Just three weeks ago, Andrew Pinfold welcomed the birth of his first child. For the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling rider, that joyous occasion has meant that he hasn't had all that much time for racing or training of late, and he's been sleeping in three-hour bursts.
But the North Vancouver resident still managed to triumph in the closely contested Giro race portion of the inaugural RBC GranFondo Whistler on Saturday (Sept. 11), winning an exciting sprint to the finish after three hours of swift, determined riding through the tough climbs and swooping downhill pitches on the Sea to Sky Highway.
After blasting on to Whistler's Blackcomb Way at the head of a pack of about seven sprinting competitors, Pinfold led the way over the finish line with both arms raised high to wrap up the 120-kilometre journey from Vancouver to Whistler in style. He clocked in at three hours, 14 minutes and 29 seconds.
"It was hotly contested. It was a sprint finish, which can go a lot of different ways, and it went well for us, so I was really pleased by that," said Pinfold, crediting teamwork through the race with fellow UnitedHealthcare rider Morgan Schmitt.
A leading B.C. road cycling racer, Pinfold said it was "amazing" to have the Sea to Sky Highway dominated by cyclists for the GranFondo event.
"It's such a privilege That road is definitely intimidating with the traffic - I ride to Squamish every now and again, I live in North Vancouver, but I've never gone beyond Squamish, so that was a real treat," Pinfold said.
Nic Hamilton of the Trek Red Truck Racing team claimed second place in the men's race, followed by Garneau Evolution's Tim Abercrombie in third.
In the women's race, Total Restoration's Leah Guloien led the way even though she didn't have the backing of a team. After a stint of ultra-fast and aggressive racing in Europe, Guloien pushed the pace in the GranFondo and concluded with a winning attack, finishing in three hours, 37 minutes and two seconds.
She and Pinfold both said they would be interested in returning to the Sea to Sky for future GranFondo races; Pinfold said he hopes to come back with more teammates in tow.
"I wasn't really sure what to expect," Guloien said of her initial expectation of the course. "I thought it was going to be a lot more really hard climbing, but it's not. It's quite rolling, you get a lot of downhill to rest on. I don't think people should be deterred from doing it because the course isn't too hard at all - it was a good course."
Trek Red Truck Racing's Leah Kirchmann sped into second place, followed by Claire Cameron in third. Squamish's Brandi Heisterman of the Northlands Medical Clinic Cycling Team powered to ninth place in the women's race, followed by Team Whistler's Ann Yew in 10th.
Like so many of the approximately 4,062 riders who completed the leg-taxing journey and revelled in the experience of the inaugural GranFondo Whistler, Heisterman said unequivocally that she would love to do it again.
She raved about the experience for the sea of cyclists that took over the Lions Gate Bridge and Sea to Sky Highway, starting with the 6:50 a.m. departure of the Giro riders who were followed by the wave of some 4,000 cyclists in the mass ride.
"It was wicked, going across the bridge - I took a chance to look out at the pink sky. It was amazing, it was really amazing," Heisterman said. "It was just such a freeing feeling. You don't have to ever worry about cars the whole day - and when do you ever get to not worry about cars? It's so rare. And to have the whole Sea to Sky Highway to yourself was just awesome."
Team Whistler's Trevor Hopkins was the fastest Whistler rider in the Giro category, completing his odyssey in 3:30:40 for 60th place out of the more than 100 male Giro racers. Fellow Team Whistler rider Joshua Stott was hot on his heels in 61st at 3:30:42, and said he enjoyed the challenging experience.
"It was hard. I don't think I've ever been in a same race as guys of that calibre; just trying to stick with them for as long as possible kind of took its toll on me by Squamish. But I got with a good group of guys after Squamish," said Stott, who stuck close to the pack of top guns through the muscle-melting Furry Creek climb, but eventually fell behind and was later reenergized by getting into a group with the likes of Hopkins, Whistler's Jason Shorter and Squamish's Dwayne Kress.
"I buried myself; I'm hurting. I tried my hardest. I'm happy," a smiling Stott said in Lot 4.
Shorter, who finished two seconds behind Team Whistler's Otto Kamstra, completed the 120-km journey in 3:33:19 despite the herniated disc in his lower back.
He described the racing as "pretty much full gas the whole way." The Furry Creek hill seemed to serve as the major separation point, breaking up a big initial group of racers.
"I survived. I just felt like I had to do it. I'm glad I did, but it was a lot of suffering," Shorter said.
Like Shorter, Kress found himself reminding riders in the group around him that they didn't need to cling to the shoulder and gutter - the road was theirs.
