**All the awesome photos by Les Morales, www.lesmophoto.com, facebook.com/lesmoralesphotography,
The first stage at Saguenay was quite the day. While it may be summer back in the states, it was a cold spring day up here, 40 degrees and a consistent rain for the 11, 15km circuits. Fun times. We bundled up and hit the circuit full gas. Within 5km a group of 4 slipped away, Evan chased and I attack to bridge, taking one Silber rider along for the ride, with teammates in the break I was stuck to make it alone with no help. I got within 5-10s but just couldn't close the gap completely and popped as the field came back to me. Even with the field chasing the break had 40s at the start finish. Forced to chase the team got to the front and set a really stiff tempo and backed off to keep the break close. It never got more that 1:20 and we began to reel it back as the laps counted down. When the break was 30s up the rode, attacks flew on the one hill on the course, Thom and Chad covered and went up the rode. Evan was rested and ready to go but flatted at just the wrong time and missed the move. Eventually the break whittle down and Chad and 8 others came back, likely due to the freezing conditions. All bets are off when it's 40 and raining. Thom rode amazing in the break and even significantly outnumbers he finished 4th, saving the day a bit for us. Today was just about survival and even though we made a couple mistakes we weren't completely empty handed. Tomorrow is going to be a balmy 55 and cloudy at the start, a huge upgrade form today. We'll see how it plays out.
What a wild ride today! Silber had a pretty good hold of the race after yesterday's clinic so we knew they would want today to be controlled and relatively easy. With most guys over 7 minutes down in the overall the break had a good chance to make it to the finish today, it would allow Silber to ride an easy tempo and get some recovery from yesterday without having any change in the overall classification. So the plan was simple, get guys in the break, preferable two, and anyone not in the break watched over Thom and made his day as easy as possible to keep his GC position high. I covered like crazy until the move went after 2.5 (of 13) laps. Two guys were up the road when Silber came to the front in force and I knew they were ready for the break to roll, I bridged across along with a couple of guys and the break was formed. We rode hard for a lap before being joined by a couple more and a solid 1:30 lead on the peloton. I'm not sure on numbers but I think we had ten, with Jelly Belly and Garneau each having two riders.
Maybe a lap or so of that and then I looked back to see a rider from Silber and Cycling Academy join us. What? The peloton was only 35s away with one 12km (7.5 mile) lap to go, with plenty of sets of fresh legs among the mix I just tried to be a huge anchor in the break hoping it would get brought back and Chad could fight for the win, it was a good finish for him. The Cycling Academy rider (Guillaume Boivin) rode the front hard almost the entire lap with little help from the others to stay away from the chasing group. The group worked really well but once the gap was established we rode pretty easy. By the second KOM line we had ridden easy for a couple laps, just tapping through on a paceline, I put in a soft attack and took the points and looked back to a decent gap with 2 chasing, we jumped in to a hard tempo and rode away from the break. We never got a lot of time, maybe 40s, but they weren't chasing hard. At this point I took the remaining KOM points, now tied for the lead in that competition, and thought I had a good chance to win. The Cycling Academy rider wasn't too strong, and I liked my chances 1 on 1 with the rider from Race Clean (Canadian National Team). Then things got weird with 4 laps to go, the 2 Garneau and 2 Jelly Belly riders bridged across and we stopped working hard. More guys from the original break came across and then we just stopped riding. Eventually Race Clean and Jelly Belly attacked and only Bruno Langlois and I could bridge. Finally we were back riding hard and working together.
Into the final climb with 2km we went. That climb was rough, but I attacked as it leveled out anyway, but didn't get much of a gap and Boivin went right back to the front to drive it. With 1km to go Gus Morton (Jelly Belly) attacked and I was able to follow, instantly we had a gap, oh boy, wait, do I have a chance to win. Not expected. I pulled through with 600m to go to ensure we stayed away to the line but couldn't get him to come back around. Into the final corner (300m to go) I punched it and started sprinting as hard to the line. Not ideal, but the tail wind help and while Gus was on my wheel the whole time he never came around. I definitely crossed the line in complete disbelief. I spent the last 3-4 laps just hoping to salvage a podium, standing on the top step was such a bonus! Wild amazing day. We've been knocking on the door as a team for way too long. So pumped to finally get something positive for all the guys who have so much talent and have been smashing all year. A much needed morale boost. The team did a great job riding all day, protecting Thom and taking care of business. Thom lost a little time to me and one or two other GC riders but remains in the hunt in 9th within striking distance of the podium. 6:00pm criterium tomorrow for stage 3.
The 2.2km, 25 lap criterium played our simply in the field. A crash in the final corner before an intermediate sprint point really calmed the race down. A break rolled as Silber came to the front and controlled the race, with Chad up the road we relaxed and settled in to the pace. With about 10 laps to go the pace really picked up and a chase began to catch the break. The gap went from 1:45 to :45 with 2 laps to go as Silber chased all out. We formed as a team to set up Nolan for the sprint if it came back and keep Thom in the front and out of trouble, it never did. Chad sprinted from the break to take 3rd on the day, another podium for the team! Awesome. From our perspective it was a great day, the guys that needed to ride easy rode easy and are ready for Stage 4. Stage 4 should be a complete mess with the GC only four seconds apart and another rainy day with temperatures in the mid 50s. Here we go....
The last day of a stage race can always be interesting as teams that have worked all week begin to tire out. My job was to get in the break and sure up the King of the Mountain competition. The rest of the guys were there to protect Thom in hopes of moving him up the general classification. He was less than 1:00 off the lead and only 30s from the podium. The last circuit was hard and with temperatures in the 50’s as rain came down there were going to be plenty of people not finishing the last day. Chris and I followed early moves until a group of 8 formed along with Alex Catiford (the rider I was tied with on the KOM lead). On the third lap a Devinci rider attacked on the climb and I followed along and we built a good lead of 2:00 to the chase and 3:00 to the field. I took all the KOM points and we were riding well together when he double flatted. With 85km to go I took to the rode alone, it was a long lonely journey from there. I built the lead to 4:00 but knew the only way I would make it was if teams were happy to let me hang out there and the GC contenders played games with each other.
I spent a lot of time out there on the alone with Phil yelling encouragement and updates from the car. For 70km it was just me, the car, and two motos for company, that and dreams of another victory. Thom got in to a chase group of 8 guys and had the benefit of sitting on since I was up the rode. With 3 laps to go I still had 1:30 but was hurting and knew it was likely over, but you never know. A lap later I got over the climb and a small chase with Matt caught me over the top. I drove the front so Matt could rest. Evan caught us and I dug a little deeper so he wouldn’t have to pull either. Honestly it just felt great to sit on someone’s wheel for a little bit as the group rotated through. With one lap to go the field was all together, and by all together I mean there were 25-30 guys left, Nolan, Matt, Evan, and Thom were all there. I kept the pace up and tried to hang on the climb, but eventually the legs were just done. Thom rode amazing in the finale and just barely missed a small split of 4 that battled for the stage win but came across the line 6th and moved up to 4th on GC. It was a great last day for the Grand Prix Cycliste de Saguenay for the team.
Rain, grit, and a good day tearing it up with teammates and friends