often considered “a little piece of Europe in America” and it’s easy to see why, as nowhere else does the spirit of New France live and breathe like this city of 800.000 (with around 2/3 of that living in the city itself and the remainder across neighbouring cities like Lévis and other municipalities subsumed within its boundaries). Established in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain (although earlier attempts to settle the site had been made, the earliest in 1541 being the oldest known French settlement on the continent), the city took its present name from an Algonquin word meaning “the narrowing of the river” and the iconic Château Frontenac (seen above) and its intact 17th century fortress, citadel and ramparts mean this is the only city with fully intact fortress walls in the entire continent north of Mexico. Vieux-Québec, the area within these city walls, has been a UNESCO-inscribed World Heritage Site since 1985. De Champlain’s settlement was not originally called Québec, however. It was named Kanata, after the Iroquoian word for a village or settlement. Many have suggested that de Champlain misinterpreted this word as meaning the entirety of Iroquoian lands, however de Champlain’s own writings specify that he understood the meaning and described the area as having “several independent kanata”, and it was others who misinterpreted the term for settlement for the area in which those settlements lay. Whichever route it took, this name for the city eventually became interchangeable with the entire region, and eventually to all of the European settled lands in this part of the world, and through language contact, creole and interpretation, bequeathed us the word Canada. For decades it remained small but as colonisation increased it expanded to around 8000 inhabitants by the time the French were defeated in the Siege of Quebec and Canada became a British subject in 1763.

The American revolutionaries attempted to liberate Quebec in 1775, but found surprisingly little support from the French population who decided they would rather live as British subjects than as a minority in a newly-independent US. In fact, it was in fear of being attacked by the US again during the War of 1812 that the citadel was constructed, and it was the capital not just of its region but of all of British Canada for two periods in the 1850s and 1860s, as well as hosting the 1864 conference which established the confederation of Canada; however it lost out to Ottawa on the status of capital, on the whims of Queen Victoria. It has remained as capital of the Quebec province ever since, however, so it is our logical finish for the race.

The centre of Quebec is renowned for its architecture and is every bit the European town that it is reputed to be. Cobbled streets, stone walled buildings, trinket stores, narrow stairs and funiculars all lend the impression of those cities that were built in defensible spots out of necessity and where space has been maximised in old traditional times and somewhat ad hoc as the city expands from a fortified centre, rather than the pre-planned, geometric and spacious nature of most North American cities. Modern construction in this nature largely fills the suburbs in the lowlands, while the elevated promontories on the riverbank see traditional architecture and what we usually think of when we think of Quebec - the Château Frontenac, the Basilica de Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, the steep steps, the stone arches, the Plains of Abraham - predominate.

Sports in Québec-Ville, like most cities in this part of the world, revolves around hockey. While the city has two soccer clubs, a Canadian football team and a basketball team, none of these are in the elite leagues for these sports (by contrast, the Montréal Impact play in the MLS, while the CFL has a limited number of franchises and the NFL has shown no interest in adding a franchise in Quebec if it was going to expand into Canada), and by and large the city’s sporting sons and daughters have been hockey players, including the most high profile turncoat of modern times, Patrice Bergeron, a native of the city who did the unthinkable in Habs fans’ eyes by being Quebecois yet becoming an icon for the Boston Bruins, a sense of great shame. In Bergeron’s defence, however, if there is one team that hated the Habs as much as the Bruins it would have to be the Quebec Nordiques, in whose back yard he grew up. However, the most famous hockey player to come out of Quebec City became a star for Montréal, before becoming an even bigger star at the team that once had been the Nordiques, the Colorado Avalanche: eccentric, ill-tempered but mercurial goaltender Patrick Roy. Roy was voted the greatest NHL goaltender of all time and voted into the Hall of Fame only three years after his retirement; he is unique among all players in winning three Conn Smythe trophies, for the MVP of the playoffs, the only player to win one with two franchises, and the youngest ever winner of the trophy when he won his first aged just 20.

