Mario Bartel/BC Superweek photo Florenz Knauer celebrates his victory in the New West Grand Prix Tuesday.

Youth cyclists set to shine at Tour de White Rock

Sunday’s schedule to include youth road race

It may not quite be like getting a chance to hit at Yankee Stadium, or shoot hoops at the old Boston Garden, but a handful of talented, young Lower Mainland cyclists are set to test their mettle on the same course as some of the world’s best riders this weekend in White Rock.

On Sunday at 9 a.m., an hour before the men’s and women’s hit the streets for the Tour de White Rock’s road race, a youth road race will be, for the first time, held on the same course. The young riders will ride for 45 minutes, prior to the women’s race at 10 a.m., and the men’s start at 10:05 a.m.

“The real significance for the youth riders to be riding a road race at the Tour de White Rock is for them to feel their importance and compare themselves to the (pro) riders,” explained Damian O’Hagan, a veteran White Rock cyclist who has long been the track-side race announcer at the annual White Rock event.

“At the very least, it will certainly give them the incentive to keep pursuing the sport so that perhaps one day they are lining up at the race as a top pro rider.”

The White Rock road race – now in its 39th year – has long been considered one of the toughest courses on the BC Superweek calendar, which also includes events in Delta, Gastown, Burnaby, New Westminster and Port Coquitlam. The seaside track is a 10-km loop, which features picturesque ocean views but also unrelenting, steep climbs. It’s a challenge for the most experienced pros, let alone young up-and-comers.

“(The course) is infamous in North American cycling for both its toughness and its beauty,” said O’Hagan.

“I remember when I was racing in Europe with the Canadian team and I would tell a rider I was from Vancouver and they would most often ask if I had ridden the Tour de White Rock. They heard through the grapevine what a tough course it was.

“The challenges for the younger riders will be the tight corners and high-speed descents. In most cases they are just not as skilled as some of the seasoned riders, so the course will be intimidating for some of the youth riders for sure.”

Saturday’s criterium races in uptown White Rock will have a youth element, as well, as an under-15 race is scheduled for 4:30 p.m., preceding the women’s criterium at 5:30 p.m. and the men’s race at 6:30 p.m.

“It’s a big deal to be part of the show that is the Tour de White Rock when you’re a kid just getting into the sport,” O’Hagan continued. “That said, I remember somebody once pointed out to me as a junior… ‘The fast riders are the same as you, they put their pants on one leg at a time, you just need to get stronger and faster and you’ll be lining up with them!’”

With this year’s addition of the youth race, Sunday’s two “main event” races have been pushed back an hour from their usual 9 a.m. start times which could, as an added benefit, attract larger crowds to the Marine Drive start/finish area. In recent years, spectator numbers have seemingly dwindled – at least until later in the morning, as crowds gather in White Rock’s West Beach area to take in the final laps of the three-plus hour race.

Last year’s winner of the 134-km men’s race was Steve Fisher, while former Canadian speed-skater-turned-cyclist Kirsti Lay took top spot in the 80-km women’s race.

Fisher is currently expected to be back for the White Rock event, though Lay – who is competing at other Superweek races this week – is not listed among White Rock competitors.

The Tour de White Rock is the last event on the Superweek schedule, which also includes the Tour de Delta, New West Grand Prix, Gastown Grand Prix, Giro di Burnaby and the PoCo Grand Prix.

On Sunday in Delta – the first event – the men’s 155-km road race was won by Victoria’s Adam De Vos, while the women’s champion on the 104-km course was Kendall Ryan, who swept Delta’s three-race series. Ryan – a three-time U.S. national champion – also won criterium races on Friday and Saturday.

Delta’s two men’s criterium races were also both won by the same rider – Colorado’s Eric Young, who races for Rally Cycling.

On Tuesday, veteran racer Florenz Knauer – who has stood on Tour de White Rock podiums multiple times in recent years – won the men’s New West Grand Prix, edging Young by one second. Sara Bergen – another name that should be familiar to longtime Superweek fans – won the women’s event.

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