Hanson and Rowney win at Gastown

Hanson, Rowney win at Rebirth of Global Relay Gastown Grand Prix.

Men’s Race

When Svein Tuft took off to start the final lap of the 2012 Global Relay Gastown Grand Prix on Wednesday, many envisioned a three-peat of the Canadian strongman’s two breakaway Criterium wins already at BC Superweek.

men's finish at Gastown

Men's finish at Gastown (photos by Greg Descantes)

Ken Hanson and the Optum Pro Cycling squad had other ideas.

After slowly reeling in Tuft, an eight-time Canadian Time Trial Champion, on the back stretch, the six-deep Optum team overtook him after coming out of the final corner and down the homestretch, setting Hanson up perfectly for a bunch sprint victory over Vancouver’s Ryan Anderson and Australian Tommy Nankervis.

“Svein had us under pressure all day but luckily we had numbers and played our cards,” said Hanson. “We had to use our guys early to catch Svein and then Alex Candelario gave me the perfect leadout. The guys did a really good job for me.”

Hanson promised to pay them back out of a $15,000 first place payout ¬– the highest for a Criterium in North America.

Spending could start soon because locally based teammate Sebastian Salas, who turned a strong performance at last year’s BC Superweek into a contract this year and then paid Optum back by winning King of the Mountain at the Tour of California, is getting married the next day.

“We all share it as a team so it’s not all going into my pocket,” said Hanson, a 30-year-old from California. “We’re having a bachelor party for a teammate getting married on Saturday so I don’t know if we’ll have anything after tonight.”

There was plenty of reason to celebrate on Wednesday.

Backed by a five-year, $1-million commitment from tech company Global Relay, the historic Gastown Grand Prix returned for the first time since 2008, and was welcomed back warmly by a crowd estimated at 35,000. The buzz built as the men did 50-laps of a 1.2-kilometer circuit in downtown Vancouver, racing over the same cobblestones as cycling greats Lance Armstrong, Alex Stieda and Canadian Olympians like Brian Walton.

After 60 fast-paced kilometers that included several crashes; after one hour, 16 minutes and 20.86 seconds, it all came down to the last few hundred meters. Hanson pumped his fists as he surged across the line.

“We came with a couple different cards to play and were confident if it came to a sprint. We had the numbers and the speed and we’ve had success this year doing lead outs,” Hanson said. “But Svein [who rides the World Tour for Orica-GreenEDGE] is a guy you can never count out and when he went at the end we kept cool and brought him back slowly and timed everything perfectly.”

Too perfectly for Anderson, who races for Steve Bauer’s Team SpiderTech. After winning a criterium at the Tour de Delta Saturday in front of family and friends, Anderson couldn’t get around Hanson to pull off another hometown win.

“They did a great job,” Anderson said of Optum. “They took control and rode great for him and Ken was great finishing for them. Try again next year.”

In addition to holding off Nankervis, who rides for the Competitive Cycling team run by three-time Olympian and two-time Gastown winner Gord Fraser, to take $5,000 for second, Anderson was excited to know there would be a next year – four in fact – for the popular downtown race.

“I’ve done the biggest Crits in the US and this is just as big,” Anderson said.’

Click here to view/print full race results.

Women’s Race

Women's finish

Women's finish at Gastown (photos by Greg Descantes)

Those sentiments were echoed by Australian Loren Rowney, who took home the $8,000 first place cheque – also the biggest for a North American women’s criterium – after also winning a bunch sprint ahead of American veterans Laura Van Gilder of Mellow Mushroom, and Nicky Wangsgard of Primal MapMyRide.

Rowney, who normally races with Canadian Olympic great Clara Hughes on the Specialized Lululemon team, beat out Van Gilder by a bike length after completing 30 laps in 53 minutes, 25.13 seconds. Despite the biggest prize of her career, Rowney seemed even more impressed with the rest of the race.

“The atmosphere, just to see the public out here like this is great,” said Rowney, comparing it to a “criterum version” of big UCI races in Philadelphia. “In terms of atmosphere this is one of the greatest events I’ve done with the public and just the excitement and how well run it is. … With women’s races being taken away with sponsorship falling through it’s great to see a sponsor stepping up for us.”

Van Gilder was just as excited about the race, but not about how it ended.

After watching Steph Roorda, an alternate on Canada’s Olympic Track Team, ride an early solo break to an easy victory at the UBC Grand Prix a night earlier, the top riders kept things together in Gastown, setting up a thrilling final stretch.“It was going to be a sprint finish all way, the dynamic was perfect,” said Van Gilder, a 47-year-old from Pennsylvania considered to be the winning-est women’s professional cyclist ever with well over 300 victories. “When you re racing for s prize list like that I think everybody think they had a shot.”

Rowney made her shot count despite racing without help – 10 of 13 teammates, including Hughes, are bust preparing for the Olympics. But after UBC, she could count on others – like the teammate of Van Gilder and Wangsgard – to chase.

“After what happened last night with Steph off the front and everyone looking at each other, at me, Laura, and thinking ‘ why don’t you chase it’ and it blew out,” said Rowney. “I’m pretty sure people didn’t want that to happen tonight.”

Van Gilder agreed – about the race breakdown and the race itself.

“When people put on events like this, you come to them,” she said.

Click here to view/print full race results.