Friday, 19 September 2014

2014 Gran Fondo Whistler: Double Fondo Day!

In early August, my brother asked if I was interested in riding the Gran Fondo Whistler with him. We would be riding for the RBC team (which I did not realize until after I saw the results). This event would mark my second time participating in the ride up to Whistler. One stipulation that I had for my brother was that if we were to do the Fondo, then there would be no driving back. We would have to do the Fondo-return, riding back after the event. He agreed, and I was game.

Dark start!
I had not put a heap of kms in my legs through August, save for some riding in Whistler on the 29er (Whistler trail riding is amazing), and a few rides in the Okanagan up Anarachist mountain in mid August. With the impending Fondo looming, I took to the road for a couple of long rides before the big day.

Giro set to go!
New start in Stanley Park--a wise choice on Gran Fondo Canada's part, making this event much safer!!
Sunrise on the Fondo! Looking east at the Second Narrows on a beautiful morning!
Back to the lead up. Ted Matson and myself headed out for bromance "Tour de Lower Mainland" on Thursday August 28th, riding 173kms through Surrey, Langley, Pitt Meadows, Coquitlam, Port Moody, Burnaby, up Seymour in North Van, through West Van, into Vancouver, then Richmond, Delta, and home. All that to pickup a backpack at MEC that was having repairs done to it. A stop for coffee, then lunch, then MEC and we were done. Long day in the saddle--the longest of the year to that point. But Whistler loomed, and I knew that we would be close to riding 100kms more than my ride with Ted.

A couple of days later, I put back a solo 115km ride out to Cultus Lake for a family wedding. I was the first to arrive at the wedding, by bike. Not bad.

I suppose that made me ready for the Fondo? A couple of long rides and BOOM, let's do this.

A beautiful sunny start to the Gran Fondo Whistler!

The Fondo day started with a 4:30am wake up for breakfast, bike load, then drive to main and 2nd to park. Aaron was racing the Giro, and was keen to get his numbers sorted out. We parted ways downtown and arranged to meet after the ride in the expo area. I figured AW would be in the lead group for the Giro, and he had a shot at making it in the top 5 overall.

Scott and me, pacing the Lions Gate Bridge.
Brilliant riding solo on the bridge!!
The fun is just beginning. 117kms to go to Whistler.

I had to meet my buddy Scott at the Wall Center. We met up, pedaled to the start, and waited to depart. With the start staging area at Stanley Park this year and the roll out staggered, we had a very incident free start to our ride. In fact, it seemed like we were the only ones in the Alta Class on the bridge as we made our way over. Taylor Way was the first effort, and we managed to meet up with many folks on the climb. But that was short, and soon we were on the Upper Levels Highway in a group of 4 tapping out the rhythm. It was not until close to Lions Bay until the group behind us caught up, and we had about 45 other riders with us. A group swarming to Squamish. I was feeling pretty good, and thought that I had a shot at the Gran Fondo sprint TT in Squamish. I wanted to save my energy for that, yet at the same time stay at the front and out of trouble. That little dilemma had me doing more work in the first 70k to Squamish than I wanted, but at least I was out of harms way. Pacing the group up the climbs, breaking the wind, I was not hurting, but knew that it would bite me in the rear near Callaghan Valley, if not sooner.

Riding off the front of the group for the KOM. I did not even come close!
My group caught up with a group of 4 TNA sleevelss riders, and a group from La Bicicletta. We managed to push the pace, and by Furry Creek, I was working to get to the top of the hill first in the group. If I could manage a swipe at one of the two race within a fondo events, I was sure going to give a good effort. I got to the top of the climb first in the group, but my results had me a long way back in the overall for the KOM competition. 5:25 up Furry Creek hill, putting me in 105th place overall. The winner of that event rode to a 4:00 finish. I was a far cry off.

On a side note, Aaron was at the base of Furry Creek with a broken spoke on his front Easton EA90SLX. His THIRD broken spoke on the front. He was in the lead group of 30 of the Giro and was challenging for some money. His day was done, he was pissed, and it took the fine folks at VELOFIX 30 minutes to get him back on the road with a useable front wheel. If it were not for them, he would have had to get a ride back to Van. Fortunately, he was able to ride on.

The TT done, Scott and me on our way to Whistler. But first, the Alice Lake Climb. 
Knowing that climbing is not my strong suit, I had hoped that I could get a better run at the TT in Squamish. Scott told me that his wife was going to give him a feed near the Canadian Tire, and I knew the TT was going to go right by there. I did not wait for him, and took off from the group as soon as we crossed the TT start. I rode tempo through the first 200 meters, but then sprinted for the line with about 300 to go. I may have gone just a bit too soon. My time over 500m was 45 seconds, good enough for 9th overall (tied for 8th) in the TT event. I needed to go better than 40s to win the event. Perhaps next year....

