GranFondo a success, and only the beginning 

Organizers looking to expand field to 10,000

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Whistler has hosted some big sporting events in the past, but nothing with as many participants as the RBC GranFondo.

On Sept. 11 a field of over 4,000 riders made the 122 km journey from downtown Vancouver to Whistler, with organizers rolling out the red carpet the whole way - all of Georgia Street was closed, and two lanes through Stanley Park and over the Lions Gate Bridge. From there, riders had much of Taylor Way to themselves before turning onto the Upper Levels Highway where they had their own express lane to Whistler.

Riders took anywhere from just over three hours to nine hours to complete the ride, with another group of roadies joining the group in Squamish in the "Medio" category.

Modelled after events in Europe, the GranFondo - which translates literally as "big ride" from Italian - quickly became one of the biggest events of its kind in North America. Originally organizers planned to host 2,500 riders in the inaugural year, but with strong interest from the start they asked stakeholders and received permission to increase the field to 4,000 riders.

Organizers plan to continue to build the event, increasing the number of riders to 6,000 in 2011 and to 10,000 in 2012 - but only if their own numbers back that.

"Obviously, as event organizers we will dissect everything, and obviously there are some areas where we can improve, but the general feeling in the cycling community is that it's an exciting event that will only grow in popularity over time," said Neil McKinnon, one of the race's co-founders.

"There were two big criteria we had when we decided to stage the event... one was safety and one was integrity. When it comes to safety it's our job to analyze the event, and we went to a point where we actually put cameras on riders so we could watch the video and dissect it. There are a lot of people with opinions, and we're gathering feedback to see how we can deliver a better, safer environment.

"As for the second one, integrity, we're asking people to devote a weekend of their summer. It's a big investment time-wise, and we wanted to make sure it was a great experience. I think from that perspective we really nailed it. We do have an opportunity to expand it from that perspective, because we have people telling us that it was really fun and that they would do it again."

On Monday, Sept. 13 the organizers opened registration to founding riders, and within a short period of time the amount of demand crashed their servers. They moved onto another portal at Amazon.com, the second largest in North America, and it crashed again. Over 1,500 riders and volunteers from this year registered in the first 24 hours.

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