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No shortage of stories at GranFondo

Event celebrates its fifth year in Whistler



Kathie Leitch didn't mince words when asked how her GranFondo ride was last weekend.

"It was unadulterated hell," she said.

"It was too hot... I stopped at the three last aid stations and just had them pour pitchers of cold water on me until I was squishing away. My shoes were soaked, my head was soaked, but it really kept me going."

The heat would prove to be too much for some riders, but Leitch finished the 122-km ride with a time of 8:44:19.

Three days later, she celebrated her 80th birthday.

But Saturday's marathon was nothing new for Leitch — just two weeks earlier she rode in GranFondo Banff, finishing that ride with a time of 8:30:23.

How does she do it?

"I just can't help it. It's like Lady Gaga says. I was born this way," Leitch said.

Good-natured, well spoken and funny, it's hard not to feel inspired talking to Leitch.

"I don't think I'm an inspiration. I just do it because I feel better," she said.

"And you know, when you get old, things kind of start to depress you, because you never know what's going to happen within the next few years... (you just have to) get out and do it and get the endorphins moving and you feel better about life."

This year's event posted similar numbers to last year, with about 3,500 riders hitting the road.

With that many cyclists, stories like Leitch's are easy to come across.

"There are so many stories. There are people that get engaged on the finish line, there are people who are celebrating anniversaries and milestones, there are people who are celebrating sobriety," said Neil McKinnon, founder and "chief enthusiast" of GranFondo.

"The stories that I personally love the most — and we probably get five or 10 of these after every GranFondo — is somebody will email us and say, 'You know what, I was out of shape, I had problems in my life, and I put a date on the calendar that was a goal, and it allowed me to get out there and focus on that goal and it's changed my life.'

"Those are the stories that impact me the most."

There's plenty of personal impact in an event that revolves around personal and group accomplishment, but in its five years in Whistler, GranFondo has come to impact the community as well.

"I think that it elevates the community here," McKinnon said.

"It elevates the international reputation of Whistler, not only as an international ski destination, not only as a summertime destination, but as an international biking destination."

Three years ago, an Economic Impact Assessment report showed the GranFondo generated $8.2 million in economic activity in B.C., $2.7 million of which was in Whistler.

A few minor tweaks to this year's edition — moving the start from downtown Vancouver to Stanley Park and allowing family access to the beer gardens at Whistler Olympic Plaza — meant that things went more smoothly than ever.

"The start went off smoothly and the finish was great," said Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

"There was the additional liquor licensing... (so) that we didn't have to have the pen for people who wanted to go and have a beer," she added with a laugh.

"It was very adult-oriented but all the families were there. It was just a great day."

Stretching from Vancouver to Whistler, the GranFondo is unique in its ability to tie the communities of the Sea to Sky corridor together.

"It's so great to see the support, to see the fans out in Squamish and Lions Bay and Britannia Beach, cheering on and supporting the riders," Wilhelm-Morden said.

"There's always a few grumbles about road closures and difficulties getting around, but I think for the most part, all the communities in the Sea to Sky corridor really appreciate this event."