New West Grand Prix Offers Unique Challenge to Riders

935-metre course is unlike any other criterium at BC Superweek

When professional athletes compete in the same event year after year, a certain amount of familiarity develops, giving them the edge over someone competing in that event for the first time. As the latest addition to BC Superweek, last year’s New West Grand Prix was new for all riders who took the start line at the intersection of Begbie and Columbia in downtown New Westminster.

The 935-metre course saw the field of starters shrink significantly in both the men’s and women’s races, in part due to the climb up Eighth Street. 2017 women’s race winner Kirsti Lay of Rally Cycling says the New West Grand Prix is no ordinary criterium.

“It’s a tougher course than most because of the kicker that you climb lap after lap. It adds up to a lot of climbing! You are either climbing or descending to do it all over again, so you need to have stamina for the on/off high-power efforts,” said Lay, who won a bronze medal for Canada in the Team Pursuit at the 2016 Summer Olympics. “It really comes down to a race of attrition at one point. A lot of other criteriums can be won from sitting in the peloton for the sprint as most don’t have near that much elevation gain, but for New West – everyone is working.”

BC Superweek features seven criteriums as part of the nine-race series. German rider Florenz Knauer, who now makes his home in the Lower Mainland and won the men’s race at the 2017 New West Grand Prix, has 28 top-10 finishes at BC Superweek in the last five years. He says New West is the most difficult criterium of the series.

“The hill is steeper than any other criterium. After the second turn the hill gets flatter, but if you’re riding in the middle or back of the field, you must speed up again, which takes a lot of energy,” explained Knauer, adding that the climbs in New West are not only a challenge in endurance but also make it difficult to use strong team tactics. “The hill itself is hard but riding it for 50 laps takes a lot. If you attack or follow some attacks, you maybe blow up because you over do it. It’s important to be careful how much energy you use in the race, so you can still have some left for the final sprint.”

The race was exhilarating for riders and fans alike, but it was more than just the circuit in New Westminster that impressed both Lay and Knauer when they first rode it last year.

“I love the atmosphere of the New West crit. It was lined up on either side with spectators around the whole course and it turned into a real show. The course is so challenging and demands a lot of stamina which is the style of racing I like best! I’m really excited to come back this year with Rally Cycling,” said Lay, who was third at the Global Relay Canadian Road Championships earlier this month.

Knauer stole the show last year at the New West Grand Prix. In addition to winning the inaugural men’s race, the 29-year-old proposed to his girlfriend Alisha on stage in front of a raucous crowd.

“I like the course because I had good memories last year (with winning the race and the proposal),” expressed Knauer, who’s riding this year for the German team, Herrmann Radteam. “It’s an honest course – you can’t really hide in the field because everyone has to get up that hill.”

For riders coming back to race the New West Grand Prix this year, the familiarity of the course is there, which means the field is wide open for someone to try and knock Knauer and Lay off the top of the podium. Both riders are also returning to defend their titles and won’t go quietly, which should make for another memorable night in downtown New Westminster on July 10th.

BC Superweek is Canada’s biggest professional road cycling series and features more than $140,000 in prize money with nine races over ten days. BC Superweek runs from July 6 – 15 and is made up of the Tour de Delta presented by Beedie (July 6 – 8), New West Grand Prix (July 10), Global Relay Gastown Grand Prix (July 11), Giro di Burnaby presented by Appia Development (July 12), PoCo Grand Prix presented by Dominion Lending Centres (July 13), and Tour de White Rock presented by Landmark Premiere Properties (July 14 – 15).​