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First ever XFONDO race takes place in Whistler

GranFondo offshoot gives cyclists a taste of everything Whistler has to offer, from road riding to gravel to trails
It was all smiles as racers took their bikes off-road at the first-ever Whistler XFONDO last weekend.

On Saturday, June 18, 250 cyclists crowded the paths, trails and roads of Whistler for the first ever XFONDO bike race.

Created by the organizers of the GranFondo—the annual Sea to Sky road race that starts in Vancouver and ends in Whistler—the brand new XFONDO was designed to challenge the participants and get them out of their comfort zones, according to the race’s marketing director Oliver Cartmell.

“The first thing to say is that it’s completely new as far as we can understand in the world of cycling. As event operators, we’ve been traditionally creating world-class road events, but we really wanted to challenge ourselves as well as road riders to get a little bit more out of their comfort zone than they are used to,” said Cartmell.

“We’re lucky to be in this environment and we know there’s a ton of really cool stuff out there, so we thought, ‘how can we bring that to people?’ The XFONDO really was that calling to the wild to see what’s out there.”

It’s worth noting the XFONDO is not purely a cycling event, Cartmell added.

“We really want to have the celebration afterwards be almost the focal point,” he said.

“Just more down-to-Earth, more fun and keeping it local. I think XFONDO really is designed to be for the communities that it goes into.”

The race kicked off on Saturday with a mass-start foot race to the bikes before contestants hit the trails for one of two race options: a 46-kilometre route or a longer 60-km route. Each category started in Spruce Grove with a couple laps around Lost Lake before taking riders up the highway past WedgeWoods. Contestants in the 46-km event turned around near the Pemberton Speedway before travelling back down the highway, ending back in Spruce Grove. Those racing in the longer version continued past the speedway, doing a loop near Mount Currie before also returning to Spruce Grove.

According to Cartmell, not even the wet and rainy conditions to start the day could put a damper on the energy and excitement the participants brought to the event, making the first-annual race a total success.

“There was a lot of anticipation in the morning. People didn’t really know what to expect, especially as we’ve been keeping our cards close to our chest,” Cartmell said.

And though the day started with “one of those damp Whistler mornings,” the event ramped up once the music and MC got going.

“I think people got really geared up and I think they really appreciated the course. Then the post-ride party kept people entertained with food and drink and the band [The Hairfarmers],” Cartmell said.

“So it was a wet start, but things eventually warmed up and I think from an internal team point of view, we were super happy with how everything went. It was a super fun thing to put on and we couldn’t have asked for more. It was really a celebration of everything we were trying to achieve, off-road cycling, on-road cycling and just coming together after the pandemic and sharing good times.”

For Langley’s Svein Tuft, a professional road and gravel cyclist who was on hand at the event and rode the course in an untimed course marshall-type role, the race’s unique style, which brings together road, gravel and trail, has the makings of an extremely popular and potentially long-running event here in town.

“The night before we rode the course, it was dry, sunny and pretty warm. Then the following morning it was just polar opposite. But it was an awesome course,” he said. “I think it really brought a challenge to a lot of folks who maybe are coming from Vancouver and have ridden some of the gravel loops around there, but this was steep climbs, some good technical sections and really fun, flowing single track. The whole time you just have a smile on your face, it’s really incredible.”

The overall winner for the inaugural XFONDO was Whistler’s own Karsten Madsen, who finished the 60-km course with a time of 2:40:25. Rounding out the top three were Vancouver’s Paul Moffat and North Vancouver’s Matt Shandro with times of 2:45:18 and 2:45:42, respectively.

Daamiann Skelton led the way on the women’s side with a time of 3:17:04 followed by Grace Menning and Pam Frentzel-Beyme in second and third, respectively.

In the 46-km course, it was Pemberton’s Lauren Robinson setting the pace with a time of 3:04:25 followed closely by Heidi Gropp at 3:05:16. Rounding out the top three was Vancouver’s Dave Fitzpatrick, the top male finisher, with a time of 3:16:52.

This being the first-ever XFONDO, Cartmell and the team decided not to open up registration for next year’s event immediately, like they do for the GranFondo, so they have time to debrief, collect feedback from participants and put a plan in place to make next year’s version even better for everyone involved.

“We really want this to be an event where people are counting down the days until it happens,” said Cartmell. “The No. 1 question I got asked this weekend was ‘when can I sign up for Year 2?’ We’ve had people online asking the same question, so the demand seems to be pretty high for Year 2.

“We will be working hard to bring that to the table and announcing that in the future, but for now, I think the main thing is for people to just put their feet up because it was a hard-earned ride out there on Saturday.”

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