The wheels stopped spinning for three years but on Wednesday, thanks to a $1 million cash injection from Vancouver tech firm Global Relay, cyclists will race again through the historic cobblestone streets of Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood for the Gastown Grand Prix.
The popular and free summer event launched in 1973 and drew more than 30,000 spectators to the elite, entertaining road race, in which cyclists make 30 to 50 laps of the same 1.2-kilometre route along Carrall, Cordova and Water streets. World-class racers will vie for a $40,000 purse.
Warren Roy revelled in the atmosphere of the Grand Prix, which was cancelled indefinitely after 2008 because no sponsor stepped forward. Like a lot of fans, he was disappointed. “Honestly, they were really fun to attend,” he said. “On a personal level, I was disappointed that it lost its funding.”
But as the CEO of Global Relays, a Gastown firm that archives corporate electronic information such as emails and was named one of Canada’s fastest growing tech companies, had an idea where to secure a sponsor.
It consulted the Gastown Business Improvement Association. “They said despite huge efforts, they couldn’t get any sponsors,” Roy told the Courier on Friday. “I said we’d be willing to sponsor it.”
Global Relay has committed $1 million to the Gastown Grand Prix for the next five years and, beyond that, Roy intends for the commitment to go forward indefinitely.
“For the average person, I think you just have no sense of the energy, the capability of these guys by watching them on television compared to watching them live,” he said.
Global Relay, which was founded in 1999, committed 50 staff members to staging the event, which has been more than a year in the making. Roy said the experience has been an education in the business of cycling and one of the company’s most rewarding team-building exercises.
The Gastown Grand Prix returns July 11 with 40 female and 120 male competitors. Opening ceremonies begin at 5:45 p.m.
Returning to the fold of B.C. Superweek, the Grand Prix becomes one of nine races schedule in 10 days. The three-race Tour de Delta begins Friday, July 6 through to Sunday, July 8.
The UBC Grand Prix picks up on July 10, and the Giro di Burnaby is set for July 12. Superweek wraps with the three races of the Tour de White Rock from July 13 to 15.