Roy had never liked the Montréal Canadiens growing up, and it might have been this that helped him take the decision to leave; he had been uncomfortable with the direction of the franchise for some time and the Montréal press had been on his back, especially after some dubious performances against rivals (and his childhood favourites) the Nordiques in the playoffs in the mid 90s, but in a blowout loss against Detroit in December 1995, Roy lost his temper once and for all. Having been heavily overworked that season, starting his 22nd game out of just 24, a tired Roy was sluggish and struggling immediately, but despite conceding goal after goal and with abysmal protection from his defence the coach refused to pull him from the game until the red mist had long since risen; he publicly walked from the game, ignored his coaches, sought out Canadiens owner Ronald Corey and told him on worldwide television that he would never play for the team again. He was traded to the Colorado Avalanche, the former Quebec Nordiques, and the team that he had grown up cheering. Much happier there, Roy went on to win further titles and cement his legacy. His number 33 has been retired by both franchises for whom he played. But, perhaps most famously, he did this.

For the uninitiated, that’s Wayne Gretzky that he dekes mid-play there before pulling a spin-o-rama and getting penalised for carrying the puck over centre ice in a blowout. To explain in context, this is the equivalent of if Gordon Banks had gone dribbling the ball out to the halfway line, nutmegging Pele on the way. This is one of those iconic moments. So iconic, in fact, that I already mentioned it when covering the Habs in stage 1, but it was worth mentioning again regardless.

However, away from hockey, Quebec also hosts some world class cycling, and that’s what we’re here to talk about. The city’s European architectural and town planning style lends itself to the sport with a number of short, sharp digs, and of course cycling also represents something of a link to the old French heritage too, which provides an essence of identity for the Francophone Canadians even though the handover to the British took place before the invention of the bicycle, let alone the institution of major French bike races. A number of attempts at a high level bike race in the province have been made over the years, and the city has been at the heart of that. The first was a one-day race from Quebec to Montréal which was run as a one-off in 1940, but the first serious attempt (on the road at least - there were some events on the Six Days circuit in the 60s) was the GP Québec, an amateur race in the 70s that came into being as part of the expansion of North American cycling in the time with long-form amateur races like the Carretera Transpeninsular in Baja California and the Coors Classic/Red Zinger Race in the US. The race’s history is poorly documented, but the records that survive at Cyclingarchives show strong participation of Eastern Bloc teams, with Ryszard Szurkowski winning a stage in 1975 and Aavo Pikkuus finishing 2nd overall in the final edition in 1976. There was also a standalone 80km ITT which ran in 1972 and 1973, but after these races went by the wayside, there were no races in Quebec City for many years.

Quebec-Montréal was brought back in the 90s, with three editions from 1996 to 1998, the first of which being won as a coda to the career of the great Canadian rider Steve Bauer. It was possibly this that helped lead to the creation of the one-off 1999 Tour Trans-Canada, as it held the same calendar spot and featured many of the same roads and routes. It began with a circuit race in Quebec City and, although I cannot find any evidence of the course used, I can’t imagine it differs considerably from the one which we now all know. Lars Michaelsen won the stage for FDJ with a few seconds’ advantage, and defended the race lead in the subsequent stage which ran from Québec-Ville to Trois-Rivières. Quebec had already hosted racing that year, though, with the prologue of the Tour de Beauce meaning the first excursion for that race north of the St. Lawrence. A Montréal-Québec one-off one-day event was introduced in 2003, won solo by Tim Johnson of the Saturn team, while after returning in 2002, Beauce has continued to make almost annual returns to the city, and this has traditionally been used to host a circuit race, which initially was the inspiration behind the subsequent World Tour race, and then in recent years has been a criterium circuit. Winners in the Tour de Beauce in the city include James Piccoli, Carlos Barbero, Marc de Maar, Vegard Stake Længen and Russell Downing. But most of you will be more familiar with the city’s cycling potential through the World Tour race.

The circuit of the GP Québec is an intriguing one, with no individual major climb but the finish at the summit of a number of short uphill ramps through the scenic old part of the city that can be selective, leading to varied potential outcomes. When the race was first introduced, Thomas Voeckler won solo with some aggressive moves in the late stages of the race, and with Philippe Gilbert winning the second edition and the hilly specialists such as the likes of Rigoberto Urán, Damiano Cunego and Robert Gesink (and also, somehow, Levi Leipheimer), it seemed destined to become a hilly classic, with the short climbs lending it a bit of an Amstel Gold kind of environment. However, as the péloton has grown smarter with knowing how to play the finale, the bunch has become favoured. Simon Gerrans beat Greg van Avermaet in a two-up sprint with a small time gap in 2012, then a series of reduced bunch sprints have dominated proceedings, with the first few being between puncheurs with Gerrans (again) winning in 2014, flanked by the aforementioned Gesink and Urán. The size of the group contesting the win has since started to increase, and the type of riders contesting the race has moved away from elite puncheurs and more toward durable sprinters.

