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Interview with Serge Arsenault – Canadian ProTours Coming in 2010

by John Symon

June 19, 2009 (Montreal, QC) – The UCI announced yesterday that Canada will likely see two one-day ProTour races in 2010. The first race is slated to be held in Montreal on Friday, September 10, followed by a second ProTour race in Quebec City on September 12. Serge Arsenault, with his team, is the man behind this fabulous news. Arsenault brought men’s road World Cup racing to Montreal in the late 80s early 90s and while things did not unfold as he’d hoped back then, he has remained involved with high level racing behind the scenes. According to Arsenault the timing was right to start again and we caught up with him earlier today to find out about the recent announcements and his plans going forward.

For our readers outside of Quebec, please tell us about your background.
Serge Arsenault: I worked as a sports commentator for Radio Canada (French CBC) for 20 years starting in 1974 at the Montreal Professional Men’s Road Race won by Eddy Merckx. I eventually opened my own network, Canal Evasion and Serdy Video. The first thing I did after buying my own network was to put the Tour de France on the air, live. I also organized the Montreal Men’s Road World Cup from 1988 to 1991. Now I am 60 years old and my 40-year-old son is running my business so I have the time to work on this project.

What’s the format of the proposed ProTour races?
SA: The riders will fly into Montreal on Sept 7 (Tuesday) for the September 10 race before moving onto Quebec City for September 12 (Sunday). In future years, we will move the event to the Labour Day weekend. In 2011, this will be reversed and the Quebec City race will be held on the Friday and Montreal on the Sunday. We will alternate from year to year.

Are these ProTour races a done deal?
SA: At this point, we have about 97% of what we need. I haven’t held a press conference yet because I like to proceed cautiously. [UCI President] Pat McQuaid is aware of what we are doing and is supportive, but he is also asking a lot in terms of quality and quantity. Without pretension, we have the full cooperation of the mayors of both Montreal (Gerald Tremblay) and Quebec City (Régis Labeaume) and of the Quebec government. And we have the full cooperation of Montreal and Quebec City for the next five years.

That kind of government support allowed my proposals to be fast-tracked at the UCI while other promoters have been waiting for years for a response. Steve Bauer [Canada’s most acclaimed cyclist and a former TdF rider] has also helped me a lot.

What about private sponsors – the current economic climate is tough?
SA: I can guarantee these events even without private sponsors. But private sponsors are interested: they are calling me instead of me calling them. You have to understand that cycling exposure is very cheap [for major advertisers] compared to other sports. These ProTour races require a multi-million dollar budget through the next few years.

What kind of interest has been expressed by the organizations, top teams, and top riders?
SA: We’ve met with [Patrick] Lefebvre [Quickstep], Hein Verbruggen [past UCI Presidendt], McQuaid and many top riders. Their reaction was unbelievable – some 95% are in favour of these two races.

What kind of a race will we see in Montreal, for example? How will the men’s ProTour race differ from the current 110km Montreal Women’s Road World Cup circuit around Mount Royal?
SA: The two events are not really on the same planet. The men’s ProTour race will be a tough race of 220-250km. The top riders want a tough race. The circuit will be similar to what we had with the men’s MWC in 1988, sharing about 80% of the course with that former race. You won’t be able to win in Montreal through sheer luck.

Will the Quebec City race follow the course of the Tour de Beauce?
SA: No, it will not be at all like the Tour de Beauce. We will use the hills of Quebec City and give our television spectators a good show.

Can you tell us about you plans to expand the events as the years go by?
SA: Yes, I want to turn it into seven days that will celebrate cycling. On the Saturday we plan to host a race where perhaps 2,000 amateurs can compete.

What happened to the former Montreal Men’s Road World Cup?
SA: Well we had 14 of the best 18 teams come to Montreal in 1988. We had 250,000 spectators at one race. But at that time, the Tour de France (ASO – Amaury Sport Organization) ruled cycling. They were the Ecclestone of the sport. ASO arranged to have the Montreal race moved to October, and my riders could not compete with snow tires on their bikes”¦

I am back now with what I’ve learned from the past. I know exactly what I want now. Having the date in September is a dream come true! The weather is good and we will have the TV coverage. A little later in the season and we would be competing with football and hockey for TV coverage.

There was a recent proposal to stage a race from Montreal to Boston with ProTour teams that is now apparently dead and buried. How can your project succeed?
SA: I am not backing off. I have waited until everything is in place. You have to be quite cautious when you hit the big league. It’s a big asset to have a TV sports guy [promoting the project]. Remember, some 70% of the target population [television viewers] is not here in North America. So let’s not compare apples and oranges. We have been working on this for about nine months now. We were in Switzerland in November, January and February. Because of the time difference with Europe, the prime time (evening) for watching sports there coincides with when the races will be ending in Quebec.

What about other events in the province at that time such as the Tour de Quebec (TdQ) stage race usually held in early September?
SA: We will try to collaborate with other races like the TdQ. It will be relatively easy to move dates to accommodate things, but we will have to talk together.

Who benefits from ProTour races?
SA: All of cycling here and abroad benefits from such high level races. While it’s true that the races invade the cities and shut down streets, tourism gets a big boost.

Sounds like you’ve got ambitious plans with more to come.?
SA: We are starting again – there’s more to come for sure.

Thanks for your time and all the best.
SA: Thank you.

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