Americans take Giro di Burnaby races
American Laura Van Gilder had every reason to treat herself to a mint-flavoured ice cream after winning the women's Giro di Burnaby race in The Heights on Thursday.
After all, many of the 47-year-old's competitors were in diapers or not even born when she began racing bicycles 21 years ago, and she had beaten them all on the hot, sunny summer's evening.
Van Gilder crossed the finish line of the 30-lap, 37-kilometre criterium about 20 feet ahead of Loren Rowney, exchanging positions with the Australian from the Gastown race the night before. At 23, Rowney is less than half Van Gilder's age, and at six-feet is 11 inches taller than the Pennsylvanian.
"I love the thrill of the competition. I still have the nervous competitive spirit that drives me. I don't see retirement in my future," said Van Gilder, who claimed a first-place prize of $1,200. "I don't think about my age when I'm racing, I think about [the other competitors]. I'm going to fight them tooth and nail."
Ken Hanson of Santa Barbara, Calif., duplicated his Gastown victory at the Giro to take home $2,000 in the men's race.
Van Gilder figures she has won about 380 road and cyclo-cross races, give or take one or two. Although she wasn't a competitive athlete in high school or university she caught the cycling bug at the age of 26 when she began mountain biking with a friend. He told her she might have the right stuff to become a good cyclist. Boy, was he right. She took to it quickly riding in 75 races her first season. By 2002, she had turned cycling into a full-time profession enabling her to ditch working in her family's restaurant in Pocono Pines. She went on to win two United States road and two cyclo-cross titles, amongst the hundreds of other races she's been in.
"I hope so," she said when asked if she can hit the 400 win mark. "There's going to be a day when I'm not mentioned on the podium."
Just six days before the Giro, Van Gilder was back home in Pocono Pines, Pa., surfing around cycling Facebook sites and found out about BC Superweek. She was scheduled to race in Boise, Idaho on Saturday (July 14), and realized this was an opportunity to race some more while out west. She quickly made flight arrangements and recruited her Mellow Mushroom teammate Kristen LaSasso to go with her.
"Things fell into place and we said, 'Let's do this,' ” said Van Gilder.
They hopped on a plane and arrived in time for the UBC Grand Prix on Tuesday, although Van Gilder's bike didn't arrive with her. So she used a borrowed one to finish fourth. By Wednesday, she had her own back and came in second at the revived Gastown Grand Prix behind Rowney, who rides for Specialized Lululemon, the team Canadian Olympian Clara Hughes races for.
"I'm already planning for the trip next year," said Van Gilder, who figures the field will be much bigger in 2013 when she starts spreading the word south of the border.
Van Gilder, Rowney and Jean Ann Berkenpas, who lives in Maple Ridge, broke away from the rest of the 28-rider field early and maintained their considerable distance through the remainder of the race. Berkenpas finally faded with about seven laps left leaving Van Gilder and Rowney to battle it out all by their lonesomes.
Van Gilder said she knew if the three "got away we could put the power to the pedals" and lose the rest of the pack.
"More often than not being aggressive like that pays off," said Rowney, who wasn't bothered by losing to someone more than twice her age. "I've looked up to her. She's a fantastic athlete and a fantastic rider. She's not just a sprinter. I was happy to get the win [in Gastown]."
New Zealander Joseph Cooper led for much of the men's 45-lap, 55-kilometre race racking up five primes lap wins totaling at least $700 before the peloton caught up to him.
They jockeyed back and forth with many in the audience keeping their eyes on locals Svein Tuft, who has ridden in the Tour de France and won the UBC Grand Prix on Tuesday, and Christian Meier. But on the final sprint neither could catch up to Hanson, who emerged to be victorious despite not being on the race announcers' radar the whole race that lasted just a shade under 80 minutes with the last lap being the fastest of the night at one minute and 37 seconds.
Hanson and his Optum teammates were not only coming off a victory the night before, but a batchelor party for the squad's Sebastian Salas of Delta that ended in the wee hours of Thursday morning.
"My teammates suffered a lot more than I did tonight. They did a lot of work. I did minimal work and it set me up for the sprint. This was a win for the team," said Hanson. "Winning races is amazing. Winning two days in a row is extra special. Everyone steps up and is doing their job … Just winning [in Gastown] took some pressure off of us. We really wanted it so [the Giro] was a little bit more relaxed."
Hanson collected $2,000 top prize for his team, to go along with the $15,000 he won at Gastown, with second-place finisher Tommy Nankervis of Melbourne, Australia winning $1,100 and another Aussie, Hilton Clarke, who won the inaugural Giro in 2006, picking up $800 for his third-place finish. Rowney got $800 for being the women's runner-up while Berkenpas took home $500. The night before, Rowney won $8,000 while Van Gilder picked up $6,000.
By the late stages of the men's race, spectators were lined up three and four deep behind the barriers strung along Hastings Street in The Heights. A particularly popular spot was at the hairpin turn at Madison Avenue, a new feature added to this year's Giro.