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Whistler road bike rookie crushes GranFondo

After a 'spontaneous' decision to register, local Stefan Koch finished 160th out of 4,422 riders in the 122-km division
StefanKochGranFondoWhistlerBC
Whistler local Stefan Koch was one of the thousands of cyclists who rode from Vancouver’s Stanley Park to Whistler Village as part of the 2022 RBC GranFondo.

Most cyclists riding in Saturday, Sept. 10’s RBC GranFondo Whistler would have trained for months—or headed out for a long ride or two, at least—before setting out on the gruelling, 122-kilometre trek from Stanley Park to Whistler Village.

Not Stefan Koch.

“It wasn’t even my own bike,” said the Whistler resident and first-time Fondo rider with a laugh. “I don’t have any road bike experience.”

He signed up one week prior to the ride, only once he was confident the sunshine predicted in the forecast would stick around. The 43-year-old software engineer arrived at Brockton Point at 6:40 a.m. on Saturday, 20 minutes before his event’s start time, with a bike borrowed from a friend and equipped with U.K.- style brakes, to boot. “It was a little bit hectic,” he said.

Koch, who admitted to being an avid mountain biker, set an ambitious goal of completing the ride in three hours and 45 minutes. “But we had so much headwind,” he said. “It was crazy, especially from Squamish onwards.”

Still, Koch managed to crush the course in four hours, seven minutes and 36 seconds, according to the event’s officially posted results, making him the 160th rider out of 4,422 to cross the Fondo finish line, and 21st out of the 390 riders in his men’s age 40-44 division. That also made him the fastest Whistlerite (or rider that listed Whistler as their home city, at least) to complete the 122-km Fondo. (Keep reading for more results.)

It was the first time the event returned to the Sea to Sky after a three-year hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, drawing a record crowd of approximately 6,800 riders. The majority chose to tackle the more than 2,100 metres of elevation along the 122-km GranFondo course, though participants can also opt to ride the 55-km Medio course, an out-and-back route from Whistler Village to Whistler Olympic Park, or challenge themselves to the 152- km Forte event, which throws in a trip up Cypress Mountain on top of the already arduous Fondo course.

However, Mother Nature served up some challenging conditions for the thousands of cyclists that took to Highway 99 on Saturday. In addition to those stronger-than-usual headwinds blowing down the Sea to Sky corridor, temperatures in Whistler soared to a high of 30 C on Sept. 10, according to Environment Canada.

The obstacle was evident in the posted results: In 2019, the last time the event took place, the top male riders crossed the finish line just under the three hour, 15 minute mark, while the fastest women clocked in at around three-and-a-half hours.

This year, the fastest riders finished the 122-km course in just under three- and-a-half hours, while most of the top women inched closer toward the four-hour mark. The last rider to cross the finish line Saturday (riding in the men’s 70+ category) crossed in just over 10 hours, 15 minutes—“They’re the real heroes,” Koch quipped.

Despite the gusty conditions, Koch said he “really enjoyed the entire race,” from the sunrise ride over the Lions Gate Bridge to rolling past cheering crowds over the Whistler Village finish line.

He said he didn’t experience any of the frustrating supply shortages many riders reported encountering at aid stations along the course, mostly because he never planned to stop at any in the first place. Instead, Koch packed enough snacks to refuel every hour while two litres of water lasted him the whole 122 kilometres.

“The other real advantage ... I felt is that I [was] riding home,” explained Koch, who moved to the resort from Germany in 2013. “For me, especially when I passed B.O.B., I knew [the finish line] was like 37 kilometres from there, so I cranked up the pace, and then when you roll into Function, I just got out of the saddle and gave it everything I had. In the end I almost cramped on the turn into the Village. But I’m really stoked with my effort.”

Koch offered thanks in particular to Dylan Layzell, who lent him the bike, and friends Dan Harmon and Sara Redondo for the “exceptional support.” Koch said he would encourage everyone to sign up for the challenge and complete the ride at their own pace.

“It’s such a cool event,” he added.

RESULTS

Medio – 55 km

Men:

  • Ethan Smith – Pender Island – 1:43:36
  • Wes Campbell – Courtenay - 1:44:31
  • Joseph Bloodworth – Seattle – 1:45:03

Women:

  • Bonnie Hatswell – W. Vancouver – 1:51:39
  • Nurit Altman – Toronto – 2:03:59
  • Hannah Ross – Squamish – 2:07:18

Gran Fondo – 122 km

Men:

  • Torin Halvorson – Victoria 3:37:45
  • Thomas Ford – Vancouver - 3:38:18
  • Kris Yip - Prince George - 3:38:19

Women:

  • Brooke Davis - Shoreline, Wash. - 3:49:51
  • Jen Petersen – Vancouver - 3:55:09
  • Madeleine Pollock – N. Vancouver - 3:59:14

St. Regis Cup – 122 km (Elite team division)

Men:

  • Alexander Fraser-Maraun – Vancouver - 3:27:01
  • ColeGlover–Victoria- 3:28:12 & Braden Kersey – Vernon – 3:28:12
  • Luke Hubner - Qualicum Beach - 3:28:36

Women:

  • Sarah Van Dam - Victoria 3:45:49
  • Nadia Gontova – Vancouver -3:53.45
  • Brenna Pauly – Victoria – 3:56:44

Forte – 152 km

Men:

  • Colin Eriks – Vancouver - 4:29:30
  • Ashley Weber – Kelowna - 4:42:45
  • Peter Krumins – Tacoma - 4:47:55

Women:

  • Sarah Goodridge - Calgary – 5:34:33
  • Abby Edison – Vancouver - 5:41:06
  • Amanda Lau – Vancouver – 5:44.05