The RBC GranFondo Whistler Giro is going pro this year.
The race, organizers announced on June 18, has received Cycling BC sanctioning, officially allowing pro riders to compete in the Sept. 12 race.
Receiving sanctioning provides a major relief to riders holding a Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) license, according to GranFondo cycling specialist Doug Smith. In 2013, the UCI began enforcing a rule banning all its license holders from non-sanctioned events more stringently. Though the organization vowed to back off a year later, many cyclists opted to stay on the cautious side with the rule officially on the books rather than risk fines or suspension.
"A lot of the pro riders don't know what's up," Smith said. "They don't know if the UCI is going to suddenly backpedal or not, so they're always afraid to enter non-sanctioned events."
Smith has high hopes for this year's race, but doesn't know exactly how many pro riders to expect at this point.
"We only just received sanctioning," he said. "We're going to limit it to about 200 (pro) riders."
One of the major draws is the top male and female rider will each receive $15,000. Smith said the prize money was in place first, and organizers figured sanctioning was the next logical step.
"We now have $50,000 in prize money we're giving away. It's one of the largest prize purses for a one-day event, so you've got to get rid of all the shady stuff," he said. "By sanctioning, it means that we have UCI commissaires on board, so everybody will be judged fairly according to UCI rules."
Smith said some behaviours that will be watched more closely include passing outside the "cone zone" and teammates dropping back to help insulate and pull another team member to the finish line.
"I'm hoping it will instill confidence in the riders," he said. "It will make them race a little bit more professionally."
Splitting the money equally between men and women is also a new development this year, one that Smith hopes will boost the number of women attending with an eye on winning a significant prize.
"We're hoping to attract more pro and semi-pro women," he said.
With the Tour of Alberta slated for Sept. 2 through 7, the hope is riders who have travelled for that race will stick around Western Canada to attend the GranFondo.
Additionally, Smith noted the race intends to donate roughly $50,000 to Cycling BC's iRide program, which introduces young people aged six to 16 to cycling.