Around this time I started to lose track of the race despite my liking both the scenery and the parcours, largely because it took place in a busy part of the calendar, but also because this was during the period where people were extremely hostile to any post on the subject of Peter Sagan that wasn’t effusive in its praise (like, even people just pumping the brakes on sycophantic runs of posts about how nobody could possibly not like him would be met with rebuttals) and I, being both combative and somebody whose dislike of Sagan was well-known and often used as a trigger point for arguments on the boards, decided after one too many temper flare-ups to minimise my engagement on races involving the Slovak; and after his run-in with the race motorbike in the Vuelta and his subsequent decision to avoid the race for the foreseeable, he made the Canadian races his go-to in September, since the North American audience seemed to love him, albeit not as much as in the Tour of California where the land-of-excess kind of environment best suited his dude-bro aesthetic and humour and really struck a chord with the crowd. He took back to back wins in 2016 and 2017, before Michael Matthews took the ensuing two editions. All four were sprints. I felt like, despite the early promise of the race, unfortunately with the way the race was headed, not much was being missed in my skipping it. I may well be wrong - some of these editions may have been excellent races where the balance between attackers and the chasing bunch was closely fought, it just so happened that the field won the right to sprint it out - after all on a course with multiple climbs like this, it isn’t going to be a Guardini day - but afraid I wouldn’t know.

Of course, though, if it did end up in a fairly tame spectacle with the sprinters’ teams controlling things, there is one crucial difference: that was in a one-day race, so there are no pre-existing time gaps. In my stage race, however, the same circuit could be completely different in the racing characteristic, depending on the GC situation. It could be a complete coronation of a GC leader with a comfortable advantage, it could be the favourites all coming in together 10 minutes behind a group of stagehunters, or it could be a desperate final roll of the dice. The stage finishes with three and a half laps of the GP Quebec circuit, with the finish on Grande Allée just outside Parc de la Francophonie.

The first, flat part of the circuit loops around the Plains of Abraham, part of the Champs-de-Bataille park, a large historical area which was the site of a famous battle in 1759 which proved the decisive turning point in the French-and-Indian War which led to the British acquisition of New France and the creation of what is now Canada, under British control. The battle was over in barely half an hour, after the British troops scaled the cliffs onto the plateau under cover of darkness, but the brief and bloody skirmish led to the deaths of both forces’ commanding officers, General James Wolfe and the Marquis de Montcamp. It took its name from the landowner of the wider part of the plateau, Abraham Martin. For many years the only thing marking the historic significance of the site was a small monument to General Wolfe, but as the city expanded and development came to cover much of the plateau, progressively more attempts were made to preserve the site due to its importance. In 1908, the land was officially ceded to the city of Quebec, which served as the catalyst for its protection, with museums and heritage monuments installed, and it was inscribed as the first National Historic Site of Canada. It has become a famous urban park and fulfils a similar role to Quebecers as Mont-Royal in Montréal, Central Park in New York and other similar sites, hosting festivals and major events. It has also hosted the Cross-Country Skiing World Cup, with stages of the Ski Tour Canada taking place, with first a sprint (which was renowned as a bit of a farce for its crash-inducing course which settled most of the heats, even more so than usual) and then a pursuit race around the snow-covered park drawing a strong crowd due to the central and accessible location.

After around 4km in the parkland, the péloton descends down onto Boulevard Champlain, which leads us around the banks of the St. Lawrence, between the river and the steep cliffs that see us up to the Plains of Abraham. These are lined with old-style European housing and behind these a number of routes up to the centre of the old city, a range of stairways and, since 1879, an iconic funicular[/i]. Close to the base of the funicular, however, we see our route begin to climb, with the first of our uphill sequences, the Côte de la Montagne.

A steep and twisty road which passes underneath an archway bridge (as anybody familiar with inner Québec from Project Gotham Racing may recognise), the official map and profile from the organisers reports this climb as being 375m at a not inconsiderable 10% with a maximum 165m of 13% (fairly arbitrary distance to tell us about, but we’ll work with it). We could turn left to continue climbing at the summit here, even if the gradient would go down, but that just makes it another puncheur finish, right? So instead, we follow what the GP Québec does, and descend down on Rue des Remparts and Côte de la Canoterie, which is another short downhill, before we commence the [url=https://www.hmdb.org/Photos4/444/Photo444664.jpg]Côte de la Potasse
, 420m at 9%. These two preliminary climbs are 3,3km and 1,9km from the end of the circuit respectively, hence why we have the very long but not particularly useful official stats on the full climb, averaging out at only 2,5%.

