Grab a bike! The RBC GranFondo Whistler celebrates the thrill of road rides

A sea of cyclists heads to Whistler for one of Canada's biggest road races.

Credit: Flickr / TranBC

Vancouver is well-known for its bike-friendly culture. So it’s no surprise that thousands of cyclists will take to the streets to celebrate their passion for riding


2010 was a big year for Whistler. Its massive slopes played host to more than 5,000 athletes during the February 2010 Winter Olympics. Then, in September, more than 4,000 cyclists took to the newly paved Sea to Sky Highway in the inaugural year of the RBC GranFondo Whistler, Canada’s first Gran Fondo.


While this year may not bring another Olympic games, Whistler will once again welcome the RBC GranFondo Whistler to Whistler Village on September 10.


What is a Gran Fondo?

Although they are given a controlled lane along the Sea to Sky Highway, cyclists must remain vigilant during their ride. (Image: Flickr / TransBC)


Immensely popular in Europe, particularly Italy where the tradition originated, Gran Fondos have gained acclaim in North America as fun, but challenging, events that cater to amateur riders and active cyclists alike. Loosely translated as “big ride,” Gran Fondos are large both in the length of the route and the number of participants.


The course for the RBC Gran Fondo Whistler begins in the heart of downtown Vancouver, crosses the Lions Gate Bridge to the Trans Canada Highway and then continues onto the Sea to Sky Highway through Squamish to finish in Whistler Village for a total ride of 120 kilometers.


Riders who want to make the journey, but feel unprepared for the long distance, can bike the 60-kilometer portion of the route from Squamish into Whistler.


A Gran Fondo experience

After passing through downtown Vancouver and across the Lions Gate Bridge, cyclists begin the ride along the Sea to Sky Highway. (Image: Flickr / TransBC)


For most participants, the goal is to enjoy the ride, while challenging themselves and their fellow riders to finish with the best possible time. Avid cyclist Reid Carter, who placed third in his age division last year, rides from his home in West Vancouver to his office in Downtown Vancouver every day.


He chose to participate in the GranFondo’s inaugural year, because he was familiar with the race route—and because of the challenge it provided. Fellow ardent cyclists with whom he regularly cycled “wanted to test their friends’ mettle,” Carter said, “so I decided to see how I could do.”


Since he cycled daily, Carter focused the bulk of his training on preparing for the longer distance and the steeper terrain. He supplemented his commute with extra kilometers, and during the three weeks prior to the race, implemented a regimen of climbing and speed exercises that would help get him over the hills.


The final week before the race, he relaxed so that his body would be well-rested for the event.


The day of the race brought perfect weather, and a group of cyclists from across Canada and around the world to participate “for the right reasons: to see how well they could do and to have some fun,” said Carter. The resounding success of the inaugural year caused registration for this year’s event to nearly double—more than 7,000 riders snapped up spots an impressive five months before the event.


Indeed, many of the cyclists who participated in last year’s event were eager to register again this year. Although some previous participants found the entry fee to be a bit steep, the thrill of the inaugural ride spurred them to sign up. While some riders are balking at their lack of training as the date of the event draws near,


Carter is excited to “do [his] best, have fun and be at least close to last year’s time.” His motivation? The desire to “be fast enough that [his] friends can’t gloat… for the next year!”