Saturday, September 12, 2015

2015_09_12 Vancouver to Whistler Gran Fondo (Mike Hassur's Perspective)

Author:  Mike Hassur

If one of the goals of a Puyallup Cyclopath ride is to create lasting memories for each of us, then last Saturday’s Vancouver to Whistler Gran Fondo was an unqualified success.  The trip had everything:  anxiety, uncertainty, mental fatigue, physical exhaustion, exhilaration, and lots of camaraderie.

The trip was complicated, and we spent a lot of time trying to figure out the logistics.  The crux of the problem was that the race started in Vancouver and finished 74 miles away in Whistler.  We were staying both Friday and Saturday nights in Whistler, so the challenge was to figure out how to get all five riders (Leon, Tom, Les, Dwaine, and Mike) and all five bikes to the starting line and still have enough vehicles in Whistler to get us (and our bikes) back the next day.

Finally, we settled on the following plan:
1.       We would take three vehicles (Mike’s van, Les’ van, and Tom’s Suburban)
2.       We would unload our bikes at a storage unit in Vancouver that was close to the starting line and that told Leon that they would store our bikes over night (Friday night) for free
3.       We would pick up our registration materials in Vancouver and then drive all three vehicles to Whistler
4.       All five of us would ride down from Whistler early Saturday morning in Tom’s Suburban, get our bikes out of the storage unit, and ride to the starting line (leaving Tom’s vehicle at the storage unit until we returned on Sunday morning)
5.       We would do the race ending up back in Whistler
6.       The next morning (Sunday) we  would load all the bikes and riders into the two vans that were still in Whistler, drive down to Vancouver to pick up Tom’s Suburban, and head home

That was our plan.  We thought that it was a pretty solid plan and were feeling good about it, BUT things don’t always go according to plan… ????  Suffice it to say that I was mentally exhausted by the time we went to bed Friday night.  I’ll leave it to Leon’s post regarding this ride which will be posted tomorrow to fill in Friday’s frustrating  details.

The race itself was pretty straight forward.  Riders as far as the eye could see in front of us and
behind us at the starting line in Vancouver’s Stanley Park.  Groups of riders were ordered according to their predicted finish time.  We had decided to join the 4 – 4.5 hour group of riders (which ended up being a pretty accurate prediction).  Everyone started together with the fastest groups at the front of the pack and the slowest at the back.  We rode a couple of miles in a “neutral rollout” until we got out of the park.  The term “neutral rollout” was dubious at best.  The roads were narrow in the park and a lot of the riders had too much adrenaline, too much energy, and too little sense.  We didn’t see any accidents, but there were a number of “close calls”.

As we left the park, we rode over the Lion’s Gate Bridge and into North Vancouver.  We quickly made our way up to Canada’s Highway #1 where the race organizers had two lanes closed and dedicated to the cyclists.  Once we got on Highway #1, people really started to take off.  Our group of five stayed together, found pace lines that fit our pace, and made our way to the beginning of the “Sea to Sky Highway (highway #99)” which would take us up to Whistler.

Once on highway 99, our group started to gradually move forward.  There were no big climbs at this point, but the road was always going up or down with few prolonged flat portions. 

At about 29 miles into the ride, we came to the “Gran  Fondo Whistler – Furry Creek Climb”.  This was a one mile climb with an average grade of 6-7%.  It was a “race within a race” as it was timed for all of the Gran Fondo riders with cash prizes given to the top overall times.  Due to a lack of training over the past month (pinched nerve in neck with secondary tingling/discomfort in right arm), I was not confident that I could maintain my form to the end of the race; so, at the bottom of this particular climb, I decided to see how many people I could pass on the way up (there were a load of folks making their way up the climb, and we passed a lot of them).  I learned later that Leon followed me and was close behind when we got to the top and the rest of our group was about 200 yards behind. 

After cresting the top of the Furry Creek Climb, Leon and I latched on to some larger rider who ended up descending the other side at a high rate of speed.  For the next 40 miles or so (a section that included a lot of climbs), we would maintain our position and sort of rest by following some fast guys on the downhills and the few flat sections that we encountered; and we would make up ground on most of the rest of the riders around us on the uphills.  It was a good strategy and worked well right up until the time that fatigue got the best of me about six miles from the finish.  By this time; Dwaine, Les, and Tom had caught up with us.  From there on in; Dwaine, Leon, and Tom were ahead and riding strong, while Les and I rode to the finish together.  Thank you, Les.

In the end, the time difference between the first guy in our group to finish (Dwaine) and the last (Les and me) was about 3 minutes.  Dwaine could have gone significantly faster had he not held back for a good part of the race to make sure that everyone on our team had adequate support.  We had three riders in the 60 – 69 age group (Leon, Les, and Mike) who all placed in the top 10 out of 220 riders in that age group, and Tom Peterson – who is recovering from back surgery  - ended up riding a VERY STRONG race (he looked fully recovered to me)!!

This delicious food sort of went to waste - I was so fatigued that I wasn't very hungry...

The next morning Tom, Les, and I walked to Starbucks and then took a walk through a local park and along a beautiful golf course.  A fitting “capper” to this wonderful trip occurred as we walked beside the golf course and spotted a large black bear “grazing” in the middle of the fairway adjacent to us – unbelievable!!


This was a wonderful adventure, and I believe that it will always be toward the top of my list of favorite Puyallup Cyclopath rides/experiences.  Thanks to Les, Leon, Tom, and Dwaine for a special memory. 

To see all of the photos associated with this ride, click on the following link:  Vancouver to Whistler Gran Fondo Photos

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