Knauer, Jackson conquer rain-slicked Grand Prix

It seems no one knows the New West Grand Prix course like Florenz Knauer.

The German-born racer and Delta resident used his familiarity with the course to come from back of the pack to win his third straight title on Tuesday.

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The Rad Team Herrmann rider has mastered the 55-lap, 5.1-kilometre New West roadway, with its unique climb, and used it to post solid results on the B.C. Superweek cycling circuit.

In each of the three Grand Prix’s, Knauer has displayed a knack for pacing himself until the final lap. Even with Tuesday’s slick road conditions, the 30-year-old cyclist was able to defend his title.

“I was a little bit nervous before the race and felt a little bit of pressure,” Knauer told the Record following the race. “The rain makes it different in the tactics, you have to ride more in the front because it’s more danger in the back that you may get caught in an accident or a crash. You have to expend a little more energy to stay up there.”

Although he made his adjustments earlier, Knauer still was near the back of the pack entering the final two laps. It wasn’t until the final lap that he made his first move on the approach to the Columbia-to-Eighth Street turn. By the time he hit the midpoint of the Carnarvon Street stretch, Knauer had pedalled through the crowd to enter the corner at Sixth Street among the frontrunners.

As he rounded the corner onto Columbia, Knauer held an edge on his main challenger, New Zealander Campbell Stewart, and took the finish line with half-a-second to spare.

Playing into his hands was the fact that a handful ahead of him – with just 25 riders still in the race from a 118-strong field on the opening gun – had spent a good chunk of their late reserve energy going for one of two preem prizes, including with two laps remaining. Those one-lap victories, including one for $150, are great if you don’t figure you have a shot at the podium.

That wasn’t the case for Knauer.

It made passing about 20 cyclists over the final 600 metres all the easier.

“I saw the other German (Marcel Franz) who went for the crowd (preem) that nobody could follow him,” said Knauer. “I thought well my escape could work again, I could get a punch out. I opened a gap and just knew I could stay away.”

Even against a light drizzle that led to a few crashes, the same formula that led to his first two Grand Prix wins proved unbeatable.

"He's really cagey and you'd think one of us would figure out to be on his wheel at the bottom of the hill, but none of us were and he came by us hard and timed it perfectly,” said Bassetti. “Florenz was strong all the way to the top of the hill and we just couldn't get him."

Knauer conceded that a knee injury suffered in late spring gave him cause for concern prior to the race.

“I had a knee injury (and) had to take off four weeks of racing,” he said. “I could ride my bike but nothing intensive, just easy spins. You’re in a place where you’re always worried how it’s going. I was training for three weeks before I came here and I pushed myself really hard.

“I really always focus on BC Superweek – it’s the biggest highlight of my year. I’m really happy I got a win. I didn’t expect it but it means even more to me to win here three times in a row.”

Finishing third overall was Californian Sam Bassetti, while the top B.C. rider was Victoria’s Adam De Vos, at 17th. Among the 118 riders who started the race, only 25 finished.

On the women’s pro side, Albertan Alison Jackson used a similar strategy in rallying down the final stretch to capture her first Grand Prix crown.

The 30-year-old, repping Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank, followed her victory at Sunday’s White Spot Delta Road Race with a stout ride across a decimated field on the 40-lap, 37.4km course.

Rain played a factor over the final 10 laps, causing at least one crash, and forced the riders to alter their approach of the Sixth Street-to-Columbia corner.

“How the race was going, you just have to play the other players,” said Jackson. “I could tell that I was going to be the strongest there but I didn’t want to take the last corner with the group because it was so wet. I was so glad because there was that crash. From the second corner up the hill I just went all-in head-down and it was fun. It made it exciting.”

She said a big part of her win was the boost from teammate Sharlotte Lucas down the stretch, who finished fourth overall.

“When you have teammates if you want to win, you have to go all-in for the win. You can’t be greedy and do it all. That’s why you have teammates that can play on that. Having other teams go for the preem helps me, saves my legs, they’re now out of contention for that final sprint.”

A former cross-country athlete at Trinity Western University, the Vermillion, Alta. native said it’s been a steady fun ride ever since she first mounted a bike as a pro five years ago in the B.C. Superweek series.

“It was the first North Delta Criterium and I was second there,” Jackson recalled. “I was a nobody so no one was marking me or expecting anything. Now it can be a little bit harder to win because people are watching but I’ve got a little bit more experience and strength now.”

Coming in second, six seconds back of Jackson, was Maple Ridge’s Maggie Coles-Lyster, while Leigh Ann Ganzar of Austin, Tex., placed third. In fifth spot was hometown rider Emily Spence.

Another Royal City rider, Lilly Ujfalusi, finished second for a second straight year on the women’s youth race event, behind Isla Walker of Victoria.

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