Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Gran Fondo Whistler

Gran Fondo Whistler is a 120km ride/race from Vancouver to Whistler, with a total of 2400m of ascent - yeeha!

I left after work on Thursday with team mate Charles, and we gunned it all the way to Kamloops, where we stopped in a random, dodgy, highway-side hotel. Next morning, we had the beats cranked as we made our way through at least 19 bouts of rain and fog...no wonder it's so green!..and got to Van by noon.

Once in town, we hit up a great bakery, Uprising Breads, and we met up with buddy Sean, who is now well and truly the high-rolling lawyer type, complete with massive, 300 sq ft, downtown Van condo. Did a short ride out to Kits' Beach and the UBC campus. That evening we walked to registration, and saw the beginnings of usual Friday night mayhem on Robson & Granville streets.

Ok, it's Saturday morning we're up insanely early, and riding the city streets, silently joined by other cyclists, converging on the start. Wild atmosphere...as the sun came up, 4000+ people have ammassed for an early rendition of the national anthem. A blast of the air-horn and the 150 Giro riders (the Gran Fondo's race group) clip in and accelerate toward Stanley Park and the Lion's Gate Bridge. It's pretty sketchy riding...the course is set up for a fun ride, so typical race course logic, like avoiding the use of pylons, was out the window. There is a strong cat 1/2/3 field in the hunt for a share of the $12,000 prize money, so pack-ninja skills are paramount. Right after the bridge, all 150 of us fill the sweeping exit ramp and try to maintain a good line to avoid crashes, all at around 50km/h - everyone's trying to look a few riders ahead to be aware, when suddenly there's a police motorcycle parked on the side! The pack is gutter to gutter, so no chance of swerving - luckily I was in the middle of the pack, and sailed past it unharmed, but I heard tyres lock up, followed by a thuds and crunches of bodies and bikes hitting a large stationary object. Ouch. Charles said he was one of them, but after sliding in sideways and a quick hip-check to the motorbike, he bounced back to straight and kept going!! Others were not so fortunate.

Next is a right turn onto Taylor Way and a hammer up the hill. Another crash, but this time low speed. Then we are on the highway. I understand the view is quite nice, but to maintain position in the pack, avoid unaligned pylons, and wheels of riders doing the same, and keep up the pace, I honestly could be riding in a tunnel. The pace is good through the rolling terrain, until we hit Furry Creek: go time! The pro boys are leading the charge up the hill, others that were at the front are going backwards; it's the general panic of selection #1. I can't quite hang with the leaders, but cresting the hill, I'm quickly joined by a dozen or so motivated dudes, and we quickly start a rolling paceline. A few kilometres of hard work and we catch the leaders as we come into Squamish, the half-way point, and we're joined by another large chase group soon after. Not long to recover: another major hill and hammer time!

Time to hurt...this time I feel better, but I can't sit on a wheel...gaps are opening ahead. I work my way forward, but I can see a major gap ahead. The yellow jersey of Gord Jewett pulls past me and he bridges. C'mon, I tell myself! Embrace the pain! I'm behind just one wheel, but I see a gap open ahead, and can't summon the energy for the sprint to make the gap. As we came up on the plateau, the 15 leaders are already ramping their speed and losing us. A group of about 10 assembles with me...paceline time! No, the group is spent. The leaders are still just a up the road. Ian Auld of Top Gear launches an attack to bridge. I also hit it, catch up, and we do some motivation-assisting two-man pacing up the hill, hurting like hell. But we aren't making ground on the leaders, and the group behind us eventually starts gaining, so we shut 'er down and assimilate back into the chase group.

There are motorbikes coming by, giving us the splits for the leaders and chase groups - cool! But we're down by 4 mintues now. I try a couple of times to get a good paceline going, but any time I raise the tempo, I'm off the front, and the four or so Trek Red Truck riders are pulling, content to let me dangle but not put time into them, so I eventually settle in with the group.

Where's Lockie? (I'm #51)
Photo: tesseract33

10km to go: a young lad from Picci attacks, joined by a Trek Red Truck rider. They get about 100 metres out, and another TRT rider attacks, joined by a 4th. I'm boxed in on the gutter. From then on, we know that this is the race. 5km to go...attacks are going, but no one can bridge to the breakaway. It is keeping our pace very high though, and we catch the break.

1km to go: The Welcome to Whistler sign suddenly appears. Nearly done! With so many TRT riders, one of them must be saving themselves. Plus there's probably fresh legs amongst the slackers in the group. There's a right and left turn just before the finish, so I attack. I hit the corner at speed and get a small break...but I'm hurting and there's a short downhill right after, so the group gets in my draft. We're strung out. There are hundreds of spectators, and I'm shocked at how loud the cheering crowd is. I lead around the last corner. But the finish is still quite a ways...I'm blowing up as the group swarms with 100 to go...I roll through in 24th.

How to do a lead out for the competition, by Lachlan. Starting 40seconds in.

What a fun race! Chatting with riders later, I hear Tyler Trace of TRT took our field sprint for 15th, and Andrew Pinfold of US pro team United Healthcare took the overall.

Sean came up that arvo and we stayed to party in Whistler Sat night, then knocked off the drive back to Calgary in one shot on Sunday.

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