Thousands of people thronged the roads of Shrewsbury for the town centre’s first professional cycle race in 21 years, with hopes it will become an annual event.

With Olympic gold medallist Joanna Rowsell taking part, the Shrewsbury Grand Prix was no casual Sunday bike ride, with fierce competition in what is a nationally ranked race with the full backing of British Cycling.

A total of 132 riders took part in three races across the course of Sunday evening, from amateurs to pros, tackling the cobbles of Shrewsbury town centre in fast-paced timed circuits, known as “crit” races.

There was a chance for members of the public to sample the race course, but the main event was the 45-minute professional race in which 34 elite riders took part.

Joanna Rowsell MBE lived up to her reputation by heading the pack for the duration, but in a shock turnaround was pipped at the post at the last minute by three others. Brit Tate of GB Cycles, Harriet Owen of Matrix Fitness and Lydia Gurley of Merlin cycles all got the same time of 48 minutes 11 seconds, with Rowsell coming fourth at 48 minutes 15.

Tate was singled out as the photo-finish winner by judges. She said: “I never expected to win an event like this.

“It was a really good race, really good fun and quite technical, with some fast bits down hill. It was really exciting.”

The women’s race was started by former Shrewsbury mayor John Tandy, who was instrumental in bringing it to Shrewsbury.

He said seeing the race come to town was emotional for him, as his father Peter Tandy was a keen cyclist and member of the Mid-Shropshire Wheelers, who was killed 20 years ago in a traffic accident while out on his bike.

He said his father was the inspiration behind getting a high-profile cycling event in the town, and it was one of the first things he wanted to do when becoming mayor, which became a reality when he spoke with organiser Ben Lawrence.

“I said I want to do something for my father and he said ‘Let’s go see the council and get something sorted’,” said Councillor Tandy.

“It’s a great success for Shrewsbury. Watching this today I can’t help thinking my father would have been so, so proud to see it.

“I hope this is an annual event every year from now on. We want more people to come to this town and see how beautiful it is.”

The race was being filmed by cameramen from Shrewsbury-based MicroVideo and screened live via the website www.shrewsburygrandprix.co.uk, as well as in the VIP tent in Shrewsbury Square, close to the start line.

Watching it, new Mayor of Shrewsbury, Councillor Beverley Baker, said: “I think the picture tells the story really – the amount of people it’s bringing into the town is unbelievable.

“It’s everything I think we should be doing, bringing tourism into the town.

“There are people everywhere, everyone’s waving, they’ve all picked their spot.”

The route wound around Shrewsbury’s tight, narrow streets from The Square, along High Street, Shoplatch, St Johns Hill, Cross Hill, Swan Hill, College Hill, Princess Street, Milk Street and then back on to the High Street.

The women’s race was followed by a 50-minute amateur race with competitors drawn from local racing clubs, and a 60-minute National B race, with cyclists from across the country, which both had 49 entrants.

The race was launched by local club Paramount Cycling Racing Team.

Mr Lawrence, racing team manager and managing director of Beaumont Lawrence, who sponsored the event along with Shrewsbury’s Stan’s Cycles, Cooper Green Pooks and Pure Telecom, said: “It’s absolutely fantastic to see how many people have turned up for the race and are out with us today, despite the few showers we’ve had.

“Thousands of people of all ages are supporting this event. It’s a great event for the town coming just before the Tour de France heads to Yorkshire, it is giving the boost, helping cycling continue to grow in this country.”

Other activities going on around the race included organised rides from various points around Shrewsbury to the Quarry park, and bicycle powered art work in The Square.

At Bellstone there were displays from Danny Butler’s Extreme Mountain Bike Show and Sustrans Bike It Officer Jess Holohan ran a slalom skills competition for school children.