Posted by Editor on 07/20/06
The 2006 edition of the Tour de Gastown saw one champion retain their title and one new champion crowned in front of a crowd estimated at over 30,000. Burnaby-based Gina Grain (Colavita Cooking Light Team) won a mad dash for the line in the women's race to successfully keep her title, while Australian Hilton Clarke (Navigators Insurance) scored one of the biggest victories of his career with a solo win.
The 30 lap women's race saw plenty of attacks, with the New Zealand Jazz Apple team particularly aggressive. However, Grain, her team mate Audrey Lemieux and mountain bike legend Alison Sydor (Rocky Mountain-Business Objects) were able to shut down any serious attempts to open a gap on the field. Grain gave an indication of her fitness when she took the Crowd Prime . This year, the Crowd Prime was split between the winning riders (man and woman) and the B.C. Cancer Foundation.
After Grain took the Prime she dropped back into the pack to rest up for the final sprint, which she won easily, going by national champion Alexandra Wrubleski (H&R Block) in the last 75 metres to coast across the line with her arms in the air.
"This is an amazing win for me" exclaimed Grain afterwards. "I've been going to the hospital for the last three days to get IV antibiotic treatments for an infection in my arm, so I really didn't know how I was going. The Crowd Prime was a bit of a test of my legs, and at that point I knew I was strong enough to win the whole thing."
The men's race was ripped apart with less than a third of the 50 laps completed, when a group of 12 riders broke away from the field. The group contained a number of heavy hitters, including defending champion Gord Fraser (Health Net presented by Maxxis), and two top riders from the local Symmetrics team - national time trial champion Svein Tuft and national criterium champion Cam Evans.
However, it was their team mate who ended up peeling off the front of the group with two others - Brad Fairall. Fairall was joined by Fraser's team mate Kirk O'Bee and Hilton Clarke, and the trio, representing the three top teams in the race, were allowed to roll away.
"I was working for Svein" explained Fairall, "but when I looked around after a turn at the front we had a gap."
Symmetrics wasn't sure whether or not to support the break or chase it down to start with. "We didn't want to take Gord up to the front" said Andrew Pinfold. "Svein tried to attack and get up there, but couldn't get rid of Gord, so he backed off. It was most important for us to be on the podium, so a guaranteed top-3 was better than bringing it back (together)."
Initially, the three hovered some 20-25 seconds in front of the rest of the breakaway, but as that group slowed and was reabsorbed by the field, the frontrunners began to extend their lead, and eventually lapped the field with 13 laps remaining. The rules in a situation like this saw the field sprint for fourth place at three laps to go - with Fairall's team mate Pinfold winning the bunch sprint - while the three leaders finished the final three laps alone on the course.
Clarke attacked just before beginning of the penultimate lap, opening up a gap that he was able to maintain to the finish line, while Fairall outsprinted O'Bee for second. Unbeknownst to Fairall or Clarke, O'Bee was riding on a flat tire for the final five laps, which certainly limited his ability to respond to Clarke's attack.
"I was feeling pretty good" explained Clarke, "and I know how good a sprinter Kirk usually is, since we used to be team mates. So, I didn't want to get in a situation where I had to sprint against him and decided to try and get away. I think the other two looked at each other a bit when I went, so that gave me a chance to open the gap."
Second place Fairall, who also won the award for top B.C. rider ranks the result as one of the best in his career. "I've had silver at the national championships before, but this is special, this is Gastown."
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