The top riders attacked early on West Vancouver's Taylor Way and kept attacking all the way through Squamish and the Cheakamus canyon, but despite the early effort the times were slightly slower for the second running of the RBC GranFondo Whistler.
Battling a headwind and crosswinds, and heat that would peak over 31 C that day, Zach Garland broke away from the lead pack with just under 20km to go, and never looked back. Unlike last year's dramatic sprint to the finish where the top seven riders finished within a second of each other, Garland was alone with a gap of just over five minutes.
He pulled in at 3:14:50, just half a minute slower than the top time in 2010. Adam Thuss and Craig Jones sprinted it out for second and third respectively, finishing in 3:20:08.
"I had a hard time in July for B.C. Superweek where I just imploded physically, so I made a decision to put my major season goals off and put 100 per cent of my focus on the 'Fondo," said Garland. "I dedicated 10 weeks of my life to get ready for this race, I pre-rode the course and came in with a plan. That said, it was also super hard."
Garland wasn't sure where he was going to try and break from the lead group, which established itself on Taylor Way in West Vancouver and held together for almost 100km of hard riding at speeds averaging 40km/h. Eventually, Garland's body provided the answer.
"The decision was sort of made for me with about 20km to go, " he said. "I was starting to cramp pretty badly, so I knew I had to go or I'd never get another chance."
Thuss gave full credit to Garland.
"We were all riding really well, all six of us. And then Zach just hit it. We were slow to respond, and by the time we got organized he was just gone," he said. "It was a different race this year. Last year the lead group kind of waited a bit through Squamish before breaking away, but the six of us were pushing it the whole way. It probably would have been nice to have a few more in there to battle the headwinds."
Whistler's Ben Chaddock was happy with his race overall considering that two days earlier he placed second in the Challenge Sprint Canada in Quebec and was promoted to the pro race.
"I woke up at 2 a.m. last night, had breakfast at 3 a.m. and then went to bed for another hour-and-a-half of sleep, that's how badly my clock is off," he said. "But my job is to suffer."
Chaddock, races for Team Exergy specializing in sprint events, but is also working on his longer distance races as well. His job was to stick with the breaks, and he did that - leading the charge over some of the hills on the course. By the end, he was racing for a spot in the top 10 for his team.
There were no prizes in the general GranFondo classification, but that doesn't mean it wasn't competitive. Local riders did well in their respective age categories and in the overall.
Of the five major Whistler teams in the running this year Team Fun Hog got the best of Team Whistler in the Mixed category by placing first overall out of 27 teams in their category. Their time was 3:39:34, while Team Whistler was second in the category in 3:44:37. Team Knobless in Whistler were fifth in 4:00:46, the Whistler Question were 13th in 5:28:22 and Lupino Whistler 21st in 6:19:28.
Team Fun Hog was comprised of Greg McDonnell (3:39:37), Kristin Johnston (3:38:52), Ted Battiston (3:39:02), James Hallisey (3:39:35), Scott Hall (3:39:39), Marla Zucht (3:39:35), Roman Torn (3:44:48) and Guy Patterson (3:39:35).
Johnston placed second overall in the women's 40 to 49 age category, and was the second woman overall behind Knobless in Whistler rider Christine Shandro by just 12 seconds. Marla Zucht won the women's 30 to 39 group despite hitting a cone in the home stretch and scraping her knee. She still placed almost five minutes ahead of Squamish's Megan Rose, riding for Team Whistler.
McDonnell said that they used team tactics from the start.
"It was the consummate team ride," he said. "We came it with a strategy and we executed to a tee. The only bobble was at the water station where I almost wiped out and took Marla with me."
The team stuck together, working together to move their way up the field.
"I think we had the nicest guys and that's why we won," said Johnston. "Everyone was really supportive and the energy was so positive."
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