Svein Tuft made it look easy, but insisted it wasn't - at least not until the end.
After pedaling 52 kilometers in just over an hour, it's easy to believe him.
The 35-year-old Langley native pulled away from an impressive field halfway through the opening stage of BC Superweek on Friday night, cruising across the finish line with his arms raised and the rest of the riders more than half a lap behind him at the Tour de Delta's MK Delta Lands Criterium.
Tuft has been enjoying a break from racing on the top-level Pro Tour in Europe, including the Giro d'Italia, for Orica-GreenEDGE.
He didn't feel great at the start line, but got stronger as the race went on, getting into an early seven-rider break, then pulling away midway through 40 laps of the 1.3-kilometer street circuit.
"Your body doesn't change physically," Tuft said of his time off. "It's just how much you want to push and really these crits, that's what it's all about, because everyone is going as hard as they can and it's just trying to go that little bit more to try and crack guys. And as soon as you can crack them, you've got to hurt yourself for a while because you've got to create that gap to make them think it's "impossible to catch you. And as soon as you do that, then you have to maintain, you just really have to put your head down and you know that you can do."
With five-straight Canadian time trial titles and a seventh-place finish in the 2008 Olympics, Tuft had no problem doing just that, finishing in one hour, two minutes, and 50 seconds - 45 seconds ahead of the field. Not bad for a guy who barely got back from a week of mountain biking in northern B.C. in time for the race.
"Living the good life, but sometimes a little rest does a guy good, and more just mentally. We spend so much time on the road, racing on the road, it's nice to get out and hit he refresh button," he said. "You come back and you can dig."
Tuft dug hard into a field that includes Pro Tour teammate Christian Meier, riders from several top US teams, and many other top Canadians, including the current National Criterium champion, Ben Chaddock, of Idaho-based Team Exergy.
They were soon all racing for second place. Florenz Knauer, in town for BC Superweek with the German-based Team Baier Lanshut, won that runer-up sprint, finishing just ahead of Australian Tommy Nankervis while the last of several hard crashes piled up behind them in the final corner.
"I went on final straightaway and got to corner first," Knauer said through a thick German accent. "It was a strong and fast race, and the first 20 laps around was really fast. But Tuft was just higher _ like _ another level."
In the 39-kilometer women's race, it was Nicky Wangsgard of Primal/MapMyRide Cycling that found the extra gear - but not until just before the crucial final corner.
Wangsgard held off an early attack from Stephanie Roorda, an alternate on the Canadian track team for the 2012 Olympic, then made a break of her own to get to that last corner first, sprinting to win by just three-tenths of a second. Not bad for a just-turned 40-year-old college professor in her final year of pro cycling.
"I am retiring," said Wangsgard, who finished the 30-lap, 39-kilometer race in 1 hour, 2.5 seconds. "Usually I go for a preem so I can check out a sprint, but I didn't because I got a long week ahead of me so I didn't want to waste any matches. So I didn't know, I just wanted to be first to this corner and Stephanie went early, and I had to go, and luckily I was able to beat her to this corner."
The nine-race, $105,000 BC Superweek continued with the second stage of the Tour de Delta, the exciting Brenco Criterium, on Saturday night, and wrapped up with the White Spot Road Race on Sunday morning.