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RBC GranFondo Whistler cancelled

Riders can defer entry until 2021 or 2022
The 2020 RBC GranFondo Whistler was cancelled on May 21. File photo by Dan Falloon

After holding out hope for as long as possible, organizers of the RBC GranFondo Whistler announced the event's cancellation on May 21.

Citing the provincial government's recent four-phase reopening plan in which events larger than 50 people would not be allowed until "a vaccine or successful medical treatment is widely available," organizers reasoned that as a mass event, the Sept. 12 race would not go ahead this year. The 2020 race was also set to double as the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships, marking the first time the event was to be held in North America.

"To be completely transparent, it has been an emotional roller coaster," race founder and GranFondo Canada president Neil McKinnon said on May 22. "The RBC GranFondo Whistler and particularly the World Championships is very aspirational. People train, people plan, and this happens over years. It transforms people's lives, so we take it very seriously.

"Even up to May 5th, we were so hopeful, but we certainly understand and agree with the position of the provincial government and health authorities," he added.

"It's disappointing, but under these circumstances, we agree that the most important thing is to get a handle on this so that we can eradicate it or control it."

McKinnon noted that many of the European qualifiers are held in the spring and were among the first to go, making the World Championships unlikely to happen.

"We knew the writing was on the wall throughout the year for the World Championships particularly, as all the qualifying events were cancelled," he said. "When some of them were postponed, they were postponed until after the Championships."

Those registered for the race will be granted a free transfer into either the 2021 or 2022 events with more details set to be revealed in the months to come.

"We'll do things on a case-by-case basis, but as you can imagine, when we have thousands of people registering, which we did, we have to create policy," he said. "We've gone beyond the industry standard, which is deferral by one year. We're certainly a reasonable organization. We'll take instances case by case."

While acknowledging that the UCI has a lot on its plate with numerous events in several different disciplines and that it needs events to happen to make money, McKinnon said he had hoped for more help from the governing body in navigating the crisis.

"I'm a bit disappointed in the UCI in that they weren't proactive in working with us to create opportunity, but in the end, I think everybody understood what was going on," he said. "The challenge that we found was we have a duty of obligation to participants, not only our local backyard, but international participants who are coming.

"We just felt that we were waiting for some leadership—and we're still waiting for some leadership. It's been a bit challenging."

UCI Gran Fondo World Series manager Erwin Vervecken, who is based in Belgium, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Roughly 22 hours after the GranFondo announcement was made public, the UCI had not shared news of the cancellation on its website or social media channels. McKinnon said that he's unsure at this point as to whether the RBC GranFondo Whistler will serve as the UCI World Championships in 2021 or another year in the future, adding that he and fellow organizers have created the legacy of planning to this point and haven't given up on welcoming the World Championships down the line.

He added that stakeholders and sponsors have been supportive and have continued the relationship into 2021.

"We're a very robust event business. It's what we do," he said. "We are very viable going into 2021."

As a large event welcoming roughly 5,000 riders, McKinnon said that when it returns, it likely won't look the same as it did in years prior.

"We suspect that there will be new normals," he said. "If anybody's got the capacity to adjust, it's us, because all we do are cycling events. We're already starting to make plans for a triumphant return in 2021 and as such, if we need to adjust in any way, we'll work with our stakeholders and obviously our health authorities to ensure that we're following proper protocols."