Registration may have been down for the third annual RBC GranFondo Whistler last Saturday, Sept. 8, but organizers are still enthusiastic about the future of the bike ride/race from Vancouver to Whistler on the Sea to Sky Highway.
"Registration was down a little bit this year... but the good news is that out-of-province visitors in the ride were up from 16 per cent to 22 per cent, and that's a trend we're paying close attention to, and that is good news for all of us," said Kevin Thompson, co-director of the event.
"We have more people travelling to B.C. just for the race, which means we have to change our strategy a little bit by reaching out more. Before, we just said 'we're open' to all the local riders in the area to come and do this, but they've done it now and now is the time to reach out and draw other people in. It's the natural evolution of these things, and the right time to make that happen."
In the end just over 6,000 registered for the event out of a possible 7,500. Roughly 4,500 finished the event.
Thompson said the organizers are hosting a series of post-race meetings this week and next to discuss the event and plan for the 2013 edition. He expects that they will open registration for next year in the coming weeks.
Every race is a learning experience, said Thompson adding that the first two events paved the way for this year's race and various improvements like closing more lanes to riders at the start of the race.
"I would say that we've managed the logistics very well, and now we understand what needs to get done," he said.
"We've improved the route, we've been able to communicate to people living in those communities that it's happening, so vehicle traffic isn't as prevalent on the roadway. Those communities are now supportive. We're hitting our volunteer numbers. And we've been able to add a lot of new things, like the Mercedes VIP shuttle and other things for riders that make it a better value proposition.
"That's the feedback we've been getting, anyway. Sometimes we get a mix of good and bad, but so far it's been nothing but good, which tells us that we're getting this thing exactly to where it needs to be.'
On that front, Thompson said the mandate is to continually drive up the value, "and give riders a memorable experience through route design and features along the way, and the experiences at the finish line and at the festival before the race. That's what we're going to continue to enhance and improve through new sponsorship activations. Every year we see more energy and enthusiasm for this event, and that's what enables us to do more."
For example, says Thompson, the ability to close more lanes on the Trans-Canada Highway through West Vancouver is the result of the success of past races.
"We couldn't have done that until this year," he said. "It just wouldn't have happened.
"We had to show as riders that there's enough of us to warrant such a closure as we had on the Upper Level Highway. We shut down two lanes of the Trans-Canada Highway, and that's not something that bike rides do — until now."
The decision to eliminate the Giro race category has also been well-received, said Thompson, although some of the riders did tell Pique that they preferred keeping it in.
Marvin Guzman, who finished first on Saturday, said it was a well-organized, perfectly run event, although he preferred to have a separate race category and separate start.
"I disagree that they didn't have a Giro start," he said. "I think it makes the race more exciting for the licenced riders and to have some prize money at the end of the line. It's also more entertaining for spectators, and it's probably more of a show.
"Every year is a little different, so we'll see how the 'Fondo goes. Next year hopefully they'll bring back the Giro race."
Tony Routley, who started Team Whistler several years ago — which accounted for the three top women and top mixed team in the event — had a different take.
"Times were probably a little bit slower with the seven kilometre roll-out, but with all the races leaving at the same time it made things a little different and picked up the pace a bit," he said, adding that it took a team effort to get their three top women on the podium — something that wouldn't have been possible with different starts.
"I have to hand it to the organizers, this was the best event yet. The extra lanes were great, the weather cooperated. For most riders it was a really cool, beautiful ride up to Whistler."
Thompson said that they're still looking at the possibilities for the future, like awarding points to the top riders and bringing back the prize money. Meanwhile, he said he's heard nothing but good feedback from the riders.
"I've heard some pros tell me they liked it better this way because, if you remember last year, a lot of guys up front were playing a game — 'are you going to go? I'm not going to go, are you going to go?' — and it took a while for the race to really start," he said.
"This way, when everybody starts together, people are going right from the start. They may not be the top riders, but they're going. It was even more intense for the other riders and up front it was full on — even more than last year."
That said, Thompson said they would be listening to riders and communities when planning next year's event.
Another area of controversy was the decision to post chip times rather than finish or "gun" times. The chip times are different for top riders than the order they finished the day, which is normal considering that riders do use strategy and team tactics on race day.
The fastest rider between the start and finish actually finished second at the finish line, which had more to do with the way the road race progressed. Guzman himself said he spent most of the day drafting other racers, covering breaks and waiting to make his move at the sprint — tactics that all competitive road riders use, even if its slightly slower. Counting the chip time makes the GranFondo similar to time-trials, which are entirely based on speed.
Thompson said they would continue to celebrate the overall winners at the finish line, but said that most of the riders were watching their times. Given the almost 5,000 riders at the start, it was the fairest way to rank people.
"We will always celebrate the first person across the line, the first finisher of the event," said Thompson. "The chip time is there, but it's not how we're going to do the podium."
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