The RBC GranFondo Whistler has a little extra boost for this year.
With the race having received Cycling BC sanctioning earlier this summer, the Giro will boast a thicker purse of $50,000 for this Saturday's (Sept. 12) race, which begins in Vancouver's Stanley Park and wraps up in Whistler Olympic Plaza.
Race president Neil McKinnon said over 4,000 riders are slated to take part in this year's event, which is piggybacking on a successful running of the race in Banff, Alta. last month.
"Operations, weather, everything was fantastic. I'm really excited about this year. I think we're going to knock it out of the park," he said. "We're also hosting the B.C. provincial men's masters championships the same day, so there's a lot of fun stuff going."
While the new sanctioning won't greatly impact the number of people lining up at the start line on Saturday, McKinnon noted that riders like 2013 Giro winner Will Routley, his wife Shoshanna, and Zach Bell have been allowed by their teams to come race the event, a decision which received more hesitation in past years.
"I don't think it makes a change in the numbers, but what it does allow is higher-profile team riders to come to the event," he said. "Your average GranFondo riders, it's not going to affect them at all. Even your average Cat 1, 2, 3 Giro riders, it doesn't even affect them that much, but on the upper echelon high-tier level, it allows them and their teams to say, 'This is sanctioned. This is recognized. We'll let you go.'"
Will Routley, a former Whistlerite who now lives in Abbotsford, is eager to try to claim a significant share of the prize money.
"I can't speak too much to others, but the real motivation is the purse put up by Robert J Macdonald. We don't often race for such a large prize purse, so for the pros yeah, it's exciting," he explained in an email.
Routley has only ever raced the event once before, and is excited to return.
"Basically it's just a fun experience," he said. "Normally racing is all over the place, and more professional, and therefore can be more stress. We race as a team, follow a plan for the whole team and stick to a group schedule. In this case, racing at home, it is all about going out and giving it my all, racing for the win and enjoying the chance to catch up with some friends and family I don't see as often as I should."
Routley is coming off the Tour of Alberta, which ran from Sept. 2 to 7, where he placed 86th out of 101 riders. He noted the conditions were cold and challenging, with snow on the side of the road and freezing, rainy conditions for several stages. Still, he considered his showing "subpar" and will be looking for redemption this weekend.
The major route change comes for the Medio, which will start in Vancouver and end in Squamish. Riders will then be bussed to the finish line up in Whistler.
There will be several traffic impacts from Stanley Park to the southern half of Whistler on race day. In particular, several stretches of Highway 99 from Horseshoe Bay to Whistler will see a speed limit of 60 km/h. Blackcomb Way West will be closed, while Village Gate Boulevard will be closed to northbound and southbound traffic from Highway 99. A full list of traffic impacts is available at www.granfondowhistler.com.
Outside of the competition itself, McKinnon said programming for younger fans will be expanded this year. Among the offerings will be an iRide Learn to Ride program in Lot 4 and classics like bouncy castles and face painting. As well, new liquor laws have allowed organizers to license all of Whistler Olympic Plaza as opposed to a much smaller segment of it.
"What we would like to do is encourage everyone in Whistler to come watch, come to the beer garden, bring their families. It's very exciting. The plaza will be a very, very busy place," he said. "Of course, we've got the excitement of the racers coming through.
"It's going to be a very interesting show this year."
After all the racers have crossed the finish line, the party continues into the evening at the GLC for the first-ever video premier afterparty.
"We've got seven videographers on the course throughout the whole day capturing imagery and video. Once the event is over, they're going to go to a hotel room and compile (content) and create a video," McKinnon said. "They'll play it live on Saturday night at the GLC at 9 p.m.
"That's the first time we're doing that, and from my experience at events, that's the first time I've ever heard of anything like this."
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