The Tour de White Rock is set to hit the streets Saturday and Sunday. (File photo)

Strong field set for Tour de White Rock this weekend

Competition expected to be stiff for final event on BC Superweek calendar

Florenz Knauer is having quite a BC Superweek so far.

Not only did the German-born cyclist capture first place at the inaugural New West Grand Prix Tuesday, the 28-year-old – who has been a fixture at Superweek events, including this weekend’s Tour de White Rock – also got engaged, proposing to his girlfriend on stage at the Grand Prix’s medal ceremony.

“Actually, I had it planned for Gastown (Wednesday), but after the win today, I had to do it. Tomorrow I might have crashed or something,” he quipped after getting down on one knee.

Knauer’s soon-to-be-bride, Alisha, is the daughter of parents who served as Knauer’s billet family during his first-ever trip to Superweek in 2012.

Knauer finished 40-lap New West circuit in one hour, four minutes, and 17 seconds. With multiple podium appearances over the years, including a third place finish in last Friday’s Tour de Delta MK Delta Lands Criterium and Tuesday’s win, the BC Superweek series has a special place in his heart.

“The series means a lot to me, I always have success here, and it helped me meet Alisha. It means a lot,” he said.

Knauer will look to keep the good times rolling this weekend on the Semiahmoo Peninsula, when the two-day Tour de White Rock is staged, beginning with the criterium Saturday in the city’s uptown neighbourhood. The second leg of the series, Sunday’s Peace Arch News Road Race, is Sunday morning along Marine Drive.

And though he comes into the weekend on a hot streak, Knauer – who won White Rock’s overall omnium title in 2012 – will have no shortage of tough competition as he and his fellow riders traverse the hilly White Rock course. Saturday’s criterium will see cyclists pedal laps on a one-km loop, while Sunday’s race is a much longer endeavour – multiple laps of a 10-km route, for 134 km in total. The women’s race is 80 km.

Among those expected to line up at the start line this weekend are Ryan Aitcheson, a 26-year-old Kitchener, Ont. native who should be a top contender Saturday. He made history last year when he become the first Canadian to win the USA CRITS Series, which consists of 10 races across the United States.

Steve Fisher, a Bellingham resident who rides for Canyon Bicyles, may also find himself ahead of the peleton this weekend. The BC Superweek veteran is a two-time winner at the Tour de Delta, and may be familiar to those in the Surrey cyclocross community, having won an event in the city in 2012.

In the women’s field – expected to be more than 60 riders strong this weekend – Kirsti Lay may be one to watch. The 29-year-old former speedskater has represented Canada multiple times on the world stage, and has a plethora of medals to her name, including gold at the 2015 Pan-Am Games, silver at the 2016 World Championships and bronze at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

Lay’s teammate with Rally Cycling, Allison Beveridge, is also on the Tour de White Rock’s official rider list, and comes to the city just a few weeks after winning the women’s Canadian road championships. Like Lay, she also won an Olympic bronze in 2016 in team pursuit.

Saturday’s criterium races begin at 4:30 p.m. with the men’s category 3/4 race, followed by the women at 5:30 p.m. and the men’s race at 6:30 p.m. A kid’s bike parade and race is set for earlier in the afternoon, at 3 p.m.

On Sunday, the road race begins at 9 a.m.

Road safety

South Surrey cylclist Justine Clift won’t be in the field for this weekend’s Tour de White Rock – she’s currently battling neck injuries suffered during a race last September in St. Louis – but the Elgin Park Secondary grad is still hoping to make her presence felt this weekend on the waterfront.

Clift will be on hand to help her The Cyclery teammates – eight of whom are listed on the weekend’s rider list – but more importantly, will be promoting road safety as part of a partnership with the BC Cycling Coalition. Together, they hope to raise awareness of safer-passing laws in B.C., following the death last year of Clift’s teammate Ellen Watters, who was killed during a training ride after being struck by a motorist last December.

Clift and company are promoting a Safer Passing law, which would require vehicles to pass a “vulnerable road user” by at least 1.5 m. Currently, no specific distance is written into the law, Clift said.

“Having a real law with a real number can only help,” she said, adding that she’s had more than a few close calls with motorists herself through the years.

“Pretty much every time you go out on a ride, someone passes too close.”

For more on the BC Road Safety Law Reform Group, visit www.bccycling.ca/safer_passing