Vancouver's Marvin Guzman, 22 was quick to give credit to Sebastian Salas for doing a lot of grunt work that put him on top of the podium in the 2012 edition of the RBC GranFondo Whistler.
In the end there were three riders racing down Village Gate Boulevard in Whistler after 122km of racing, a few bike lengths between them. Guzman, up front, finished in 3:24:30, almost 10 minutes slower than the fastest time in 2011. The mass start roll-out at the beginning, with the cancellation of the separate Giro for pro racers, is the main reason for the slower time, although the gusting headwind over Brohm Ridge coming out of Squamish didn't help. For Guzman, who played the race strategically, it was all about preparing for the final sprint.
"Looks like I'm buying dinner tonight for Sebastian," said a happy Guzman, who was competing in his third RBC GranFondo Whistler race. "Really, Sebastian (Salas) did all the work at the front, while I sat back and waited for the end."
Guzman was sixth in 2010, but had some issues last year to finish well off the podium.
The first break came at the top of Taylor Way, the first big climb after the Lions Gate Bridge. Guzman stayed with it, but said it didn't take. "We went out fast, but we basically stopped riding together (in the break group) — nobody wanted to take the lead, and the pack caught up."
There would be other breaks, with one decisive break just outside of Whistler that included just three riders. "Once Tim Abercrombie made the jump, I stayed on his wheel so he couldn't get away. I was like, 'all right, at least one of us got away.' We were looking over our shoulders the whole time, but we didn't see anybody riding up. Sebastian did a great job today, so I had the fresh legs for the finish."
Abercrombie is credited with finishing three seconds back of Guzman, while James Scale took third a second later after a sprint to the finish on Blackcomb Way where he looked like he had a chance of winning the silver. He actually posted the fastest chip time of the day, although only the clock time mattered for racers looking to be first across the line.
Squamish's Neal Kindree, not known as a roadie, was the top Sea to Sky racer in fifth place, finishing in 3:27:06. The fastest Whistler rider was Trevor Hopkins in 16th in 3:27:57. Both ranked slightly further back according to their chip times.
The women's race went to Leah Guloien, who won in 2010 and was riding for Team Whistler. She was 37th overall in 3:28:02, setting a new women's record on the route.
Second and third women were also from Team Whistler, which went on to win the Mixed Team category. Jenny Lehman, the 2011 champion, was second in 3:35:28, while Cathy Zeglinski was third overall in 3:40:45. All three Team Whistler girls were the fastest in their respective age categories.
Tony Routley, who started Team Whistler several years ago, said the focus of the day was on the team's female racers.
"The girls on the team were slaying out there today, I'm telling you," he raved. "We had Leah up in the one pack with two of our guys, and Jenny with three guys in the second group. Sometimes it seemed liked we were the ones keeping up, the pace was unbelievable."
For Lehman, having teammates to ride with for the duration of the race made a big difference.
"The packs got split up a little over the climbs," said Lehman, "I was stuck in the middle of the second group and all I could really do is watch Leah (teammate Leah Guloien) ride away. It was great how everyone worked together as a team, and the guys rode their faces off to get us on the podium. I really liked riding with the guys, it was a really fast pace... It was pretty windy after Squamish, but we had a few big guys on the team to ride behind.
"The long uphill after Squamish was probably the low point, but once we got over the top it was like, 'okay, we're racing again.'"
Cathy Zeglinski, who finished five minutes ahead of the next woman in her age category and was the top Sea to Sky female, was blown away by the sheer numbers in the event.
"This was the largest pack racing I have done in hills since my days of 1987's Women's Tour de France for the Canadian National Team, and it was exhilarating," she said. "My racing legs and brains snapped back to attention and I felt completely at home and in my element, often leading our pack up the hills."
Zeglinski spend most of the race with about 40 riders, but said it came down to her and five other men for the final sprint. "I hadn't even realized there was another woman in the packs as I hadn't seen in 50km, so I had my game face on for the sprint and placed within the top five men of our pack at the sprint, which was the most satisfying part of the race."
For Phil Chew, a Team Whistler member who is a former Paralympic ski racer and rides with one leg, the day was perfect as far as Function Junction. He knows he lost a little time with the mandatory roll out, but expects he was on pace to finish in 4:30 until a crash set him back.
"Everything was really good. I attacked the hills, I had a decent climb on the hill section, and everything was really the way I wanted it," he said. "At the top of Brohm Ridge I felt good. There was a headwind for sure, but what happened is that a tandem bike pulled past me. The guy gave me a look, smiled and nodded for me to jump on, and I rolled with them for about half an hour, but the pace was too much — I wanted to have something left for the last hills."
All was going well until Chew was descending the bridge over the train tracks at Function Junction. Chew was tailing another rider who pulled out suddenly, and Chew crashed into the cone that the man was trying to avoid at about 40km/h. He flew off his bike and hit the ground hard, and two more riders piled on top of him. The two riders rode off after checking to make sure that everyone was okay, while Chew wondered if his own day was over — his front tire was flat and his bars were bent in the wrong direction.
A volunteer stepped in to help Chew change his tube and straighten his bars, and Chew knew he would finish the race. He was moving slowly and was sure his bike was damaged, but "I wasn't going to stop and check while I was moving forward."
At the finish it turned out that he bent his rim in the crash, and it was rubbing the brakes for the last part of the race.
"I knew it was something. All kinds of people were passing me, and I just couldn't get my bike going."
Chew finished in 4:44:51. Although disappointed, he was glad he made the finish and knew he could have been faster without the crash.
"In the end I guess it could have been worse. I didn't get seriously hurt, though I did take a bit of a shit-kicking (with road rash) on my hip and back shoulder, and my elbows banged up. I was actually surprised the time was only 4:44 — I thought I lost a lot more time than that. Before the crash I was actually on schedule for a pretty good time, although everyone's times are a little slower than last year with the rollout."
In the end about 6,000 riders registered for the event, well shy of the 7,500 limit, and 4,455 finished. Over 20 per cent of riders — some 1,750, are considered "out-of-towners" from outside the Lower Mainland and Sea to Sky, up from 1,300 in 2011.
The announcers also gave the public a peek at what's involved in staging a race like the RBC Whistler GranFondo — 39 motorcycles, 17,000 bananas, 9,000 oranges and four days of sweeping and cleaning the highway.
Several local riders placed in the top 10 for their age groups.
Jason Shorter was 29th overall and sixth out of 1,179 in the Men's 40 to 49 race in 3:27:41. Luke Dolan just missed the top 10 in that group in 11th place in 3:31:40.
Otto Kamstra was 68th overall and sixth out of 992 in Men's 50 to 59 in 3:35:00. Tony Routley was one spot back in 3:35:02, while Dave Davenport was ninth in 3:37:16.
Cathy Zeglinski was 125th overall and first in women's 40 to 49 in 3:40:32.
Kerry Spearing was second out of 1010 riders in women's 19 to 29 in 3:51:47.
Sarah Olner was 10th out of 233 in 30 to 39 in 3:53:03.
Broderick Thompson was fourth out of 31 racers in the Under 18 race in 4:00:43.
All told more than 130 Whistler riders finished the event. Complete results at www.rbcgranfondowhistler.com. Be advised that posted results are based on chip time rather than finish time, which has caused some confusion. Given that team tactics and strategy are part of the sport, and the fact that some riders used the roll-out to improve their position, we used the finish time where possible.
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