The RBC GranFondo Whistler is returning this Saturday, Sept. 8 with a focus on teamwork.
The hotly contested individual pro race, the Giro, is postponed this year and next leading into the local race doubling as the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships in 2020.
Instead, the centrepiece of this year's event will be the brand-new St. Regis Cup, a team-based race that organizer Neil McKinnon hopes will bring a new kind of rider to the GranFondo.
"The plan is to create something that gets more people involved in the competitive element of it in a way that's not too daunting or where the barrier to entry is too high," he said. "In the Gran Fondo World Championships in 2020, you have to be in the top 25 per cent of your age bracket. Going into the Giro, you have to be a Cat 1, Cat 2 or Cat 3 racer. With the St. Regis Cup, we'll still have the Cat 1, Cat 2, Cat 3 riders in there, but they'll be challenging age groupers who are almost as strong, which will get them in line with their aspirations for 2020."
In the race, which will follow the traditional 122-kilometre route from Stanley Park to Whistler Village, McKinnon expects to see 200 athletes in three categories—men's, women's and mixed. Each team consists of between five and eight riders and will help boost the event's overall participation totals.
"The Giro was a very small component of the RBC GranFondo Whistler," he said, noting last year, there were 90 of the elite riders among the 3,400 general registrants.
Pender Racing p/b Bicicletta team captain Bill Semrau said the club has confirmed it will enter teams in the men's and mixed categories with the hope of entering a women's team as well.
"We're really excited about it. We're a masters race team, so it's always difficult to go up against the young bloods anyways," he said. "Our men's team has always been diluted from having some of our stronger men take part in the Giro, and now, we're really happy to present a really strong men's team.
"On the mixed side, we're just happy for the elevated profile."
After winning the mixed category in the 2016 GranFondo Whistler, Semrau hopes for a repeat of the feat this year.
"It's a matter of pacing and going out as hard as we can," said Semrau, who will compete on the mixed side. "We have a couple returning members from that team, so they know what to expect.
"There are a few different strategies that we'll put together. Part of it will be weather-dependent and part of it will be who we're lining up against."
Semrau said the start should be a little more seamless than during the 2016 win, as St. Regis Cup riders will start separately, as opposed to with the general riding population.
In other GranFondo developments, the shorter 55-km Medio race has solved its long-standing problem of an underwhelming start or finish away from the main group by holding both in Whistler. In past years, the ride has started in Vancouver only to end with little fanfare in Squamish, or start quietly in Squamish to end with the larger group in Whistler.
This year, the riders will head south from Whistler Village into the Callaghan before returning.
"They want the excitement of the event and before, we just couldn't offer either a spectacular start or a spectacular finish. It was one or the other, and now, we can offer both," he said.
McKinnon invited fans to come to Whistler Olympic Plaza to cheer on the riders and take in Neil Diamond tribute group Nearly Neil and the Solitary Band (see page 68), an act that McKinnon was thrilled to land as part of the Resort Municipality of Whistler's (RMOW) Whistler Presents series.
"I was so excited when the RMOW said that they were putting him that weekend," he said. "People are really excited to dance to 'Sweet Caroline.'"
The ride comes with northbound traffic impacts between 5:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., with Highway 99 having a reduced speed limit of 60 km/h in some sections. Residents on the east side of Highway 99 between Cheakamus Crossing and Village Gate Boulevard should expect delays accessing the highway.
A full list of traffic impacts is available at www.rbcgranfondo.com.