"It's great because this is a cumulation of bike culture for the whole last year, and there's a lot of closet roadies that have come out and embraced riding on the road now (The event is) attainable, it's a goal most people can do, and you don't get this kind of scenery throughout Canada," Kress said.
But he admitted that he didn't have much chance to soak up the views. He hammered across the line in a time of 3:29:50 for 57th place.
"I saw a few nice wheelsets, I think the odd banana; I wasn't looking up much," he laughed.
Mass ride a massive hit
For the thousands of cyclists in the mass ride portion of the GranFondo, the experience was about much more than the race. After it was all over, participants shared stories of personal accomplishments and pride, of the intense shared joy in the ride, of the chance for family members to experience it all together, and of the long-lost and new friends they encountered. Many also commended the event organizers for a smoothly run and enjoyable inaugural event.
There were many exhilarated smiles on faces crossing the finish line in Whistler, where admiring spectators lined the final leg and cheered the triumphant riders into the well-deserved festivities in Day Lot 4.
Whistler's Julia Murray, the 2010 Olympic ski cross racer and World Cup medallist, took part in the ride with family members and soaked up the happy vibes in the sea of thousands of cyclists, beginning with the enjoyably mellow start in Vancouver and continuing through the conversations that flew back and forth throughout the ride.
"It was super fun. My parents and I did it together, so Stephanie and Ray and I drafted the whole way," Murray laughed.
Team Whistler's Phil Chew was perhaps too sore to sport a big smile when he made it into the party zone in Lot 4, but he said it was a good ride, and he had accomplished his goal of completing it in less than five hours. He smashed that mark with a finishing time of 4:40:45.
After the ride, Chew said he was feeling "really sore. I gave the last little bit, because I knew once we got to the Callaghan, I'm used to riding that, so I started turning it on a little bit more, but oh! There was a lot of hills."
Whistler's Alison Iles, who completed her journey in 4:16:42 for 22nd place out of about 360 riders in the Female 40 to 49 category, finished filled with joy about the "spectacularly well-run race" and expressed sentiments shared by many of the riders.
The emotional mass start, the cheering spectators all along the highway and the warm friendliness of the other riders and support staff - topped off with the better-than-expected weather - were some of the many elements that made the experience an incredible one for her.
"I ran into several people from other provinces that I hadn't seen in years, and met new friends. I have loved hearing and sharing stories with others about the race I can't believe how fast the first-place mixed team (Team Fun Hog) rode; I am very proud of them," Iles wrote in an email to The Question.
"I have heard nothing negative about the race, which is testament to how great it really was."
Team Fun Hog, which included seven strong Whistler riders, finished first overall among the co-ed teams. Team members included Marla Zucht, the fastest rider in the Female 30 to 39 category; Kristin Johnston, who finished third in the Female 40 to 49 category; Guy Patterson, who pedalled into 20th place in the Male 30 to 39 division; plus fellow Whistlerites James Hallisey, Ted Battiston, Greg McDonnell and Scott Hall.
Other top local riders who finished in the top 10 in their divisions:
Claire Daniels and Christina McKean, who finished third and sixth, respectively, in the Female 20 to 29 category;
Donna Savage, the fourth-fastest woman in the Female 60 to 69 category;
Team Whistler's Michael Boehm, who finished fourth in the Male 30 to 39 division;
Dawn Weberg-Titus and Kristine Ongman, who finished seventh and eighth, respectively, in the Female 50 to 59 division;
Gary Baker, who finished third in the Male 70-plus category, and who crossed the line side-by-side with wife Brenda, the 11th-fastest woman in the Female 50 to 59 category; and
Greg Sandkuhl, who finished 10th in the Male 60 to 69 category.
Whistler's Tim Bonnell was the fastest rider in the Medio ride from Squamish to Whistler, posting a time of 1:58:42. Whistler's Suzanne Bilodeau was the fastest local woman in the Medio course, finishing 22nd overall in 2:31:57.
For full results, and a chance to for new participants to register for the 2011 ride starting on Monday (Sept. 20) at noon, check out rbcgranfondowhistler.com. Registration for 2011 for riders and volunteers in the inaugural event started Monday (Sept. 13).
The event took a somber hue for some of the participants who saw the serious crash of one cyclist early in the ride. GranFondo spokesperson Shaun Poole said the rider was "immediately taken by ambulance to hospital, where he remains in stable condition.
"We're still looking into the circumstances of the crash, but we have determined that no other rider or vehicle was involved," Poole wrote in an email to The Question. "The entire RBC GranFondo Whistler team was deeply saddened by the incident, and we continue to keep the injured rider and his family in our thoughts."