After a season of racing 200km-plus events in Europe for a pro continental team, Whistler's Will Routley had other riders shaking their heads in the fourth annual RBC GranFondo Whistler on Saturday, Sept. 7.
Routley spent some of the 122km ride pedalling alongside his father Tony, exploded out of the pack for the Squamish Sprint and King/Queen of the Mountain sections, connected with some former pro teammates along the way, dropped back a few times to take in the sheer size of the event, led the chase pack when things got a little more serious and then controlled the challenging second half of the ride from Squamish to Whistler.
While Routley said the emphasis was fun and participation, any event with a timer and some prizes on the line becomes a race. And this is one event the former national road champion simply had to win.
"I am kind of sand-bagging, but it's a home event and I'd never done it before, and I wanted to come across the finish line first in Whistler," he said.
As predicted, Routley said the event was more of a ride than a race until Squamish.
"We started in the rain and it was virtually still dark because it was so early in the morning, and so we just sort of cruised out at the beginning for a while — just a few guys rode away," he said. "Actually, Richard Wooles, the head coach who runs Cycling BC, was one of them, and he led for the first half of the race which was pretty cool.
"But nobody was riding super hard and nobody really raced until they were racing each other for the King of the Mountain and Squamish Sprint and those prizes about halfway through. Coming out of Squamish we picked up the pace a little bit but we still weren't going that fast. And I was like, man, I'm going to have to push the pace a little bit more or those three up front are going to win.
"So I started to ride a little harder and before I knew it, it was just Cam (Evans) and another guy. Just the three of us rode away and we caught the other guys up front. I was expecting the group to stay together for a little while longer, but then I pushed a little more coming into the Cheakamus Canyon, and Cam stayed with me and we just stayed together from there."
Routley's chip time was three hours, 21 minutes and 11 seconds, with an exhausted Evans crossing the line 11 seconds later. The next chase group of four riders came in 3:23:32, led by Nigel Kinney. Geoff Kabush, one of Canada's top mountain bike racers was fourth to Kinney by eight seconds.
For Evans, who used to race with Routley for Team Symmetrics, it was a tough finish.
"I was just hoping to hang onto Will's wheel from Squamish onwards," he said. "He was nice enough to wait for me, otherwise he probably would have finished well ahead and dropped me way before that. Everyone knows Squamish onwards is the tough part, which it was, and I was lucky enough to tag the right wheel. Routley lost me on those rollers at the end there, and I was just happy to make it to the finish line at that point. He could have dropped me whenever he wanted to, he's a nice guy."
For Geoff Kabush, a member of the national cross-country team, the ride filled a gap in his always-busy schedule, and once he was in the event he knew he was going to try his best.
"The worlds in South Africa and World Cup season just wrapped up, and I was looking for some fun stuff to race in the fall," he said. "This was an easy way to get a good workout and transition into cyclocross. I've also relocated back to North Vancouver recently, and it was nice to see some friends riding in the GranFondo."
Kabush said he actually spends a lot of time on his road bike training for cross-country events, as well as on his cyclocross bike. "I ride all kinds of bikes, they're all fun, and I enjoy all the sports and different disciplines," he said.