Posted by Editoress on 07/19/07
Tour de Gastown Julyt 18th, Vancouver BC
After years of good weather, riders were finally hit with rain at the Tour de Gastown last night in downtown Vancouver. The very slippery conditions caused numerous crashes in the corners, and made it safer to be out in front, which resulted in breakaways succeeding in both the women's and men's races. Erinne Willock (Expresscopy.com) outsprinted breakaway companion Leah Goldstein (Symmetrics) for the women's title, with Kirk O'Bee (Health Net p/b Maxxis) taking the men's ahead of Oleg Grishkin (Navigators), Svein Tuft (Symmetrics) and Bradley Fairall (Supersport 35 ACNC).
The 1.2 kilometre circuit finishing straight is on a cobblestone surface, which isn't too bad in the wet, but the corners were treacherous - especially the fourth and final one before the last 300 metres to the line. Riders received free laps (up until 5 to go) for crashes and many took advantage of them, but Goldstein decided it was safer to be out in front.
"In the middle of the pack you don't know what is going to happen, and you can't avoid it when someone does fall, so I thought it was just better to be out in front."
The Israeli national champion attacked just after the halfway mark in the 30 lap race, with Willock latching onto to her wheel. Stephanie Roorda (Giant Canada) also managed to bridge up initially, but couldn't handle the pace after a couple of laps and fell back to the peloton
The gap grew quickly, partially because the two strongest teams were in the break (leaving only the Kiwi squad Jazz Apple to chase), and partially because Goldstein was laying down a very impressive effort.
Lap after lap she towed Willock around, coming through the finish area each time with a near snarl on her face. American Shelley Olds (Proman/Paradigm) tried to animate the field a few times, but crashed herself, and wisely backed off, eventually taking the field sprint for third.
In the final lap, Willock finally turned on the jets to drop Goldstein by a few seconds and take the win.
"Leah attacked up one side of the field just as I had gotten a little gap on the other," explained Willock. "I got on her wheel and then saw that we had a little gap. Wow, was she strong!"
The men's race was aggressive from the start, with attacks and counterattacks almost every lap. After 20 laps of the 50 lap race one break finally managed to get a sizable gap. Initially, six riders broke away, including Tuft, but that dropped to three after a couple of laps - Eric Wohlberg (Symmetrics), Grishkin and Aaron Tuckerman (Rubicon). This trio managed to extend their lead to over 15 seconds but Health Net wasn't in the break, so shortly after the halfway point it was all back together.
This set the stage for another break which would prove to be the successful one, going with 19 laps remaining. Tuft, Grishkin, O'Bee, Andrew Pinfold (Symmetrics) and Kristian House (Navigators) went away initially, with Pinfold and House dropping back after a few laps.
With the top three teams represented, after five laps away the leaders were half a lap up, and only Fairall was chasing on his own. It looked to be set, with the top three battling for the win and Fairall to come in on his own, but then the leaders inexplicably slowed with 11 to go and Fairall bridged up a lap later. The gap was down to 23 seconds, and it looked like they might get caught.
There were two reasons for the slow down: the leaders stopped working together after an attack by O'Bee, and Fairall was riding old tires...
"Kirk attacked us," commented Tuft afterwards. "I wasn't going to work in that situation, so we all backed off. Then Brad came up so fast ... and he was cornering so much better than us. I looked at his tires and he had our old winter tires on!"
Fairall explained "The only wheels that I have here at home (in Vancouver) are my winter wheels from last year. They are a little heavier but proved to be the right choice in the rain."
Fairall took over the pacemaking - "It was hard to stay on his wheel in the corners" commented Grishkin - and the gap began to go back up again. But then disaster struck for Tuft with five laps to go, when he crashed in the final corner. Luckily it was the last lap for a free lap, and he was able to rejoin the leaders, but he was definitely shaken, and rode just off the back of the other three for the remainder of the race.
"As soon as you crash, you lose confidence, plus my hip was hurting a bit. But Brad came across like a rocket; it was a good ride for him."
On the final lap Grishkin went to the front, but then slid out slightly in a corner, opening the door for O'Bee to come through on the inside and take the win - certainly a vindication after finishing third in a break last year (behind Hilton Clarke (Navigators) and Fairall) on a flat tire.
"I wasn't thinking about last year," demurred the Vancouver-based O'Bee. "Here you had to concentrate fully on staying upright. It was so difficult ... not an easy race. We were all playing cat-and-mouse, looking at each other, and then it took Brad to keep it going. I wanted to be first out of the last turn, and then I knew I could take control. And that's what happened."
- Also in the race was former winner and top Canadian sprinter Gord Fraser, out of retirement for this one race. Fraser has just taken a position with Carmichael Training Systems (CTS), and is helping to set up their new Tucson, Arizona office. While saying at the start that he was "out of shape", and would be lucky to last 10 laps, Fraser finished with the main bunch in 11th place, and was in a number of the sprints for primes.
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