GranFondo weekend – Sept. 10 & 11


This is part 2 of my GranFondo 2010 experience. Have a look at part 1 for a quick recap of how I got to this point in my 6-month transformation into a road cyclist 🙂

The race/ride from downtown Vancouver to Whistler (~122 km. or 76 miles) along the Sea To Sky Highway would start at 7:00 am Saturday September 11. My final preparations for the ride started in Squamish about 24 hours prior to that, and this is an account of the highlights of my GranFondo “weekend” on Friday and Saturday.

Friday Morning

I had arranged for the day off work, so this was a chance to sleep in a bit, and then enjoy coffee and breakfast on my deck facing the Chief. I had left my bike at Dale and Tracy’s place in North Vancouver, after a last ride with Dale 2 days earlier. So, I only had to pack the clothing I needed for the day of the ride. With predictions of wet, cool weather I prepared 2 sets of apparel and hoped I would only need the clothing for drier weather 🙂

Friday Afternoon

Caught the Greyhound bus just before noon, which deposited me in downtown Vancouver about an hour later – right at Burrard & Georgia where the ride would begin in just 18 hours! I still had to pick up my race package, but not before a little shopping at the Apple Store in Pacific Centre. It’s not everyday that I get into the big city so I wanted to take advantage of it, but alas it was just browsing. I did not see any accessories I wanted for my new IPhone 4, and could not justify another splurge on something like the iPad 🙁

I then made my way to Canada Place to pick up my race package, only to find a long line snaking way out onto the pier outside. It turned out to be about a 45-minute wait to get in, and another half-hour once inside to get processed. Not too bad, but I think the organizers need to streamline this a bit, especially if plans proceed to grow the race from it’s first year of 4,000 riders to 6,000 next year, and 10,000 eventually! I ran into a few people I knew, including Greg who has helped us with the Knee Knacker race for many years. We wandered off for a coffee (and carrot cake), and a chance to talk about the upcoming ride. Greg was not participating but was able to offer sage advice to this cycling rookie, drawn from his many years of triathlon experience (including Ironman). We agreed that given the mass start and amount of riders along the route, the main goal for me was to stay on the bike 🙂 Thanks, Greg!

Friday Evening

I would be having dinner and staying at Dale and Tracy’s, so I hopped the SeaBus to meet Dale and get a ride up the hill with him. They took great care of me as I made my final preparations for the ride the next day. We enjoyed an awesome BBQ steak dinner prepared by Dale and a few large bottles I brought down from the Howe Sound Brewery. The unanimous choice for top brew that night was the Honey Pale Ale. I was not the greatest company after dinner, as I started hinting at going to bed around 9:00 pm and finally retired an hour later after setting the alarm for 5:00 am the next morning.

Saturday Pre-Ride

I slept quite soundly, which was a bit of a surprise compared to the nights before my running races. I sure can’t complain about that. Had a quick, light breakfast before loading the rest of my stuff into Dale’s vehicle and heading downtown. A small surprise that we could not get onto the Lions Gate Bridge from North Van, as closures for the ride had already begun. It required a minor detour to West Van, and before we knew it we saw the masses on Georgia Street.

Here is a brief video of the scene from the back of the corral for riders hoping to ride between 5 and 6 hours, just 20 minutes before the start:

Saturday Ride

The timing for events leading up to the 7:00 am start was bang-on – Mark Donnelly leading us in “Oh Canada” (as he does for Canucks games) at 6:45 am, followed by the Giro (100 or so serious racers) start at 6:50 am. The remaining 3,900 riders did get sent off at 7:00 am, but it took me almost 13 minutes to walk my bike the 3 blocks from my starting spot to the actual start line! Another area of improvement required for future GranFondos – perhaps a wave start as used by the Sun Run?

Once I hopped on the bike, I did manage to get up to speed fairly quick and almost all riders looked quite comfortable riding in groups. As we started the first significant climb through Stanley Park up to the Lions Gate Bridge, there was even more space between the riders and from there to Whistler there was never much of an issue of congestion amongst the 4,000 riders.

Crossing the Lions Gate Bridge on the roadway rather than the sidewalk was a real treat as it felt much smoother. In fact, I felt quite privileged to be riding along the roadway the entire way up to Whistler after a few months of using the shoulders with their rumble strips and other bicycle hazards. Of course we did pay good bucks for this privilege, but it was money well spent as far as I’m concerned. The other thing we paid for was the aid stations – 3 of them before Squamish and 2 more after. And of course, Squamish itself had the best station of all at roughly the half-way point in the ride. It was called Corsa Sosta, and put together by our local bike shop, Corsa Cycles. It felt like quite the party atmosphere, and most of us did not want to leave. Besides the usual race food, there was a tremendous spread put on by Bearfoot Bistro – Greek pasta salad, hot pizza bread and wine!

