Australian Michael Matthews wins Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec

QUEBEC – Australian Michael Matthews joined a select group of cyclists on Friday when he sprinted to a photo-finish victory in the Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec.

The 28-year-old became just the third rider to win the event twice, defending his title after also finishing first in 2018.

Despite the victory in the gruelling 200-kilometre, five-hour race, however, Matthews was disappointed with his performance in the final lap, believing he almost gave away the win. 

“I really made a big mistake. I was really too far back at the bottom of the climb and thought my late race was over, to be honest,” said Matthews. 

“I did a big effort on the climb to get back to the front and I think there was a group of five or six, all the favourites of the race, and I was kicking myself because I wasn’t in a position to go with them. I had the legs obviously… I just launched my sprint to see what I could do and from there it was all in to the finish.”

Matthews finished in technically the same time as second-place Peter Sagan of Slovakia and Greg Van Avermaet of Belgium, crossing the finish line at five hours 13 minutes.

All three winners acknowledged the field of 146 racers from 30 countries entered in the 10th edition of the twin races was the strongest ever. Cycling legends Julian Alaphilippe of France and Jasper Stuyven of Belgium, for example, finished in the top 10.

Matthews said playing with a Playstation car-racing video game aided him in his win.

“It definitely helped me seeing the gaps in the bunch and being able to time my sprint perfectly.”

The top Canadian was Hugo Houle, 28, from Sainte Perpetue, Que. His 15th-place finish was ahead of Michael Woods, of Toronto, who finished 17th. Both Canadians competed in the Tour de France.

Houle said he was pumped up by the huge crowd that lined much of the 12.6-km course through the scenic Old City, along the Plains of Abraham, and the port where cruise ships were docked.

“It was not an easy day for me,” said Houle. “My legs were not at their best. But on Grande Allee I closed my eyes and started sprinting to do the best I could do. It hurt but I gave it all.”

Two of the other 16 Canadians competing withdrew after falling from their bikes and suffering possible shoulder injuries. Adam Roberge and Guillaume Boivin, both of Quebec City, crashed in the midway stretch of the race, in the old city. Boivin hit a bottle and wiped out.

A brighter light for Canadians was the performance by Evan Burtnik, of Alberta, who led the competition for the “king of the mountain” climbing title for half the race before being overtaken by Alaphilippe.

Matthews said his success in the Quebec/Montreal races is because “it suits guys like us, when you have a hard race but a super strong finish. It’s also such a beautiful course here and the crowds are amazing. It feels like a world championship.”

The Grand Prix moves to Montreal Sunday where two laps have been added to the course, for a total of 219 km. The Quebec and Montreal races are the only single-day races in the Americans on the UCI World Tour calendar. They are also the only races to take place entirely within the boundaries of a city.

The Canadian Press