The Whistler Gran Fondo took place just under a week after Tour of Alberta. I spent the time between races in Vancouver.
After the final stage of the Tour, we crossed the line, chatted for about five minutes, and then walked to the hotel to shower and change. We had no time to stretch or spin. We were on a tight schedule to get to an event at Lexus to thank our sponsor, and spend some time with local cyclists, supporters and fans. It served as the perfect opportunity for me to spend some more time chatting with young local cyclists and their parents.
I may tend to over share now that I’ve opened up about what I’ve struggled with. And sometimes I worry that that may be the case. But at this event, I had some time to talk to parents, whose kids are at the age that I was when I started to really take cycling seriously. I took the time to tell a shortened version of how this spring went, and what I wish I had done differently. Kids and parents had plenty of questions for me, and I stressed to them all that the most important part of cycling at their age, or any age for that matter, is to keep it fun. That’s the most important lesson I’ve ever forgotten.
I don’t know if that’s what my role is, or if it’s appropriate to assume that people want to hear my two cents, but if I can share a little bit about what I’ve experienced, perhaps others will be able to navigate the same waters as I have, but with fewer hurdles.
I loved spending time with people who look up to me and want to hear what I have to say. I felt a sense of importance and got the feeling that cycling, for me, has grown to be about more than riding bikes quickly. Perhaps it’s also something that gives me a sense of purpose in the role of a mentor, and can put me in position as someone with answers, or valuable advice.
I enjoyed my first beer in probably a year at the event. I don’t care much for alcohol, but as a reward for such a monumental and successful change in the direction of my life, it seemed fitting to celebrate. We went from the event to a pub, and had a few more drinks, before walking to Denny’s to see who could eat the most all you can eat pancakes. We ran the 2 km back from Denny’s to the hotel around 2 am, with full stomachs. I was asleep by 2:30, and up again at 4:30 to be on the road by 5:00 for the drive back to Vancouver.
After a 2 hour sleep, proceeded by a 12 hour drive, I was pretty wrecked when I woke up on the sixth. Despite being in no condition to receive any benefit from training, I wanted to ride. A friend I had met in Calgary before TOA was in town, so he and I along with a few Vancouver friends went for a ride up Cypress Mountain. It turned into a lovely four hour ride, but by the end I was toast. The following morning, the tour, the post tour, the drive to Vancouver and the ride up Cypress caught up with me. I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. The next two days were strictly for coffee shop rides with my friend and ex-team mate, Amiel.
The Fondo started at 6:30 on the morning of Saturday, the 9th. It was a ridiculously early start, barely lit by the not-yet risen sun in the overcast Vancouver sky. It was cool, and I rode into Stanley park at 5:30. It was pitch black, lit only by the lights of other keen cyclists. The cool, damp air, and the fact that I was up before the sun to ride for the first time in ages, combined with the warm light emitted by the hundreds of bike lights gave me a feeling similar to that of a child’s on Christmas morning. I was excited and filled with nervous anticipation. In that moment, I came to peace with the less than ideal weather, and was grateful for the amount of summer I had experienced. As cold as it was, I felt warm inside. This was a welcomed feeling, as cooler weather had otherwise been fairly dreaded by me.
We started with a neutral roll-out through the park and across the Lions Gate Bridge. The flag dropped as we turned right at the base of a short but steep climb up Taylor way. I had heard that someone usually sets a hard pace up that first climb in an effort to thin the pack. I took it upon myself to set the tempo, as I wasn’t interested in having anyone but myself test my legs. As we crested the climb, attacks started to fly, and the first few drops of rain streaked across my carefully selected clear glasses lenses.
With $15,000 on the line for the winner, I knew the racing would be aggressive. My main competition would be Nigel Ellsay, of Silber. The others were Ryan Aitcheson and his team mate, Dylan Davies of Langlois Brown, the Toronto Hustle squad of four, Ted King, two UHC riders, and a handful of others. As the only H&R rider, I had my work cut out for me. With no one to share the workload, I had to cover any move that I considered risky, which was difficult to narrow down.
The attacks were constant for the first 10 km, and the rain was now properly upon us. Eventually a group of four rode off. The pack settled down a little, and I waited, watching Nigel. Around 30 km in, I attacked and Michael Van Den Ham followed. We were a group of two chasing a group of four. A few km later, Ryan and his team mate joined us. We rode steadily, and caught three out of the four leaders around 60 km into the race.
Throughout the ride, I tested the other riders in my group. I would go to the front on the climbs, and set a tempo. I’d listen to the others breathe, encouraged by how laboured it was. I’d wait for someone to yell ‘steady!’ or ‘chill the fuck out’ as Ryan’s team mate liked to say. Those remarks were confidence boosts. It meant I had better legs. Around 80 km in, after we caught the lone leader, we were suddenly and unexpectedly caught by a large chase group, led by Nigel, and made up of Ted King, Dylan Davies, Gavin Mannion and several others.
I was now less confident. These riders are power-houses, and they’d spent less time in the break, and were therefore fresher. As soon as they caught us, Nigel rode past and attacked. I chased on. Another attack went. I followed. Soon I was the only one left from the original leaders and chasers, in a group 12 or so strong. With 12 km to go, Nigel put out the most ruthless attack I’ve ever witnessed. I knew I had to follow, and closed my eyes as I dug deeper than I ever have. It might have only been a minute, it felt like it was at least two, but I had to focus on putting every ounce of energy through the pedals. Keeping my eyes open would have been inefficient. I latched onto his wheel as we crested the hill. Uninterested in towing me to the line, he sat up a bit. I was too cracked to pull. We were caught by the group. Had I been a little stronger, we might have stuck it, but I just didn’t have it.
Nigel attacked again with 8 km to go. I started to dangle off the back, and Ted King, the retired world tour rider, looked back and saw me falling behind. He soft pedalled for a few seconds to let me into his draft and helped me back up to the group. I had some extra momentum as I caught the back of our now reduced group of six at the base of a small rise, so I rode by and tried an attack. I was empty. It was like firing a blank. So close to the finish, I knew I was no longer in contention for a win. With three km to, I was dropped. I crossed the line in 6th, 18 seconds behind the winner.
I still finished within the record time set by the winner last year. It was a fast race.
I raced hard. I rode smart. I knew what cards I had and I played them. There’s not much I would have done differently. Sometimes, people are just faster than you. I have no excuses. I’m pretty pleased with how I raced. I felt strong, which is a good sign.
Unfortunately, I have no photos of the Fondo, but here's a link to the Strava file if you're interested!