Monday, September 8, 2014

RBC GranFondo Whistler Sept 6, 2014

Author: Les Becker

This report is a bit late and I’ve talked to many of my Cyclopath friends about the ride but want to submit the blog it as a reminder to encourage any of you to consider riding this with me next year, September 12, 2015.

Cindy and I drove to Vancouver, B.C. Friday so I could ride the 76 mile, 5500 feet of climbing, Vancouver to Whistler GranFondo. The plan was for me to leave our hotel in downtown Vancouver at 6:00am and ride to the start line in Stanley Park only 15 minutes away. Cindy would get up at a more decent hour, have a leisurely morning, check out of the hotel, and then drive to Whistler to pick me up at the finish. As we arrived at our hotel the day before, we became concerned about the neighborhood with noisy bars, and directly across the street was a naughty underwear store.  The hotel entrance was by back alley. We drove past a group of men looking to be in their 30’s, wearing tank tops, tattoos and wild colored hair, just hanging out looking to have no reassuring purpose, so that didn’t help. After checking in at the desk, we drove to the gated parking garage under the hotel that had instructions to pause after going through the gated entrance to “ensure against theft.” As we entered the stark, concrete, secluded parking structure, Cindy immediately said, “I’m going to leave with you in the morning because I’m not going into this garage alone,” and I said, “good.” That meant she would have to get up much earlier than planned, but the extra driving time that afforded her turned out to be useful. You see, the careful instructions I gave her for driving out of Vancouver involved going over the Lion’s Gate Bridge which, unknown to me until I was on my bike racing, was closed to outbound car traffic to make room for the race. She later told me it took an hour and a half of driving around Vancouver and getting bad directions to finally get out of the city. I owe her big.

As I rode in the low light of predawn, down paths in Stanley Park toward the start, more and more bicycles appeared from all directions in a sort of mystical convergence. Then the loud raucous banter of the MC over microphone as we approached the start area and organized into starting corrals according to anticipated ride time. I had a hard time estimating my time since this course did not resemble any of our Cyclopath rides for a good comparison. I guessed 4.5 to 5 hours and placed myself at that position and waited. With about 3,000 riders, there were hundreds in front of me and hundreds behind.

 I didn’t hear a starting gun but the slow rollout began and I finally started moving forward in the cool but comfortable morning. It was fun to zip over the Lion’s Gate Bridge with 3 lanes for bicycles and just one for cars. The first 43 miles followed the coast but was not flat, always rollers and some hills 300-500ft so pacelines were disrupted with the frequent grade changes almost as soon as formed. But it was so fun to have traffic completely blocked off, giving us two full lanes of the 4 lane smooth asphalt hiway all the way to Squamish where the main hill started. At many intersections, small groups of people were cheering us on and ringing cowbells. At one place a brass quartet played beside the road and further up the hill a guy banging out a fast rhythm on a full drum set. A few places were marked with event signs saying simply “Slow” so I looked for a hazard like gravel or a sharp turn, but all that followed was a huge sweeping steep downhill. I guess they were warning about going too fast but pavement was smooth, no cars and 49mph happened without trying. I felt like I was riding well, but anticipating lots of climbing ahead I was staying within my means. One experienced rider at the start line told me there is a steep pitch close to the finish that kicks butt. The main hill has lots of 5-6% grade and fair amount up to 10%. So my low gear of 34-26 turned out to be adequate. I took my one rest stop half way up the hill since had run out of fluids. When I reached to top of the main hill, I was puzzled and a bit disappointed not to find any steep killer pitch were I could use some energy I’d saved. But there were 6 miles of gentle rollers and headwind before the finish and no good pacelines. I didn’t want to finish with gas in the tank so I rode hard tucking in behind the many small groups that had splintered mostly into 2’s and 3’s, passing many and bridging gaps. The protected finishing stretch into Whistler Village was lined with cheering crowds.  The wholAe experience gave me a glimpse what real racers experience. I finished 21st out of 205 in my classification and felt satisfied.

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