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GranFondo returning to corridor

Medio riders to finish in Whistler once again

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Working diligently on Labour Day Monday, the RBC GranFondo organizers continued their task to provide a memorable race this Saturday, Sept. 9.

Roughly 4,500 riders are expected to participate in the ride, which includes the 152-kilometre Forte, the 55-km Medio and, with a cash purse of $50,000, the 122-km Giro, bringing some of the world's top riders.

"We've been on a strong growth curve and we're expecting to maintain the same numbers as last year at about 4,500 athletes," organizer Neil McKinnon said.

McKinnon said though he's not entirely sure which riders will line up at the start in Stanley Park on Saturday morning, the H&R Block and Trek Red Truck teams are committed to dressing some of the continent's top racers. McKinnon revealed that Squamish's Geoff Kabush, a two-time Olympic cross-country rider who also took on the B.C. Bike Race earlier this summer, is on track to race on Saturday as well.

"The rosters don't really get filled until the Friday before the event," McKinnon said. "They keep it real close to their chest."

McKinnon said the Giro purse is the largest for a single-day cycling event in North America, making it a desirable prize. Both the men's and women's winners will receive $15,000.

McKinnon said that numbers for the super-sized Forte, where riders ramble up Cypress Mountain before joining the GranFondo-course athletes up to Whistler, are up about 20 per cent for a field of about 300.

"Those numbers are very strong this year for some reason. We don't know why," he said. "They're the guys that leave early. They leave just after 6 a.m. from Stanley Park and climb up Cypress at (dawn) and descend with sweeping views of Vancouver."

Another theory McKinnon espoused was the prize at the end, in addition to the journey itself. After completing a route with over 2,500 metres of vertical, Forte finishers will receive what he terms a "badass medal," which weighs in at two pounds (0.9 kg).

"We think it is one of the most-coveted rides in all of cycling," he said. "I think our numbers are going to swell just because people want those medals."

The Medio event, which begins in Squamish, will cross the finish line in Whistler this year after one year away. Last year, riders started in Vancouver, finished in Squamish and were then bussed to Whistler."What people were telling us in our rider feedback survey is they preferred having that thunderous welcome when people arrived at Whistler. It is something incredibly unique in cycling," he said, adding many rides don't finish in urban settings.

McKinnon encouraged anyone who hasn't been to the finish line on Blackcomb Way West to come check it out on Saturday, as it will be staffed with more emcees and dressed to the nines this year. The party in Whistler Olympic Plaza with Ruckus Deluxe starting at 1:30 p.m. is also open to the public.

Though outright road closures will be minimal, with Village Gate Boulevard between Northlands Boulevard and Blackcomb Way closed between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. and Blackcomb Way West closed between 5 a.m. and 6 p.m., there will be delays south of Whistler Village. Traffic between Horseshoe Bay and Squamish will be affected between 6 a.m. and noon, between Squamish and Whistler between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. and within Whistler between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. with stops, slow speeds and detours. Day Lot 4 will also be closed to vehicles this Friday and Saturday (Sept. 8 and 9). More information on traffic effects is available at www.whistler.ca.

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