Roberge Repeats and Zukowsky Shines in Saguenay
Let’s start at the end of the story, with the medals, flowers and handshakes; then work our way back into the heart of the matter.
Silber Pro Cycling swept the podium in both the U23 ITT and the Criterium at the 2018 Canadian Road Championships held in Saguenay, Quebec from June 21-24. The team has now won a total of 27 medals at the Canadian Championships over the last 4 years–a remarkable record of performance and consistency for a development program.
This year’s Silber standouts include Adam Roberge and Nick Zukowsky. After a breakout performance at the Tour de Beauce leading into Nationals, 21-year-old Roberge successfully defended his U23 ITT title. Meanwhile, Zukowsky’s all-round performance in Saguenay established the 20-year-old as capable of progressing onto the world stage. He won the silver behind Roberge in the U23 ITT, was a key early factor in the Road Race and won the National Crit Championships. Zuke’s second medal at the National Championships ensured the Crit Jersey will stay with the team for another year having been previously worn by Pier-André Côté. For his part, Côté followed up his two wins at the Beauce by winning the small bunch sprint for 3rd in the crit. Other medal winners include Ryan Roth’s silver in the crit–more on him later–and Adam Jamieson‘s return to form with a bronze in the U23 ITT. It was good to see Jamo give a glimpse to those watching of what he’s capable of doing on a bike.
The premier event of the National Championships, however, is the Elite men’s road race. While we’ve won the U23 title, the overall has eluded our program. Over the years, we’ve always been in the mix, most notably when Ben Perry (now Israel Cycling Academy) finished 2nd in 2016, but our riders have never pulled it off. This year’s race started in the scenic town of La Baie and took place over 12 laps on a 15.13km course. Each lap began with a selective 800m wall with 18% grades followed by 3 km of 4-6% grade. By the start of the 6th lap, over half of the peloton was watching from the sidelines as the pace set by the World Tour and Pro Continental riders created a front group of 10 and a peloton that would finish in bits and pieces. Antoine Duschene (Groupama-FDJ) was in every move throughout the day and eventually took a worthy win in front of Ben Perry (Israel Cycling Academy) and Nigel Ellsay (Rally).
In our pre-race meeting, Gord Fraser asked all riders to race for the win, which meant that U23 riders were committed to chase all unfavourable breaks instead of simply following wheels and marking other young riders. Fraser’s insistence on racing for the win is indicative of a team culture dedicated to developing professional race craft and his confidence in our riders. He also emphasized the historic value to our program of an overall win and the personal value of a national road title for a rider wanting to get to the next level. Fraser’s insistence on a professional approach to bike racing provides riders with confidence, pride in the program and a realistic sense of where they are in their careers. We believe this open-eyed professionalism is key to rider development and considering that ex-Silber riders who now have Pro Conti contracts all played a prominent role at Nationals, we think we are on the right track.
That said, we expected the team to be more active amongst the constant reshuffling on the heat-blasted slopes leading out of La Baie. Zukowsky was able to get into the early move with Duschene, Ryan Anderson (Rally) and Alex Cataford (UHC).
Zuke in the break https://t.co/PJKmjNB3eS
— SilberProCycling (@SilberProTeam) 23 June 2018
When the break was brought back, Zuke battled to reintegrate with the chase groups and eventually finished 4th amongst the U23s (13th overall). It became clear that an excellent Tour de Beauce a week before was hurting our young riders’ performance at Nationals. Adam Roberge won the U23 time trial at Nationals but he is capable of battling for the overall. He finished a solid fourth overall in the TT but in the road race was not the same rider that fought for 2nd in the GC at Beauce. We believe that 19-year-old Charles-Etienne Chrétien is a special rider. He and Danick Vandale dug deep throughout the Tour de Beauce to help Roberge hold his GC position, particularly on the last stage. The younger Chrétien was therefore riding on fumes at Nationals and failed to finish on a course that suits him. Vandale was able to contribute though he lacked his usual edge. The rider who finished second at the Quebec Stage of the Tour de Beauce and Pier-André Côté, winner of two stages in Beauce, slipped into the 3rd group on the road and finished 20th and 23rd respectively.
And then there’s Roth. Our team leader returned to action at the Tour de Beauce, which he used to get some race days in and gain conditioning. A week later, he was our best racer. He finished 5th overall in the TT, 7th in the road race and 2nd in the crit. In the TT, the former national champ showed he was getting back to form. He raced the road race, however, on toughness. He gradually made his way towards the front group, doing the final bridge with Ben Perry during the last half of the race. Again and again amidst the reshuffling and attacks, Roth hung in there and was part of the most significant attacks of the race with 3 laps to go. There’s digging deep and then there’s riding with your eyes rolling back in your head. Roth went there briefly on the second last lap as he crested the steep part of the climb and the lack of racing kms started to show in the intense heat. But he regrouped and ultimately finished a respectable 7th place in what was to date the hardest race of the year. In the crit, he bridged to Zukowsky and Adam de Vos (Rally) with a couple laps to go, patiently instructing Zuke to attack and ensuring a 1-2 finish. Côté caught de Vos at the line for 3rd to complete the sweep.
Nationals revealed that Silber Pro Cycling remains the key development program for U23 riders in the country. Fraser and Roth continue to provide leadership that helps produce national titles and great ambassadors for the sport. Our industry sponsors continue to provide the very best equipment, technical wear and accessories. What we need is the financial support to expand the early season calendar into Europe, so that the best young riders in Canada can get longer hard races in their legs to better prepare them for the toughest stage races in North America, Nationals and the World Championships. That talent and infrastructure is in place. So too is the passion.
On a final note: thanks to the organizers of Nationals who stepped in and activated their community networks to put on a beautiful show in Saguenay. All the courses were gorgeous and challenging. The crit course in particular was stunning. We love racing in Quebec!