Posted by Editoress on 06/12/14
The race to the top of Mont Megantic is always pivotal for the Tour de Beauce, with its final climb really determining who will be the contenders for the overall title. This year will be no different, with the riders finishing in epic conditions of cold and rain. Latvian Under-24 rider Tom Skujins (Hincapie Sportswear) proved to be the strongest of the day, taking both the stage win and the Yellow Jersey, however, there were a couple of very fine Canadian performances, with Mike Woods (Amore Vita-Selle SMP) finishing second and Rob Britton (Team SmartStop) fourth. Carter Jones (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) took third just ahead of Britton.
The Megantic stage was different from past years in a number of respects - starting in Lac Megantic rather than St-Georges, and finishing with a new climb for the final 1600 metres. It began in cold and wind and rain, and it ended the same way, with very little change in the intervening 167 kilometres.
After a neutralized start through Lac Megantic, the attacks began immediately, however, it took a while for a break to establish itself before eight riders finally carved out a gap. In the break were Skujins, James Stemper and Bruno Langlois (both 5 Hour Energy), Adam Farabaugh (Garneau-Quebecor), Jacobe Rathe (Jelly Belly), Aurelien Passeron (Silber), Jure Kocjan and Joshua Berry (both SmartStop).
After dangling off the front by less than a minute for quite a while, the break finally began to pull away as the race approached the first KoM climb, eventually maxing out at over four minutes. Woods explained that his team, with Luca Benedetti in the leader's jersey, was only sporadically working to protect the jersey.
"We didn't really plan on protecting the jersey," said Woods. "Luca is here without a time trial bike, and we could only put one or two guys on the front at a time."
Other teams also contributed to the pacemaking that kept the lead from going out too far, and as the race approached the final 30 kilometres they began reeling the chase in.
At the front, SmartStop was more interested in grabbing Mountain points for Berry, and he did gain an almost unassailable lead by the end of the day. Up the KoM climb with 32 kilometres to go, Berry and Kocjan attacked, with Skujins bridging across. The rest of the break basically disintegrated and were swept up by the peloton.
"We left the group of eight in the breakaway with thirty kilometers to go," said the Hincapie Sportswear rider, "and because of the temperature we told ourselves that the peloton would not take any risk, and it wouldn't work a whole lot. In our group, the cohesion was good."
The three leaders hit the Megantic climb with over two minutes lead, but that has regularly been too little to hang on for victory. This time was different, with Skujins riding Kocjan and then Berry off his wheel and smoothly climbing to victory.
"It was not really the right thing to do [attack the break]," continued Skujins, "not at that point in the race. I managed to join them and we worked together. At the foot of Mont Mégantic, I was not sure what to think because both riders seemed tired, but it could have been a bluff. And the field was less than two minutes behind us."
The temperature at the top was only 5 Celcius (probably more like 2 C with the wind and rain blowing), and the race went up an alternate and much steeper climb than normal to the finish line, with the final 800 metres having pitches over 17% in places.
"I am very happy with this win, because this is my first year with the team and I'm glad to be able to offer them the victory. It's very good for me too. I was thinking more of a win on Sunday to celebrate my 23rd birthday, but I'll take my gift today."
Behind Skujins, when the shrunken peloton hit the climb, Woods attacked early. "I looked over my shoulder and saw no one there. I knew with a gap that I could stay away, but I just wish that I had caught the front guy. I've been focussed on this race all year."
Woods pulled back over a minute on Skujins on the climb, to finish 46 seconds down.
"For me, it's like a victory. I really have not been lucky this season. In March, I was the victim of a crash and I suffered a concussion, and then I was sick. So I am very satisfied of my performance today, especially since I had to change bikes early in the race because mine broke. Neutral service SRAM provided me with a bike and it took me about twenty kilometres before I got used to it. The last two kilometres were really difficult, but as I spent four months in Italy, and I had the opportunity to climb some of the more difficult hills over there."
For the Canadian rider, the city of Mégantic is something special. "This is my third participation at this stage of Mont-Mégantic, and as a Canadian, the tragedy that struck this town really touched me. That's why I dedicate this race and my second place to all the people of this region."
- Attention now turns to the 20 kilometre time trial tomorrow. With bonuses, Skujins has a 53 second lead on Woods, and Woods calls his TT "a work in progress". The Canadian will count a top-15 a win, and thinks he can stay in the top-5 overall. Skujins has 1:51 on Jones and 1:53 on Britton, both excellent time triallists, but unlikely to take back that much time on such a short TT.
- There were 18 DNFs on the stage, with riders coming across the line shattered. Canadian teams Veloselect-TVS lost four, as did Norco/Premier Tech-NPT.