Posted by Editoress on 07/23/04
Tour De White Rock Celebrates 25th Anniversary
by Eric Dwyer
The Save-on-Foods Tour de White Rock celebrates its 25th anniversary this year with the strongest field in its history. More than 150 of the best cyclists in North America, the leading men and women pros, Olympians and World Champions, will compete in the White Rock Muffler hill climb, July 23, the criterium July 24 and the Peace Arch News Road Race, July 25. It's a far cry from the small, modestly talented group of amateurs who began a great tradition by gathering for the very first Tour de White Rock in 1980.
"We had 26 riders in our first race," recalls Tour founder, Doug Stone. "It's a wonder we had anyone at all. I remember waking up and hearing the rain pounding on the roof, thinking there won't be any racing today. I didn't think anyone would show up but when I got to the start line the volunteers were already there setting up the course and registering the racers under an awning of a store across the street. It was a good omen. The volunteers and riders have been turning up ever since."
The winner of the inaugural race was a strapping 20-year-old from Vancouver named Paul Tettamanti. 25 years later he remembers the rain more vividly than anything else.
"It was a rancid day, raining and windy," he says. "One of the guys, Ian "Mad Dog" Manson, a new rider who'd been a downhill skier, crashed four out of the six times we came down that one steep hill. We couldn't believe it. He kept crashing, getting up and then crashing again. There weren't too many riders or fans around but it was still a lot of fun. We usually raced courses set up in the middle of nowhere and to have these people shut down the main streets in town for us made it something special, year after year."
The Director of Parks and Recreation, Stone created the Tour after a local resident suggested White Rock should stage a bike race. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, he named it the Tour de White Rock in humorous contrast with the biggest bike race in the world. He never realized how big or important it would become.
"It filled quite a gap in the absence of Gastown," says Tettamanti, referring to the disappearance of the Gastown race from 1993 to 2001. "The calendar was pretty bleak in the 90s. There wasn't a lot for people to look forward to. White Rock gave them something to aim at, a real highlight of the year."
The Technical Director of Cycling BC knows how vital it's been to the provincial scene. "White Rock has served as a spectacle for road racing in BC for 25 years and is still the backbone of Superweek," says Allan Prazsky. "It's been really important, putting a focus on road racing when we didn't have many events or a provincial series like we do now."
White Rock is the final event in a six-race series for the SISU BC Cup, a prestigious, annual competition for the top pros and amateurs in the province. Originally White Rock was an important event for racers of all levels. "It was a real opportunity for kids to enter their first road race," says Stone. "Sometimes we had up to 75 novices in the race. They'd be on the same course with the pros. We'd start and end them in stages. It was pretty chaotic but somehow we made it work. This was the first race and the first win for a lot of great racers including Brian Walton."
Over the years the Tour has been dominated by 2 names, Tettamanti and Walton. They've won 12 of the 24 men's road races. Tettamanti controlled the 80s, winning six times, 1980, 82, 84, 85, 87 and 88. He won so often that White Rock made him honorary Mayor and gave him a lifetime entry to the race.
"I'll start this year's race but I can't guarantee I'll finish it," chuckles the 45-year-old who hasn't raced seriously for the past decade. "These days my morphology is better suited to going downhill than uphill so I know how painful it'll be. In the old days I was a fairly strong racer and used to enjoy shorter, steeper climbs. That's why I did so well in White Rock. Plus I loved the excitement of the thing. The way the entire community was so supportive. Everyone in town seemed to get such a kick out of it and seemed to enjoy everything I did. For them to honor me like that was a really touching gesture."
White Rock also holds a lot of great memories for Walton who picked up his first big win in the Tour in 1986 and went on to a great career that included medals in the Olympics and Commonwealth games.
"I always loved the history of White Rock and the course," he says. "I kind of regarded them as Ã…â€™my hills.' People were so great although I remember one time, after I'd won three or four times already. I was in a breakaway going up Columbia street with a good rider from back east. Most of the people were cheering against me. I guess they were rooting for the underdog and I thought, hold on here, I'm the hometown boy here. It gave me the incentive and aggression I needed to win by two minutes."
The lean, powerful Walton monopolized the race in the 90s, winning four in a row from 1992-95 and completed his reign as King of the Hills by winning for the 6th and final time in 2000.
The retirement of Tettamanti and Walton gives the Queen of White Rock a chance to catch their record of 6 victories apiece. Sandy Espeseth of Victoria is expected to return this year in pursuit of her 5th Tour de White Rock title. She won in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2002. She'll face a strong women's field that includes former World Champion, Alison Sydor, World championship silver medallist, Mandy Poitras and 1990 Tour de White Rock winner, Sara Neil, who'll be racing for the final time in a remarkable career spanning 2 decades.
The men's race will feature the defending champion, Ben Brooks of Jelly Belly, trying to become the first back-to-back winner in 10 years. He'll be racing against the best from BC and many of the best American pros.
"When I look at the quality of the riders we're getting lately, and reflect on the number of Olympic and World Champions who raced in White Rock over the last 25 years, I Ã…â€™m really proud of what we've done with out little bike race," says Rita Clarkson, Race Director. "I've always felt our success over the years is the local business and community support we've had for 25 years. You need local communities putting on local events that give athletes the chance to develop into champions. If you don't give them events like this, how can you expect them to compete on the National or World level? We were really proud to help Delta get started and to aid in the revival of Gastown. That's our real legacy, contributing to sports development and producing National and World class riders."
For more Save-On-Foods 25th Annual Tour de White Rock information phone (604) 541-2161 or visit our website
The Tour de White Rock (July 23-25) is part of BC SUPERWEEK, British Columbia's most prestigious week of bicycle racing. The seven-race series includes the Tour de Delta (July 16-18) and the Tour de Gastown (July 21) and features North America's top professional cyclists racing for $45,000 in cash prizes.
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