After 120 kilometres and over three hours of riding, it can still all come down to the slimmest of margins.
Abbotsford's Will Routley, who grew up in Whistler, fell just short in a late sprint against Florenz Knauer of Germany in the RBC GranFondo Giro on Sept. 12.
The time difference was minimal, as both crossed the line around the three hours, 15 minutes and 59 seconds (3:15:59) mark. However, Knauer took home $15,000 for the win while Routley was awarded $5,000 for second. Courtenay's Nigel Ellsay was four seconds back of the crush to take third.
On the women's side, national rider Joelle Numainville of Montreal was in lock step with Port Moody's Leah Guloien for the race's later stages, but took off late, ultimately finishing in 3:50:03 to best Guloien by five seconds. Sara Bergen of Vancouver rounded out the podium.
Being millimetres away from victory on the 120-kilometre course was a tough pill for Routley to swallow, especially with so many supporters cheering him on along the Blackcomb Way finish line.
"It was disappointing because I didn't win. I didn't quite make it," he said. "I'll probably feel a little better about it later, but for now, you want to win. If you didn't want to win, I don't know if you'd still be doing it."
Routley said he was determined to keep himself in contention, not only to thrill the home crowd but to score himself a much more significant reward.
"I was on a mission. It's definitely a big prize purse and it's finishing at home," he said. "Of the whole race, the one guy I called who would be the biggest threat was Florenz.
"I know how good his sprint is and sure enough, we ended up toward the end breaking three of us so I tried to attack him as many times as I could. I probably should have waited in the sprint a little longer. I went early and let it out. But he didn't know the finish and I could tell on the last corner he was a little confused. He swung wide and I thought I'd try to take advantage of that."
While Routley enjoys competing in familiar territory, though he acknowledges entering as a returning hero comes with its own unique set of challenges.
"Everybody looks at me and chases me. I have a target on my back, which is to be expected," he said. "I just have to be aware of that."
Routley said he's about 50-50 as to whether he'll participate in the UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Va. later this month, noting Canada is only able to send six men.
"I've definitely struggled the last couple months of the season and I'm getting a little fatigued. It might be best just to call it," he said. "Sometimes you've got to look at the whole big picture."
Knauer, meanwhile, praised the competition, saying he knew Routley and Ellsay would be along with him for every pedal pump. He looked to them to try to figure out any advantage he could.
"I looked at what they do and tried to be in the front all the time," he said. "(With) 15 (kilometres) to go, I thought 'If it works out, I have a good chance to win.' When we came in and saw the 500 metres (sign), I knew that I would be (the champion)."
It wasn't always easy, though, as Knauer acknowledged the early start at Vancouver's Stanley Park kept him from getting entirely on a roll until quite late.
"I didn't have the best legs. I knew I had to wake up," said Knauer, noting he didn't feel like he was at his best until well over halfway through the race.
Like Routley, Knauer entered the Giro having recently taken part in the Tour of Alberta, where he placed 59th and was able to get accustomed to the terrain. However, our neighbours to the east had weather that was significantly less cooperative, with temperatures hovering around freezing and plenty of precipitation. Knauer was glad to see the sun again.
"I was happy that the weather was good and I like the hills," he said. "It's a nice course."
Numainville, well renowned for her sprinting ability, said she forced Guloien into the gauntlet earlier on, picking up her pace with two turns to go and forcing the British Columbian to come after her. Ultimately, Numainville created a fairly significant amount of separation and still looked fresh late while Guloien laboured a little bit more to cross the line. The women's prize table was identical to the men, meaning Numainville also landed $15,000.
The pair had finally earned some distance between themselves and the pack with about 20 kilometres remaining. Numainville explained she actually felt like a bit of a procrastinator in how late she wrestled the lead away.
"I like to race aggressive. The way Leah and I rode away worked really well," she said, noting the race was a warm-up for the worlds in Richmond. "You never know. It's always a risk to wait that late, but it worked out."
Numainville, who trains in Colorado and races plenty in Europe, said she was well-suited to the Giro course, especially in the latter part of a strong season to this point.
"I was confident coming into the race. I've been training hard and I had a good summer over in Europe," she said. "You don't want to come overconfident."
Though many of the other riders acknowledged feeling sluggish early, Guloien said she actually felt quite good from the get-go.
"I was actually feeling quite strong today. I didn't think I was going to have the best legs coming off of the Leadville 100 mountain bike race," she said. "Once I started riding, there's just something about this course. I really like the terrain."
Whistlerites in the Giro were Chloe Cross, who was the eighth-place woman, and Atilla Avsar, who placed 62nd among the men.
In the other events, Vancouver's Sebastian Salas captured the King of the Mountain title, Richmond's Jaime Cathcart took the masters' event, Derek Stedman and Deama Thomson were the Forte champions and Sophie Vogel Nakamura and Bruce Gemmell were the respective Medio winners. As for the open GranFondo, Facundo Chernikoff and Anne Mackie took the respective titles.
Complete results are available online at www.granfondowhistler.com.
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