Langley native Svein Tuft won the MK Delta Lands Criterium – part of the Tour de Delta – on Friday

Langley native Svein Tuft won the MK Delta Lands Criterium – part of the Tour de Delta – on Friday

Top riders back for Tour de White Rock

Impressive field set for city’s annual cycling weekend, which is part of BC Superweek

The stars are back in town.

Whereas the field for last year’s Tour de White Rock was bereft of many of the big-name pro riders that cycling fans have grown accustomed to seeing compete in the seaside city’s annual three-race event – and the women’s field featured just 22 riders, only 13 of whom finished the race – this year’s roster is not lacking for star power.

Among those set to take part in this year’s Tour, which begins tomorrow (Friday) with the grueling hill climb event, are Olympian and former Tour de White Rock road race winner Svein Tuft, Christian Meier, Hilton Clarke and Sebastian Salas. Last year’s men’s road race winner, New Westminster amateur cyclist Tim Abercrombie, is also expected back to defend his title.

The women’s field is loaded with talent, too, led by Canadian Olympic alternate Steph Roorda and Trek Red Truck rider Jenny Lehmann, who finished third in the overall omnium rankings at last weekend’s Tour de Delta.

“It’s really great for us to have all these riders back,” said BC Superweek race director Mark Ernsting, adding that last year’s field was thinner due to many racers’ pro commitments in Europe.

“It just goes to show the kind of event that BC Superweek, and the Tour de White Rock, has become, that the riders want to be here. We’re very thankful to them for that.”

Friday’s hill climb – in which riders pedal a 700-m incline on Buena Vista Avenue, from Oxford Street to just past Foster – begins with an all-comers, amateur climb at 6 p.m., followed by the women’s event at 7 p.m. and the men’s race 30 minutes after that.

On Saturday, attention turns to the criterium in uptown White Rock, a race run on a tight one-kilometre circuit from Johnston Road, around Five Corners, past city hall and back around to White Rock Elementary. The action begins with men’s category 3/4 riders at 4 p.m.; followed by the women’s race at 5 p.m. and the men’s pro 1/2 category riders at 6 p.m.

The main event, the Peace Arch News Road Race, hits the streets Sunday at 9 a.m. along Marine Drive, with riders tackling a scenic but tough course that winds through White Rock.

The men will complete a 130-km race – 11 laps on a 10.1-km course and five on a shorter circuit – while the women’s race is 80-km (eight long laps).

“The White Rock road race has such a deep history, with a lot of (big name) winners, and it’s definitely a race the riders target as a big one,” Ernsting said.

Superweek began last weekend in Delta, with Bellingham amateur Steve Fisher outpedalling a field of pro riders to take the 140-km men’s road race, and 24-year-old Morgan Cabot edging Roorda in the 88-km women’s event.

Pro rider Ryan Anderson, another veteran BC Superweek rider, returned from Europe and captured Delta’s criterium event, while the women’s criterium was won by Roorda.

Riders to watch

Sebastian Salas (Team Optum)

An impressive showing at last year’s BC Superweek earned Salas a pro contract with Team Optum, and he hasn’t disappointed in his rookie season.

This year, Salas has won the King of the Mountain jersey as the top climber at the Tour de California, and is one of just three Canadians – along with Superweek alum Dominique Rollin and Rider Hesjedal – to win a stage or jersey at the prestigious California race.

Jenny Lehmann (Trek Red Truck)

With Trek Red Truck, Lehmann races for one of the most powerful, and successful, local teams, and she’ll likely be among the leaders this weekend.

Among Lehmann’s racing credits is a win at the 2011 GranFondo Whistler.

Svein Tuft (Orica-GreenEDGE)

Tuft, a 35-year-old Langley native, is back at the Tour de White Rock for the second time since 2008, and will be among the contenders for the overall omnium title.

Tuft, an Olympian in 2008, recently won his eighth Canadian Time Trial Championship and is also coming off an impressive performance at the Giro d’Italia. Tuft won the White Rock road race in 2010.

Loren Rowney (Specialized-Lululemon)

A teammate of Canadian Olympic legend Clara Hughes, the Australian’s remarkable rookie season has already included a UCI win in New Zealand, where she beat Canadian Olympian Joelle Numaineville at the Redlands Classic. Recently, she was second at the Nature Valley Grand Prix.

Christian Meier (Orica-GreenEdge)

A teammate of Tuft’s, the 27-year-old Meier is another stalwart of Superweek competition, having finished third in the road race in 2005 and second in 2007.

Now one of just five Canadians racing at Europe’s World Cup level, Meier is also a former U23 Canadian champion.

Surrey North Delta Leader