Still tapping out the pedal strokes....
The last 50k to Whistler is where the ride really begins. It starts to kick up. And up it goes. Keeping a steady cadence is super important to keeping wheels, and not falling off the back. I managed to lose contact with one group. The wheel was right in front of me, then it was 5 feet. Then 10. Then 10 meters. Then 50 meters. All I had to do was put a solid effort in and grab onto the back again.
The scenery up the Sea to Sky is amazing!
But I could not. I knew that I did not have enough energy to burn to get back on, recover, and go again. Plus, I had to ride back home after I got to Whistler. So there they went. I let them get out of sight, as I struggled in no man's land to keep up. Soon enough we were at Daisy Lake, and another group had caught up. I still stayed close to the front, pulling along, again using that precious energy. Whistler was not far now, and I knew the road well from my first Fondo in 2011, and from training on the IMC course with my buddy Todd last summer. Function Junction, Creekside, less than 5k to go.

Still pulling up the hill, staying safe. 

Coming in at the line. About 17 minutes slower than 2011, but....
....I was only halfway the ride back home.
It was only later that I would find out that I was riding for Team RBC. We managed to take the team competition, with my time counting for 9th place on the time. 

All told, this event was one of the best cycling events I have had the pleasure of doing. The organization this year on the road, at the start, and through the entire course was outstanding. 100% safer than 3 years ago. That made for a very enjoyable ride. Is it good value for money? Well, I think that the it is pricey, and if you are going to make a weekend of it by staying in Whistler, or travel from somewhere else to do this ride, then yes--you will be treated to some amazing cycling on the best roads the lower mainland of BC has to offer. The climbs are spectacular, the scenery is priceless. Well worth it in that regard. Because I can ride there any summer's day that I choose, it is not the best value for me. There is something to be said about having a full lane to yourself as you make your way to Whistler by bike. That is worth something.

Double Fondo Elevation Profile
 Aaron and I ate a bit of lunch, hammered back some watermelon, filled up our bottles, and remounted our steeds back down the hill all the way to Vancouver. We decided to stop in Squamish for a coffee and some food. The way down to Squamish was almost hard to watch--thousands of cyclists struggling up the hills, like a death march. Some even walking their bikes, 20kms out of Whistler. By that time, Aaron and I have finished around four hours, spent an hour and half relaxing and eating, and then got on our way. I must say that if you intend to ride to Whistler on little training, be warned--it is not for the faint of heart. At least have six solid 100k rides under your belt to make it not so painful, and much more enjoyable. My heart went out to the people who were baking in the sun, still struggling along.

One gorgeous day heading home the Sea to Sky!
We ended up pseudo-TTT'ing to Squamish with a a german gentleman who completed the Forte, and two other Fondo riders from the MEC team, Allan Prazky and another guy. Me and AW peeled off for some Starbucks, and parted ways with our impromptu TTT members. Caffeine and sugar down, we headed back to Vancouver with 90k to go.

Things were going really well for the ride home, save for the fact that the wind switched from the North in the AM to coming from the South in the PM. That sucked--a double headwind day. That sort of changed once we hit Howe Sound. A spot of concern for me was the two lane section of highway just before Porteau Cove when heading back to Vancouver. I was a bit nervous that we would have some impatient drivers try to overtake us, forcing us to use the very narrow shoulder. Aaron and I took up the lane, riding tempo though that 800 meter section. To our delight, not one car came through--not one car was on that part of the highway while we rode it. It was a blessing for us to not have any negative interactions or close calls.

The route: there and back.
Nearing Lion's Bay, I had good legs, and AW was falling off. I mentioned to him that I had never seen this side of him before, and that I would out him on FB to everyone I could--that older brother was stronger than younger brother. We laughed and continued on, getting off the 99 and onto the undulating, scenic, and somewhat unforgiving Marine Drive. On Marine Drive, our epic day continued to get better.

We stopped in Ambleside to grab a Coke each, and again refuel to get ourselves over the bridge and back to the car. I must say that 2 weeks later, I will never have another Coke again, unless I am in dire need of some super energy. That stuff sent me flying!! I had energy to burn through the streets of Vancouver. By the time we had hit the Burrard Bridge and made our way to the 7th Avenue bikeway, I was seriously considering riding home.
A long time in the saddle. A very good day on the bike.

We did not end up riding home, just back to the car. I high-5 to my brother for completing what was for both of us, the longest day in the saddle ever. The fact that we had done this ride more or less together was a near cause for celebration. Feeling good, we drove home, but not until we polished off a couple of Triple O's BC burgers.

Without having done that many long rides in August, I still had enough muscle memory to get me there and back. The temperature at 30 was perfect, and even though we had a headwind both ways, the convective cooling made for a pretty nice ride. I managed my nutrition, hydration, and energy very well, not taking on too many fluids or overeating. In fact, I would say that I was always just a little under in managing my consumption of food and drink, which worked out perfectly. There is only so much sweet and sugary stuff one can put in their body before they want to yack, and I managed to dodge those stomach-y feelings. With proper determination, training, and preparation, I would say that this was a perfectly executed long ride, even if my training leading up to it was a bit light.

I would definitely do this event again, and even next year, push to ride for 300kms.

Thanks for reading!!