Last weekend I was at the Coupe des Nations de Saguenay – the only Nations Cup event outside of Europe and a very important race for Canadian U23s. In recent years it has become significantly more important for us due to the way the UCI allocates start positions for World Championships. Basically, we needed to do really well here to have more than 1 starter at Worlds, so the pressure was definitely on for a big race from everyone.
With such importance our roles were pretty clear cut on the National Team and Antoine had the best hopes of a good finish on GC. Before starting the goal was to help him win the overall classification and if things changed along the way then we would adapt from there. Stage 1 started perfectly, with Ryan, Antoine and myself finding our way into the right move that would set up the GC battle for the weekend. Along with the riders from the US, Ryan and I drove the break as hard as we could to make sure it would stick.
The attacks started coming with about 2 laps to go and our group of 21 slowly exploded to a select 11 guys. Basically everyone who had been driving the pace all day was quickly jettisoned out the back to finish up at a crawling pace while anyone who had their eye on the overall classification now had to come up with the goods. Thankfully Antoine did just that and made sure to finish in the same time as the winner to keep himself in contention over the next 2 days. It was a solid day of racing from everyone and we certainly proved to have a team to be reckoned with.
Stage 2 was a cool and rainy day which was expected to be of little significance to the overall standings. It was flat, and although fairly windy there weren’t many long stretches of crosswind where a team could do some real damage. As expected, the early break was caught just before the finish and it would come down to a sprint. Pierrick was our strongest sprinter and the plan was to set things up for him, since we can also score UCI points for stages results. Unfortunately we all got pretty mixed up in the chaos of the final kilometres and Pierrick and I found ourselves alone with 3kms to go. I did what I could to keep him positioned but with when you’re alone for a lead-out all you can really do is deliver your guy to another team and hope it goes well. It certainly wasn’t ideal but it’s tough when we only race together a few times a year as the National Team.
Finally, the day we were waiting for arrived and as has been the case each time I’ve done this race it was another chilly, rainy day for the last stage. This course is very tough where a lot could happen, and with Antoine only 12 seconds behind the yellow jersey we needed to throw everything we had at the French National team. The race was aggressive from the start with everyone trying to chip away at the French. A break finally slipped off the front but teams were still trying to keep the leader’s from simply riding their own tempo. We attacked from everywhere and so did the other teams. With only a few laps to go the yellow jersey was looking horrible and his teammates were going backwards each time up the climb…we had all done our jobs of making the race as tough as possible and now it was time for the GC guys to show their cards. Despite the agony I was going through in the final laps it was pretty cool to watch the chess match that was going on as everyone inside the top 10 took stabs at the leader. We can’t say we didn’t try but in the end it wasn’t to be – the race came down to a sprint finish and a Norwegian rider took the yellow jersey after collecting a time bonus for 2nd in the sprint.
I was pretty impressed how well Team Canada raced as a team since it was the first time we had all competed together. The result wasn’t quite what we hoped, but we did score a few points so hopefully that will help towards an extra starter for Worlds in Florence, Italy. Now that it’s over I’m just putting the finishing touches together for Nationals which starts next Thursday. The legs are feeling good so hopefully I’ll have some exciting posts in just over a week!