11 Sept. saw me head off with 2 friends in the inaugural Gran Fondo
Whistler. The route was 120km from downtown Vancouver to Whistler.
While short for a Gran Fondo, it includes 2400m of climbing (and 1750m
descending) along a lumpy Sea to Sky Highway. The Sea to Sky is
renowned as one of the most picturesque drives in Canada.
The forecast called for rain. The weatherman was wrong and 4000 entrants saw blue skies and moderate temperatures for a great day on the bike. The start took us through Stanley Park and over Lion’s Gate Bridge. These roads are normally closed to bikes and excited the locals. We then headed up onto the dual carriageway towards Whistler. The road was open to cars, but one lane and a shoulder was closed for the event. Thousands of orange cones (aka pylons) divided the road into sections for car and bike.
After 60km some guy riding in tri bars ahead of me clipped a pylon. The pylon wobbled then fell directly in front of me and I was flipped into the air at 45kph on impact. My bike and kit are ok as my head took the force of landing. I was wearing a helmet, which did its job has been replaced. The helmet showed crush damage on the side and back and the foam cracked through in six places. I am glad I wore a helmet and am lucky I am ok.
After collecting belongings scattered in the yard sale resulting from my crash I carried on. I was a little woozy and unable to get much power into the pedals any more. A kindly fellow rider coming up behind overheard me discuss my crash with another cyclist and handed up some Advil (ibuprofen). At the next feed, with food provided by one of Whistler’s fancier restaurants, I emailed my host to let him know I’d rung my bell pretty hard and was going to wait there a few minutes to ensure no symptom suggested I should abandon.
My host emailed back to say he’d also crashed and was waiting with an incapacitated bike a few kms away, with his wife en route to pick him up. I rode up the climb to him. Breathing was a struggle and I was light-headed, which put me off continuing. Once the car arrived we put our bikes in the rack, packed our disappointment into our respective suitcases of courage and drove to Whistler for a DNF and a beer. We are both fine now. The third of my party finished uneventfully.
Notwithstanding the result for 2/3 of my party the event was excellent, particularly as a first try. The overall standard of riding was fine, and my group’s crashes were flukey. Sign-on was smooth and the attendant queues moved quickly. Instructions were clear. Route markings were impossible to miss and the route itself is scenic, interesting, fast and technically challenging. Next year, the route could improve if organizers agree with a Vancouver residents’ association on traffic concerns and route the city portion closer to the water.
The feed stations were well-stocked and the overall level of support was good. Mechanical assistance was available from follow-cars for Cat 1/2/3 riders in the concurrent Provincial level race, starting 10mns in front of the Fondo, and at aid stations along the route. Organizers bussed riders from Whistler to Vancouver after the event so everyone who wanted to could participate in an after-party in Whistler (one night’s hotel stay required). The after-party went late.
I entered again for 2011 and encourage TCC members interested in a non-skiing trip to Vancouver to consider it also. Downsides include a steep entry fee (C$225) and a 9hr flight from London , both of which can arguably be justified if part of a bigger vacation, roads interrupted by a rumble strip down the middle of much of the race course and pylons that can be knocked around by riders. These road issues both caused crashes, but I struggle to see a way around them for organizers. Room on the shoulders of the road for repairs was limited (the shoulder was frequently a steep verge or a cliff face). Tri-bars should be banned altogether next year rather than “strongly discouraged”.
It would be great to see a few TCC riders balance out the downsides against the upsides of a well-run event along a scenic route between two fun cities you might want to see anyway. Feel free to get in touch. Vancouver is a great city to visit and I’m sure Whistler is no secret. Make a week or two of things!