Posted by Editoress on 07/5/05
Gretzky Of Cycling Hoping To Score Big In Bc Superweek
Courtesy Eric Dwyer, Media Relations Coordinator
He sits back watching the action unfold in front of him, reading the play and looking for a break, sensing it before it happens then accelerating quickly, sliding into the opening and producing a creative move that leads to another record-breaking win. Sound like Wayne Gretzky? Actually, it's another future Canadian Hall of Famer, Gord Fraser, an Ottawa born cyclist who at 37 is still number one in the US, steadily adding to his record total of more than 200 victories and on his way to another National Racing Calendar (NRC) title, the season long championship for US pro riders. The Tucson-based star of Health Net, the top ranked team in the States, is also on his way back north to try to add to his winning record in BC Superweek for the third straight year.
In 2003, he won the Tour de Gastown with one of his trademark final lap sprints out of the pack. In 2004, he helped teammate Tyler Farrar finish second in Gastown and win the White Spot Road Race in the Tour de Delta. Fraser also picked up another BC Superweek victory in Delta's Lehigh Cement Criterium with a rocket launched sprint to the finish line. Like Gretzky, Fraser is one of the great finishers in the history of his sport. But the comparisons to the Great One make him chuckle. "It's flattering to be compared to Gretzky, but it's not really accurate. I'm more like a relief pitcher in baseball. My job as a sprinter is to try to be smart and to be anonymous, sit back in the pack and analyze all the moves, conserve my energy while everyone else is making the moves and make sure I've got enough fuel left for the final kilometer. Then like a relief pitcher you come in at the last minute to save the day and try to pick up the win."
Fraser is hard to find in most of his races, hiding in the pack until he bolts for the finish line. It's a strategy that's worked successfully for nearly three decades of racing. He's won more than 200 races in his career. He's beaten the legendary Lance Armstrong three times in the last 14 months including this spring when Fraser beat the strongest field of the year in North America and won the final stage of the Tour de Georgia. In his best season Fraser won 27 races. "At my age (37), I've cut down on my schedule quite a bit so the days of winning 25 to 27 races are gone," he says. "But I'm still pretty satisfied that I've been able to maintain about the same winning percentage." This year he's won nine of 40 races and is dueling with teammate Chris Wherry for the NRC title as king of the US Pro circuit - a title he won in 1999 and 2000.
Despite his success in BC Superweek, Fraser finds it tougher to win each year he comes to Vancouver. He loves the variety and toughness of each of the courses and the time off between the three big races in Delta, Gastown and White Rock. "I'm super excited to get up there each year," he says. "It's so well organized. The crowds are great and really get you pumped up in Delta and Gastown and the course in White Rock is so tough. So is the competition. The top US teams come up there and think we can relax. It's a real shock to the system to find how fast the Canadians are and how motivated they are each year. We (Health Net) think we can do it again this year but it won't be easy. There are a lot of other good US teams and Symmetrics is going to be really tough. "
Health Net has one edge on the rest of the American teams. It has near home course advantage. The 21-year-old Farrar lives in Bellingham, Washington and considers Vancouver a home away from home. "We come up there all the time," he says. "I feel comfortable and familiar with everything around there. Gastown is a cool place and a cool race but my favorite is Delta. I love the crit in Ladner and they've got an awesome road course. White Rock is one of the hardest courses we do all year. I tell everybody that BC Superweek is the most fun two weeks of racing of the entire year. I tell all my friends at the nationals and everywhere else that they have to come up and try it. It's great."
He credits his phenomenal success in last year's BC Superweek to a few training and tactical tips from his mentor, Gord Fraser. They turned his season around. Inspired by his victories in BC, Farrar added to his reputation as the best young rider in the US by winning the criterium and road race at the US Under-23 championships. He went to Europe and won twice in France and Belgium. This year he's won four times despite breaking his collarbone twice, after getting hit by a car in a training run and then going down in a pileup during a race. He's healthy and peaking in time for his third straight BC Superweek.
Health Net is one of several top ten US Pro teams that will be racing in Delta, Gastown and White Rock. They include Navigators lead by Kirk Obee who finished fifth in the 2005 US Pro Championships, Jittery Joes with Tim Johnson who finished ahead of Fraser at the US Pros, and Subway Express starring Aussie Cameron Hughes who is one tough son of a gun according to Fraser.
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