RBC Gran Fondo
I had heard of this Fondo from a few people & it intrigued me. Vancouver to Whistler. Ocean to mountain top-ish. 120km wasn’t anything crazy, unheard of distance & although there were mountains, would it be like those in Europe ? It was gonna be harder for sure than anything from the Prairies.
I received the invitation from good friend & organizer of the ‘Ride with the Winemaker’ event in the Okanagan, Graham Pierce who has attended before & was looking for a partner for this event. Graham is a strong rider, grew up around the Vancouver area & would definitely have the local intel on what to expect. Also being a winemaker brought with it some perks like getting the VIP treatment which enhanced my first time at this event to another level. The pre-event ride & dinner, the sweet swag & also our own starting gate kept the world class status this event has received. Thanks to Neil & his team for this.
What to expect ? There were gonna be some faster riders & people that understood how to work in a team. When to pull, how to draft, mutually benefit a group; all things that you learn from many groups rides & races. Graham’s experience had been that 'if you can stay with a good group, not only is your work load going to be easier, but you’d surprisingly ‘fly’ upto Whistler'. Modern bikes, a couple feed stops, sounds good.
On our Friday ride with a few Olympians, sponsors & select riders, I had a chance to confirm all of this info. This was the first time that I met Fillipo from the Belvedere Hotel in Riccione, Italy. I had heard about this place as I was leading tours in Mexico at the time & some of our clients had been to Italy & boasted of this amazing experience. Here was one of the guys who made this happen. The natural style he rode with, all around positive & fun demeanour along with the big smile & Italian hospitality, how could you not love this guy. After chatting a bit & learning Italian as we rode around Stanley Park, I knew this was going to have to be a future trip.
Another fella whom I’ve watched online & cheered for as a rep for our country was Zach Bell. One of his more recent races at the time was an International Track Competition & watching that maple leaf jersey fly around the oval was a heart warming feeling. At first I didn't recognize him as he’s recent retirement had involved his beard growth resembling that of a man who spends plenty of time chopping trees amongst our forests. It was fantastic to chat & hear some more insights to races I’d seen, some stories of other pro riders & just get a chance to enjoy the experiences that he’d lived through.
Graham & I swung through the expo which was packed with some pretty sweet booths, grabbed our swag & hung out for a glass of recovery bevies. Getting chance to chat with a few of the Olympic athletes who were also participating was icing on the cake for this VIP crew.
We headed back to the hotel, a quick change & time for a little pre-ride food. Now the question was, what did we need for the next day. There was food on the course so don't take much. The weather was going to be the guessing game. We start at sea level & than climb into the mountians. The route is notorious for rain & cooling temperatures. On bike clothing selection was going to be important. You'd hate to carry a bunch of excess gear but getting wet & cold with a gaining altitude was not a desirable outcome. Graham had his Black Hills kit, standard, go-to modern pieces like the vest which was going to be needed. I opted for the more classic option. 2 reasons. 1, to was the first jersey ever made in the Spandex Panda Collection & as such showing off a little of the classic look was just going to add a little more style. 2, this top was more versatile than anything 'modern synthetics' could create. It kept me warm at the beginning, provided breathabilty as it warmed up & once we all got wet from the rain, this jersey actually dried out, allowing my body to warm back up. If you've never ridden with merino than this may sound a little far fetched. The modern jersey offer something that the classics never could...... lots of room to advertise. Oh, before I forget. The 3rd reason I choose the SPVC Classic Knitted Merino jersey, I was going to have to wear something the next day. We had decided that we would do the ride, spend the night, enjoy some great food, maybe a hot tub & then ride back the next day. Again, this may be news to you but merino jerseys don't collect the same 'stink' that synthetic jerseys do. It was easy to let this top dry out, & put it back on the next day for the ride back. Only one more question remains. What do you bring on your 'overnight bag' ? Simple. A pair of nice pants for the dinner, a pair of leather shoes, the Aprés Sweater, deodorant, a tooth brush & a bottle of prosecco for that evening. You maybe curious what I wore under the sweater ? The Primo Strato base layer made it's debut & displayed a versatility like nothing else on the market.
The musette worth of gear, that’s all you need for the post ride & than the ride back the next day. How simple is that.
Waking up early wasn't to hard for this. We had a full breakfast option available to us downstairs. It's hard to limit yourself when there is literally everything you could think of. Bacon, eggs, waffles, fruit, granola, yogurt, espresso, cappuccino, cheese, bread, sausages, ham, bagels, peanut butter, jams, oh yeah, did I mention bacon ? A light breakfast & a packed musette & we rolled down to the start line.
One of the perks of the Alta Classe was that we had a place to drop our bags that would be delivered to us at the finish. Not to shabby. Now to find our gate. The plan was, stay near the front, make the break with the quicker riders, get over the first hill & then settle in & we'd be golden. One thing that is a bit different than racing or even riding with people of the same skill level is that you get a little of everything in a fondo. Strong riders, weaker ones, lots of experience, first time in a group ride, social attitudes or trying to make the cut for the next World Tour team hahaha (ok the last one is a bit of a stretch.) As we took off, the roll through Stanley Park was good, we stayed together & worked our way up. Although this is not a 'race', timing chips definelty add in a factor where keeping your elbows out gives ya just that little extra space ;) Crossing over the Lions Gate bridge is always a beautiful site & to have part of it closed only for us to ride on was a welcomed treat. Everyone steps on the gas a bit to jockey for position before we take the exit ramp & than a quick right up the first little climb. Graham & I were fairly close right up to about here. As we go to make the turn the rider in front of me and also the one to my left make a bit more of a 'swooping' turn, drifting everyone way over. Following the group keeps everyone upright, a few words spoken based on the result but now the group has blown apart on the climb. Scratch & claw up this little punter but Graham had tagged onto a group that was about 250m ahead of us now. Not completely out of reach but some solid ground to make up on the climb. Holding them at this distance & maybe bring them back a bit, but the catch was going to have to happen just as it flattened out.
I kept this group in my sights but couldn't quite catch them as their team work just wore more & more every km. Finally catching onto a passing group, I got a little rest & made a few friends. Turns out we came up on Zach Bell after he had helped fix a flat for a rider. Zach caught up & I joked it would be the only time I would have been able to actually catch him was through a mechanical.
The remainder of the ride was a bit more social, taking pulls at the front & chatting with some people. We got the the village & now it was time to relax. I found Graham already starting his 'recovery' in the VIP lounge & in line for the post ride massage.
We enjoyed this luxurious area for a bit, shared stories of our rides & listened to others around us as to how it all turned out. A quick spin to the hotel now & it was time for a glass of prosecco & a hot tub (cue up the time to rinse the salt stains from the base layer, let it dry as it would be needed for that evenings attire.)
Needless to say, all the 'essentials' that were in that musette, were planned out perfectly. A pair of casual pants, leather shoes, (the base layer that had been worn on the ride - if you aren't familiar with it, well you're missing out ) the knitted après sweater & we were off.
A great social night around Whistler Village enjoying more camaraderie with fellow riders & a well deserved recovery.
Next morning we packed up, hopped on the bikes & started our ride back to Horseshoe Bay. Surprisingly there were some still some hills on the way back which seemed challenging but at a much more relaxed pace, the views of the Rockies were to be enjoyed. Upon arrival, we enjoyed a fantastic charcuterie style lunch, like royalty, changed out of our riding kits & it was time to make our way home.
Being the first time I had ridden this course, it was a memorable one for sure. Looking forward to more attempts at it & ideally to start seeing some of the familiar faces that I met on the bike. Til next time.