Saturday, September 11, 2010

Gran Fondo Canada!

After 30 years of using the road up Mt Norquay for Provincial hill climb champs, Banff Parks declared the road an animal corridor. Hence, the race was cancelled. I had planned to switch to Masters category for my first time and was hoping to set a record.
Bummer though this opened up the schedule to now go in the inaugural 120-km Gran Fondo from downtown Vancouver to Whistler.Exciting that morning, riding to the race start across the Lion's Gate bridge. It was wheel to wheel traffic of bikes at 6:15 a.m. in the dark. Fun to bump into familar faces in the starting corral. Dropped my bag off where it was to be trucked to the finish line. Hmmm... only one truck already full with a 5 foot high stack of bags waiting to be loaded.
Men and women in the racing category got to seed up front in what was called the Giro category. 4000+ Gran Fondo racers were seeded behind us. Men racers started at 6:50 a.m. and women one minute back. The rest of the riders started at 7:00 a.m.

Two women racers sprinted off the start. There was a car and a motorcycle in our path which slowed up the women's peloton. Once we dodged it, the two women were far ahead. No-one wanted to chase. I gave in and picked up the pace for a "warmup". It took until the rise before Lion's Gate bridge to catch them. I dropped back for a break once we did. We pretty much floated along in a peloton with the water views of Burrard Inlet.

Within 30 km, the first pack of 100 men from the 4000+ field behind us, caught the women's peloton and we were swarmed. We rode in chaos like that for a good 20 km. There were 2-foot high pylons lining the whole 120 km to Whistler. They weren't visible when riding in the mass of riders. I crushed one with my drivetrain and did a nice mountain bike manoveur to stay upright to the shriek of a man riding behind me.
Finally, the BC race commissaire vehicle came and neutralized the women's field. The commissaire hollered that he would disqualify any women who rode ahead of their vehicle until that group of men passed us clearly. Women were upset when he said he'd neutralize each time a pack of men came by. Yah, crazy but that's the joy of women's racing! Pretty unfair as the men behind were not in the racing category.
We were neutralized again thru the feedzone for Gran Fondo riders in Squamish, the halfway point. Out of Squamish, the peloton took the long and gradual climb steady. Midway, I decided to hoof up the pace. At the top, I looked back and was happy to see two riders with me. Inevitable that the peloton would catch us on the flat section. I told the two gals I would do the same thing at 86 km when the next big climb hit.
.At 86 km, everyone was settled in a steady pace up the climb. I picked it up again. At the top, the same two women were with me... Leah Guloien and Nik Vogler. We all worked together with Leah pulling strong on the flats with Nik and I taking turns up any incline. Too bad Leah had two mini-mights with her! Heard later, more women would have went with us though they thought the peloton would catch up quickly anyway so didn't. With smaller groups of men to pass, we avoided riding with them as best as possible. Not easy when the men would jump on our wheels to draft!
By 108 km, a group of seven finally caught us. Heard that only three strong riders towed the other four up to us. It would have been ultra-cool to have kept the break. I was beat and it felt good to chill in the chase group. The women slowed to turtle's pace for the last 10-km with one woman in pink from Whistler attempting to pick it up on the climbs. It was the commissaire who agitated the peloton when he said he would neutralize us again with another's men's pack 500 metres behind us. Ann Yew went to the front to pick up the pace.
With the turn off the highway into Whistler, veteran racer Sara Neil looked like she was going to attack any moment with 1 km to go. Then Leah blew by so fast with 500 metres to go and another corner to the downhill sloping finish. The peloton was so blown apart for this sprint that seconds were given between each rider which is unusual for a peloton finish.
I put my head down and went hard though could not even catch anyone's wheel. Crawled in 8th place out of the 10-racer peloton. I was happy for Leah as she worked hard the whole race. I was pleased to have instigated the hill climb chases. Not sure how all this will help my race in the Mt. Baker hillclimb the next day! Video of speedy men's finish
Ultra awesome the weather was perfect. All week, it was forecasted for rain. At the finish line, it was like a reunion of many athletic sorts... saw so many buds from road cycling, mountain biking, adventure racing, triathlon... met new people.
Race was organized well for a first time event. Only glitch which could be seen as a glitch on the spot... lack of bag transportation! My bag finally arrived to the finish line by 2 pm when I finished around 11 am. I am so glad I had driven my car up the day before and parked it with extra clothes and food.

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