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Gran Fondo Worlds coming to Whistler in 2020

Race organizer excited for chance to showcase the Sea to Sky

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The RBC GranFondo Whistler will be supersized in three years' time.

The 2020 edition of the race will also fold in the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Gran Fondo World Championships as part of the race's programming for that year.

"It's a project we've been working on for years, actually," RBC GranFondo Whistler founder Neil McKinnon said. "With the RBC GranFondo Whistler, we know we have something that is very unique in cycling, which is a dedicated lane from start to finish. This isn't just unique for North America.

"There are very few events that let you do that, where you have your own lane or you're separated from cars."

Even rarer, McKinnon said, are events starting in an urban setting like Vancouver and ending in a resort like Whistler.

"You're going all the way up an incredible roadway to a world-class destination like Whistler," he said.

The racers at the World Championship, McKinnon explained, will be those who qualify as an age-grouper through the UCI Gran Fondo World Series.

"This is essentially the Olympics for the age-groupers of recreational cycling," he said. "We were very interested in being part of that, but we were very interested in being the world championship."

With Europeans dominating the UCI Gran Fondo ridership, the organization only holds its world championship race off the continent once every three to four years, McKinnon explained.

"As it turned out, the availability for 2020 came up and we worked very closely with the City of Vancouver, Tourism Vancouver, the RMOW and Tourism Whistler to create a compelling opportunity to bring the World Championships to our event," he said. "What it does is elevates us on an international stage.

"It's our opportunity to show the world the world-class cycling that we have."

Those who hope to ride in the regular GranFondo events in 2020 will still have the opportunity, McKinnon noted, as the World Championships will kick off first shortly before the regularly scheduled programming.

"It'll be a little more spread out but it doesn't preclude anybody. It's not an elite event that's going to keep anybody from doing the event," he said. "We think it'll add more life, more colour and more vibrancy to the experience for everybody involved."

The final test, McKinnon explained, came earlier this month when UCI officials came to check out the 2017 race. Though it was a cold and rainy day, it still went off relatively smoothly.

UCI Gran Fondo World Series manager Erwin Vervecken noted Japan had also made a strong bid for the race, but with the GranFondo Whistler already established, Canada won out.

"It's a very well-organized event with high-quality communication," said Vervecken, who attended this year's race. "UCI chose to go to the west, and the biggest event in the west is GranFondo Whistler so it was the perfect match."

While the Vancouver-to-Whistler course will be shorter than some of the other World Championship routes, at 122-kilometres against the usual 140 to 150 km, Vervecken said the amount of climbing makes up for the decrease in distance.

"It's a challenging course so it's not too bad to have a shorter distance," he said.

Citing attendance figures from other Gran Fondo World Championships, McKinnon said the race could bring "up to another 2,000 unique visitors to the event." Vervecken, meanwhile, said many visitors to World Championships stay in the area for about 10 to 15 days.

Tourism Whistler (TW) senior manager of research and product development Meredith Kunza said Sport Hosting Vancouver approached Whistler about making the bid, and after weighing the pros and cons, TW decided it was worth making a pitch.

"Certainly, there's a lot of opportunity from our perspective," she said. "Typically, the GranFondo is a regional audience from Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. Having the World Championships would help us expand that audience to a more destination market and we know that destination visitors stay longer and spend more.

"It would improve the economic impact of the event."

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