Here is another brief video I shot of the Corsa Sosta feed stop in Squamish:

Squamish was the first aid station at which I stopped, which is what I had planned by starting the ride with my 2-litre bladder pack and a gel flask. This allowed me to avoid the congestion at the first 3 aid stations as riders were required to dismount to fill up their bottles and re-fuel. It also allowed me to keep a strong, steady momentum in the first half at an average speed of 16.5 MPH. I had a lot of fun on some of the straight wide-open downhills hitting over 40 MPH on many occasions with a top speed of 43.7 MPH just after Lions Bay 🙂

Since I was ahead of my planned pace coming into Squamish, I did decide to take my time and enjoy the festivities at the Corsa Sosta feed stop, stopping for almost 11 minutes to eat, drink and take some pictures and video. My videos are embedded above, and you can find my pictures here on SmugMug. Could not have asked for a much better setup here – we even got some sunshine peaking out from behind the high clouds!

There were also many people out cheering us on through town (and a few motorists cursing us for making them wait at intersections). Between that excitement and the rest at the aid station, I was really charging out of town – at a pace that was not sustainable for too long. A fellow rider mentioned to me that now the race really begins, with the longest climb of the day of over 1,000 feet to the Tantalus Lookout north of the entrance to Alice Lake Provincial Park. About halfway up the climb I realized what he meant, and slowed down to almost a crawl. This did not come as a total surprise to me, as I knew that climbing hills was one of my weak spots. But having ridden the route a couple of times in training (another key to success), I knew there would be some downhill sections coming up to give me brief recovery periods. Lo and behold I did reach the first of those, and managed to get my heart rate under control and also get some life back in my legs. That pattern would continue to play out the remaining couple of hours up to Whistler – suffer on the uphills and come back to life on the downhills. Once I hit Whistler Creekside with just over 3 miles to go to the finish, I managed to push myself harder both up and down hills as I smelled the barn 🙂

I don’t have any video or pictures of me crossing the finish line in 5 hours and 17 minutes and change, but here is a brief clip someone shot of the sprint finish amongst the Giro riders a couple of hours before my arrival:

A neat feature of the Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS unit I’ve been using is the ability to upload the data to a web site for sharing. My output from the ride is here – lots of data and pretty charts and maps!

Saturday Post-Ride

What a high crossing the finish line. I heard someone calling my name from amongst the spectators, but did not dare look for fear of doing something silly after a day of strong, safe riding. I was feeling good physically, and had a big, stupid grin on my face the rest of the day 🙂 🙂 🙂

More signs of good organization with the layout of the celebration area in Day Lot 4 of Whistler Village, with BBQ and Beer served up by Red Truck. It would have been great to have some more of that complimentary food that was served up in Squamish available at the finish, as well as coffee and hot soup – some more feedback for the organizers. They did provide an entertaining band (Famous Players), and were prompt with awards at exactly the times they published. They were unable to provide exact times, and results are still incomplete as I write this a few days later.

None of that could detract from the overall celebration and feeling of joy amongst the riders. I ran into a few people I knew, mostly from my running days. They were a little surprised to see me at a cycling event after all these years. I did not run into Willy and his gang, but I did talk to him on the phone. They were staying in Whistler overnight and had invited me to join them for dinner, but I was determined to get me and my bike home to Squamish on the 4:45 pm BC Transit bus.

Having some time to kill waiting for the bus, I wandered into the Village to redeem one of the coupons in our race goodie bag for a free ice cream cone at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. That and a nice hot coffee was all I needed while waiting for the bus. I got there early as the bike racks only have room for 2 bikes, and I was first in line 🙂 About 10 minutes later, 2 young mountain bikers joined me so I’m glad I got there early as they waited for the next bus.

The showers started falling as the bus wound its way down the highway that I rode up just a few hours earlier, and they turned into heavier rains as we neared Squamish. We were quite fortunate with the weather during the day, as the rains persisted for the next 24 hours or so! It felt great to be home at about 6:00 pm – what a day, and what an adventure 🙂

Epilogue

A couple of things I wanted to mention.

First, I’ve registered for next year! Registration for Founding Riders opened at noon Sept. 13. As of earlier today, they already had 1,500 people signed up in just over 24 hours! I believe this reinforces the fact that this was a well-organized and fun event, with a few kinks to work out. Kudos to Neil and his team for pulling this off in their first year. With this many people already signed up, we have faith they will properly address the deficiencies for next year.

And lastly, on a more serious note I want to extend my thoughts and prayers to John Botelho, his wife Hillerie Denning and their families and friends. John had a terrible crash in the early stages of the race, suffering serious injuries, and is in a coma at Lions Gate Hospital. Further details are in this Vancouver Sun article. From all accounts, race organizers have responded admirably with their support for John and Hillerie. John has a lot of fellow riders pulling for him to make a recovery. Let’s all be just a bit safer out there, and watch out not just for our own safety but for all those riding with us.

  1. #1 by ritchie on September 15, 2010 - 6:33 am

    What a great read Enzo! So inspiring, maybe at one point I’ll be watching you on TV (with chips) cheering you on the Iron Man race!!

  2. #2 by enzo on September 15, 2010 - 7:31 am

    Many thanks for the kind words, Ritchie. That scenario you describe may have to wait until another life 🙂

  3. #3 by glenna on September 15, 2010 - 10:34 am

    Wow, this sounded like great fun (and great torture at the same time)!

    Thanks for taking us along your little adventure! It felt like I was biking that exact same route, but I think I will stick to my nice and flat Richmond trails for my bike rides. 🙂

    The food commentary was awesome too! Made me hungry 🙂

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