June 14, 2012 (Mont-Megantic) – Steeped in the tradition of Quebec’s sporting culture, the Tour de Beauce is Canada’s longest standing stage race for good reason. With a first-class support caravan, six selective stages and lots of media coverage, it is no doubt that the field for the prestigious race always includes a large collection of strong riders.
This year Team Exergy came to the race for the first time and after three days we finally found our rhythm and helped our super climber Matt Cooke launch in the stratosphere on the steep pitches of the 5km Le Magantic climb to claim the biggest stage win of the Cookiemonster’s career!
The first day’s rolling parcours suited all of our riders and after a rest day in the airplane the day before the start on Tuesday was definitely the best day for me personally. The steep 3-4 minute climbs culminated in the late catch of a three-man breakaway leading into the day’s three final climbs. The big riders hit out hard with the finish line only 5km from the crest of the last pitch – the lengthy crest with strong cross winds made sure to put everyone in a spot of bother.
With the stage win time bonus, race GC favourite Paco Mancebo (Competitive Cyclist) took the win with Exergy’s Matt “cookiemonster” Cooke finishing in the first group of 15 riders despite cresting the climb alone in 4th. A late crash between Sutherland and Salas complicated the unofficial results, fortunately they were bandaged and placed even on time in the hours following.
We awoke Wednesday morning for Stage 2 to the unnerving pitter-patter of heavy rain drops but by 10 am only the roads remained wet. The second stage, with shorter but more rolling terrain, would feature as the most likely chance of a bunch kick and if I was there at the end, I would look for my only chance of a sprint this week. Unfortunately I didn’t recover as well as planned from stage 1 and the hour-long development of the day’s early break didn’t help things.
The first 50 km was challenging and many 5-8 rider breakaways formed to no avail over the course of the wind-guttered, rain-dampened and treacherously bumpy rolling roads. Eventually a 3 man break formed with fellow Canadian Jamie Sparling (Raleigh), Kiwi National Road Champion James Williamson (Pure Black Racing) and former ProTour rider Craig Lewis (Champion System).
The day’s final KOM was very steep and I wasn’t able to make it over with the group, a great disappointment; but my teammate Serghei Tvetcov took my place and finished 3rd in the bunch kick (and 5th on the stage) after three criterium-style laps around the town of Thedford Mines. Two riders from the breakaway heroically survived and Lewis claimed his first big stage win after suffering a broken leg at the 2011 Giro, Sparling also grabbed one of his biggest successes as of late with a 2nd-place finish.
Blue bird skies and powerful winds greeted the peloton this morning for Stage 3 as we enjoyed a less-stressful transfer… staging right in front of the race hotel! Following the wind, we traversed southeast towards the location of the next week’s Canadian National Road Championship in Lac Megantic for the exciting finale up the largest mountain in Quebec at the Le Magantic National Park.
After 30 minutes, a 5-man break finally went clear and accumulated a maximum advantage of 6 minutes. Our plan for the day was the same as every day…win a bike race. So I took over bottle duties for as long as possible, with Morgan and Serge pitching in if need be, while we all spent the day making sure Cookie maintained a stress-free position in the peloton and enjoyed all the water bottles, electrolytes and other Clif Bar products his little “cricket” heart desired (one of his other nicknames).
With 5k remaining, Serge, Morgan and Matt all enjoyed good position and good sensations as the road pitched up to 18% for long sections of the opening 2km. Immediately Sutherland (United Healthcare) attacked and Cookie followed on his wheel. Salas (Optum) and Mancebo (Competitive) made the move across and was joined by Sutherland’s teammate Marc de Marr (Dutch Antilles National Road Champion), Christian Meier (GreenEdge) and Hugo Houle (Spidertech).
At 2km remaining, the road flattened and Cookie followed his instinct, later saying “I basically just turned off my brain” and attacked! Shortly thereafter the roadway changed and horizontal hoar-frost lines put a mental dampener into the minds of the red-lined climbers, slowing their speed and stretching out the agony of the final 2km.
With 1.4 km remaining, Cookie rounded the tight right-hand switchback with approximately a 20-second lead. A 8-9% grade into a block-headwind remained between him and a HUGE result. The chase behind was on full gas but Cookie maintained his composure and rhythm to pound out the watts and cross the line victorious with a 6-8 second lead. AMAZING!
Our seigneur Troy was there at the line to help Matt off his machine, collapsing on the side of the road immediately, hands in the his face, gasping for air while asking… “Did I win?” unsure if there were any surviving breakaway riders. Well he DID win and it was the biggest stage win of Matt’s long career as a professional athlete!
Today’s result comes as a welcome result for our team but not unexpected from those who know our super climber! Plus, last night in Minneapolis our sprint squad took the win at the downtown criterium at the Nature Valley Grand Prix, earning the Exergy Development Group-sponsored Green Sprinter’s jersey in the process! Can anyone say WINNING ?
Our journey for success continues again tomorrow! Thanks for reading!
Full results HERE.