The third annual RBC GranFondo Whistler rolls out this Saturday, Sept. 8 with thousands of riders at the start line — a massive mass start that could make previous years seem tame. The main reason is that organizers, in an effort to streamline the event and minimize inconveniences for communities along the route, have abandoned the separate Giro race category for pro-level road riders. The top racers will still be recognized at the end of the 122km epic from Vancouver to Whistler, but this year they'll be starting at the same time as everyone else.
Online registration for the event closed at the start of the week, but organizers are offering in-person registration at "GranFesta," taking place from noon to 8 p.m. on Sept. 6 and 7 at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
The race/ride gets underway on West Georgia Street in Vancouver at 6:45 a.m. following the national anthem, heading through Stanley Park and over the Lions Gate Bridge to Taylor Way, and the long climb to Highway 99.
This year organizers have secured additional lanes — and at least one extra lane — for the first 34km of the ride to give cyclists more room to spread out and further reducing the inconvenience for communities along the route. The feed station has also been adjusted in Squamish to keep riders moving through that community, resulting in shorter closures.
From beginning to end it's a roller coaster, with a total vertical gain of over 1,700 metres (5,000 feet), starting at sea level and finishing in Whistler Village at just under 700 metres elevation.
The top racers will average almost 40 kilometres an hour from start to finish, with the fastest male time between 3:14 and 3:15 the first two years. The top female last year was Jenny Lehmann in 3:51:58.
While a lot of riders in the event are just in it for the views and making the finish, a few have set their sights a little higher. One of them is former Paralympic skier Phil Chew, who is racing the event for the third time and looking to improve on his time once again.
In 2010, Chew finished the route in 4:31:11 in the top 25 per cent of riders. He was 1,493rd overall out of 5,387 finishers, and 305th out of 1,233 riders in the Male 50 to 59-age category. And he's a below-the-hip amputee with one leg to pedal with.
When asked if he thought he could improve on his time from last year, Chew was optimistic. "You know, I think I can," he said. "One thing that happened last year was that there was a headwind out of the Cheakamus Canyon, once you were over Brohm Ridge. Because of that a lot of people said they were slower, when I was almost 10 minutes faster, so if the weather cooperates there I think I could be faster for sure."