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Trek Red Truck take RBC GranFondo Whistler wins

Armstrong, Rathwell wins individual titles

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Brendan Armstrong captured both individual and team honours at the RBC GranFondo Whistler on Sept. 7.

The Vancouver resident won the St. Regis Cup division of the 122-kilometre road cycling race from Stanley Park to Whistler Village, crossing the line two minutes and 16 seconds ahead of a pack of riders led by runners-up Alexander Murison and Nigel Kinney.

In a race where the winners are in a tight pack more often than not, Armstrong was thrilled to be able to have the spotlight to himself coming in across the finish.

"It felt great. I've got a lot of friends and family from the Sea to Sky corridor and a lot of them are here today, and to come into the line solo like that is a really special way to do it," said Armstrong, who attended Squamish's Quest University.

As well, with Armstrong and Murison both part of the Trek Red Truck Racing squad, the team handily walked away with the men's title in the St. Regis Cup chase.

With seven of the top 19 riders coming from the Trek Red Truck team, the opportunity was there to create a winning lane for one of the riders, and Armstrong said it just happened to break his way.

"We've got a really strong team here and the thing we went with into today was really good depth in our team. We've got strong riders the whole way through our roster, so we really needed to play off that," he said. "For me, today, it just ended up being me in the break, so it turned out well for me."

Armstrong explained that he was part of a trio for much of the latter half of the race, but managed to break away with the finish nearing.

"I followed an attack coming out of Squamish with two other riders. We rode together pretty much all the way to Whistler, and just coming into Whistler, the attack started going and I rode solo pretty much all the way to the line," he said.

On the women's side, Trek Red Truck also came away with the St. Regis Cup team title, with Victoria's Megan Rathwell leading the way to the win. Rathwell came in more than five minutes ahead of runner-up Claire Cameron and was more than seven minutes up on third-place finisher Grace Menning. Lotus Cycling, meanwhile, took home the mixed team honours.

Rathwell acknowledged that she didn't get off to the greatest start, though she ultimately managed to dodge downed riders and other obstacles to get to the front of the pack and eventually take over the lead.

"I actually wasn't positioned really well in the group. I was kind of at the back coming up to Taylor Way and it was pretty chaotic. There was some crashing, so I was trying to move up on Taylor Way and I wasted a lot of energy, I think, trying to get from Taylor Way to the Cypress area on the Upper Levels," she said.

"I was working pretty hard and I was pretty happy just to get into the front group there. For me, my goal was to make it to Squamish in the front men's group and then see how I felt at that point.

"I felt pretty good, for some reason, at that point," Rathwell added with a laugh.

Near the 80-km point, Rathwell fell back of the group, though she was still proud to hang with them for as long as she did.

Plus, Rathwell came through well clear of the other competitors in the women's category to win handily.

"I was keeping tabs on where the other women were," she said. "It was hard because there were so many men, but I remember hitting Furry Creek near Squamish and that was the biggest climb of the day at that point. Most of the women I accounted for, and a couple of them I hadn't seen when I went up the climb. I was thinking they were ahead of me.

"I didn't know if there were any in front of me, so I wasn't sure until I crossed the line and they said I had won."

In prior GranFondo events, the women had separate start times from the men, but this time around, there was a huge mass start that clumped everyone together. And even though Rathwell admittedly took the race a little less seriously than in her previous attempts, her competitive juices kicked in and she smashed her personal best on the course.

Locals hit mixed podium

Whistler residents in the St. Regis Cup contest were: Justin Homewood (41st); James Hallisey (159th) and Marla Zucht (160th), while Pemberton's Trevor Hopkins was 132nd. Hallisey, Hopkins and Zucht all helped Team Fun Hog to third in the mixed division.

Squamish's Brandi Heisterman, also part of Trek Red Truck, was 203rd.

Zucht said the early part of the race was difficult with so many riders moving so quickly, but the Team Fun Hog riders managed to sort themselves out.

"You've got to be very fast. The peloton [main group] is moving at a very quick pace and there's probably 30 or 40 people in each group," she said. "Our team was riding not completely together, but we could see each other as we moved along the Upper Levels."

One team member, Ted Battiston, was caught up in a crash of roughly 40 people on the Upper Levels, suffering road rash and a broken rib. Zucht said while the team members weren't initially aware that one of their own was down, it was still harrowing to see so many riders crash during the race.

"It definitely becomes nerve-wracking as you're seeing these accidents occurring or having to ride through them, seeing the riders injured on the road," she said. "It puts a damper on your ride, for sure. You're looking to see if you know anybody and of course, we did."

Meanwhile, in the GranFondo event, Missouri City, Texas' Jaco Cronje and Seattle's Laura Matsen Ko were the top men's and women's finishers, respectively. Numerous Sea to Sky locals took part. Those in the top 500 were: Jack McKillop (18th); Kelly Servinski (31st); Dave Heisler (68th); Mark Haldenby (102nd); Brennan Covey (121st); John Hyatt (154th); Dwayne Kress (161st); Jason Louttit (184th); James Hyndman (199th); William Geddes (215th); John Axsen (219th); Ron Enns (300th); Alex Hinkson (303rd); Julian Wells (338th); Matthias Shorter (348th); Thomas Legg (365th); John Legg (366th); Michael Legare (396th); Jeff Riemer (398th); Melanie Levesque (399th); Phil Beauregard (465th); and Benoit Reneault (483rd).

In the 152-km Forte event, which includes a climb up Cypress Mountain, Vancouver's Michael Matthews and Quebec's Laurence Baril were the top men's and women's finishers. Finishers from the Sea to Sky were: Bob Barnett (30th); Ken Chaddock (55th); Kris Duncan (68th); Sabrina Larose (89th) and Shannon Susko (190th).

In the 55-km Medio, Karine Gosselin of Montreal was the first rider in while David Rosen of Saanich was the top men's competitor. Local finishers were: Theresa Eriksson (14th); Claudie Simard (47th); Tom Honey (48th); Embyr-Lee Susko (94th); and Chris Susko (95th).

Roughly 5,000 riders took part in this year's event.

For more, check out racedaytiming.ca.

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