People have been racing bicycles in some form or another for about 144 years and the Tour de France just turned 99 but Whistler’s premier road cycling event enters only its third year as the RBC GranFondo Whistler rolls into town this Saturday, September 8, 2012.
A 122km closed-road cycling epic that starts in downtown Vancouver and finishes in Whistler Village, the GranFondo attracts thousands of participants willing to grind and gruel their way from sea level up into the mountains. And they do it, mostly, for pure fun.
“The Sea to Sky highway is listed as one of the top destinations for driving,” says GranFondo founder Kevin Thomson, “So to have that same route as a cycling experience… it increases the enjoyment of it so much and has all the elements of an epic adventure – can I make it from this one beautiful location to this other beautiful location, and challenge myself on all this incredible terrain along the way.”
And there should be plenty of adrenaline flowing for GranFondo. The elevation gain from Vancouver to Whistler is about 700 metres but the riders will actually climb over 1700 vertical metres of various hills. They’ll also enjoy over 1000 vertical metres of downhill slopes, enabling the top racers to reach speeds of up to 80 km/hour.
“The trick is, don’t think about the hills. Or at least think of them one at a time,” says Tony Routley, President of Team Whistler, a group of local core riders who compete on mountain and road bikes all over North America. Tony raced the GranFondo last year and says, “It can be miserable if you look too far ahead, just focus on the fun and the scenery and the people you are riding with.”
Fun is really the name of the game. While a handful of racers will be making a run at the fastest time (last year’s top finishers were all in around 3.5 hours), for most people the event is about training, committing, and going for it.
Whistler local Ro Davies is an avid mountain biker staring down his first Granfondo. “Last time I was on a road bike I was 11 years old and riding it like a BMX on dirt hills,” he says. “I’m not trying to be first across the line I just want a new perspective on challenging myself. I’m doing it for fun so I think I will be resisting the leg shave…”
Ah yes. The tradition of male cyclists shaving their legs gets brought up almost anytime road biking is mentioned. Popular rumours claim the practice is for aerodynamics and speed but to get a more concrete answer The Whistler Insider hit the streets and asked around at some of our local bike shops. To ensure honest answers and avoid egos or hurt feelings we didn’t ask anyone’s name and they didn’t offer…
Regardless of your grooming habits, Summit Sport, near the base of Whistler Mountain, is the local go-to shop for road bike rentals, sales and more for anyone who wants to hop on a skinny-tired bike and try a sport that’s being called “the next golf.”
As far as the GranFondo goes, come cheer on the participants this Saturday. Whistler local Dave Reid is a dark horse for a strong finish this year and Otto Kamstra has also been training hard and is looking really strong. There are no ideal spots for spectators to stop on the side of the highway so the finish line in Whistler is really your best bet to watch some action.
Plus, there’s a celebration party/free concert starting at 6 pm at the Whistler Olympic Plaza. The Paperboys and She Stole My Beer will be performing and you can bet there’ll be a lot of spandex, shaved legs, hairy legs, and smiles from people who’ve just done something extraordinary in one of the most beautiful spots in the country.