I’m not sure of the exact day but it was only one week after racing Ironman Canada in 2009 when Kevin Thomson asked me if I wanted to be a part of an experimental ride to Whistler. Kevin and Neil McKinnon had this crazy idea of organizing a large group ride from Vancouver to Whistler and were looking for feedback from cyclists. Even though I had trained to race 180 km, after a 4 km swim and before a marathon, I was actually nervous about riding to Whistler. None of my friends ever rode all the way to Whistler for training and having lived there – it even seemed like a far way to drive!
I managed to recruit two friends, Rose Neat and Benny Cifelli and on the morning of September 12th, 2009, we showed up with about 20 other cyclists for the adventure.
Three years later, I am still riding to Whistler and every year it is a new adventure. Even though the course doesn’t change much (unless you pull off changes like this), it is always an entirely new experience for me. That first year was about finishing the ride – just making it to Whistler. In 2010, I wanted to experience it again with the same people and enjoyed the fact that we were able to play a part in the creation of this amazing ride. In 2011, I raced with the Cat 1,2,3 Women. I wanted to see what it was like to race such a distance as a cyclist, not a triathlete and predictably blew up in Squamish. I barely crawled my way to Whistler.
This year, I still wanted to finish in the fastest time possible, but without destroying myself – that was my goal.
At 6:00am on an absolutely perfect riding day, I made my way down from Kitsilano to the start line. I wedged my bike into the Cat 3 Licensed Riders Corral and chatted with a few friends and a few more strangers waiting for the ride to begin. Being at the front of the race gave me a front row seat for the National Anthem and also meant I was in the first wave to leave at 6:45am sharp.
For 2012, GranFondo Canada made several changes to the route – all of which made a positive difference to my experience. Because I was now riding with both men and women, I had more cyclists to draft off and work with. Also, the neutral start until Taylor Way hill made for a much safer beginning as it is pretty hard to knock someone off a bike when you are climbing a 10% plus grade hill! Plus I like hills, giving me an advantage to getting away with a fast group early on.
I remember the serene feeling of gliding through Stanley Park and watching the sunrise as we crossed the Lions Gate Bridge. But after the pace car left, I don’t remember seeing anything else after Taylor Way, except for the bikes ahead of me. I was in the middle of a 50 (or so) person pack. I didn’t dare take my eyes off what was happening in the group, just in case. At 51 km, I stopped at the second rest stop to refill my water bottle. My original thought was that it would only take a minute to fill and wouldn’t cost me much time. I was hesitant to carry water in my jersey as I usually find it so uncomfortable. Next year I will carry water in my jersey. Racking my bike, running down the ramp, filling one bottle and grabbing a few stinger waffles only took a total time of one minute and twenty seconds but it cost me losing my fast group. Running up to the road again, I jumped in with a new pack but unfortunately never saw my orginal pack again until Whistler.
From Squamish to Whistler, I stayed with my new group, I knew I didn’t have strength to catch up to the other group on my own so I stayed back, reserving energy for the final kick into Whistler.
This kick happened climbing out of Function Junction. I left the group and headed out on my own on a short climb. I thought I felt strong enough to push all the way into the Village but obviously kicked too early. I had nothing left when a short train passed me and encouraged me to join them. I didn’t have it and had to watch them disappear ahead of me. Totally alone now – I lowered myself into the drops and hammered for all I could. I was determined to make it under 4 hours. At a time of 3:55:49, I crossed the line – a solo finish.
I was happy with my time but I also know there were several things I could have done differently. In every race, there are always lessons to be learned which makes me excited to ride it again next year.