At the end of the Côte de la Potasse, there’s about 500m which is slightly downhill false flat, beginning in Place d’Youville, a large public square which separates Parliament Hill from Vieux-Québec, and passing through the Porte Saint-Jean, one of the major entrances to the city’s old town. This large open space is named for the founder of the Grey Nuns of Montréal religious order, and is a real meeting of old and new, with skyscrapers and mid-20th Century cityscape to the west, and old ramparts and stonework to the east. In winter, it is turned into the city’s largest outdoor ice rink, and has been being redeveloped as a response to the 1990s, where a rise in crime and the congregation of many of Quebec’s homeless in the area led to violent clashes.

Place d’Youville, with the Porte Saint-Jean in the background[/]

The last part of the circuit is from the Hôtel de Ville up to the finish, which entails passing the iconic Château Frontenac, after passing the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Québec, the oldest church in Canada and the first to be elevated to a basilica rank (albeit a minor basilica), which came at the behest of Pope Pius IX. It was constructed in 1647 and built on the site of the first chapel built in New France by Samuel de Champlain, surviving repair and reconstruction twice - first being destroyed during the Siege of Québec in 1759, and second after terroristic arson at the hands of the Canadian arm of the Ku Klux Klan. In 2013 it became only the second site outside of Europe to be granted the right to open a Holy Door, when Pope Francis awarded the basilica the privilege.

The basilica serves as the base of the now extended ascent to the line. The first part of this, to Montée de la Fabrique, is 190m at 7%, then after this it flattens out for 100m before a final kilometre which averages 4% (ProCyclingStats’ calculation, using La Flamme Rouge, is that this is 3,9% officially). The first hundred metres or so of this is the steepest, at 6% or so and then leading to a right-hander outside the iconic Château Frontenac. This enormous railway hotel was constructed at the behest of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the late 19th Century and expanded over the subsequent century three times. It was built on the site of an earlier hotel, the Château Haldimand, which had grown obsolete and was too small to cope with the expected influx of visitors with the establishment of the railway, so was demolished to make way for the mooted grand hotel. It has become almost the de facto icon of Quebec-Ville, and has seen many of the great and good overnight there, from world leaders to sportsmen to musicians, actors and other celebrities. The two Quebec Conferences held by the WWII Allied leaders took place in the hotel, meaning rooms and suites in the hotel are themed for de Gaulle, Roosevelt and Churchill. Another themed room is for Alfred Hitchcock, who filmed at the hotel on a number of occasions, most notably for the film I Confess.

Hopefully, given the hotel sets us up for a slightly uphill run to the line, the master of suspense can give us something of an inspiration for the riders, as with three laps of this circuit - so four times up the sequence of climbs - we can have some suspense, with the circuit offering options for aggressive moves but not being so difficult that a rider doesn’t have to work hard to make a worthwhile gap. With this not being a one-day race where simply getting to the end first is key, but as part of a stage race where time is required, I am hopeful that unless the race is absolutely nailed down with somebody holding a Remco-Evenepoel-in-the-Danmark-Rundt level lead, this one ought to be more like the 2010 edition of the race, where the course was new and riders didn’t know what to expect, than the later versions which have largely ended in reduced sprints. Here’s hoping we get a grandstand finish for my Tour de Québec.

And if we don’t, well, we already know that the scenery of the GP Québec circuit is a pretty stunning cityscape, right?

Reactions: Red Rick and jsem94
I can't speak for others but it doesn't really dissuade me. I guess it can be a bit intimidating seeing your mammoth posts and thinking one would have to have similarly elaborate writeups but it isn't really the case for me. In fact, it might just be the opposite. I don't mean to have a go at others who also contribute to this thread, but I don't get nearly as fired up just scrolling through the stage profiles/maps of the umpteenth Giro without writeups all over this thread. I mean, we can all salivate over an excellent dolomite stage, but having some additional context beyond cycling really makes it all come alive.

Establishing an actual connection to these places and being able to learn from the posts is quite thrilling to me and actually motivates me to get around to some of the unfinished projects I have. It adds depth to the race designs, also understanding why a certain town is chosen as the start or the finish of a stage. The writeups might be more accessible if they were a bit shorter though lol, they are quite time consuming to read (not to mention to write).