There was no place like home for Will Routley on Saturday (Sept. 7).
Riding in the RBC GranFondo Whistler for the first time, the local pro cyclist took top spot by beating out nearly 4,000 other participants to the finish line in his hometown. Routley started breaking away from the main pack of riders as it reached Squamish and completed the 122-kilometre ride up the Sea to Sky Highway from Downtown Vancouver in three hours, 21 minutes, 11 seconds.
"It's nice to get a chance to do an event like this at home," said Routley, who has spent the season riding for Belgian pro team Accent Jobs Wanty. "I've spent maybe five weeks in Canada this whole year, so to finally get to come home and ride my bike with a bunch of old friends was pretty neat."
Cameron Evans, a former teammate of Routley's from early in their road racing careers, took runner-up honours, crossing the finish line 11 seconds back.
Riders were greeted by a dark and rainy morning at the start line Saturday morning, but the sun broke through the clouds just as Routley arrived to a big group of fans lining the finish area on Blackcomb Way.
The 30-year-old has spent plenty of time in his day riding up and down Highway 99. But never quite like this.
"There was a massive group until Squamish - probably still about 1,000 people," said Routley. "But from then onward it was all climbing so very quickly I put my head down and kind of time-trialled to Whistler."
Routley and Evans, who were once part of the Symmetrics squad together several years ago, reached the finish well ahead of the rest of the field, as third-place finisher Nigel Kinney (3:32:42) was more than two minutes behind, but held on to beat out another former Symmetrics rider, Canadian mountain bike Olympian Geoff Kabush, for the last podium spot.
"I knew (Routley) was kind of the guy to watch since it's his hometown race," said Evans. "I picked the right wheel and was lucky enough that he was nice enough to wait for me on the climbs, or back it off a bit so I could make it with him, otherwise I think he probably could have dropped me if he wanted to."
Routley said he felt a small amount of pressure to take the win Saturday given that it's his hometown race.
"It's funny, people were asking me if I've ever done the whole thing, and I'll often do a training ride by riding to Vancouver and then turning back. So today was, in some respects, kind of short," he said with a grin. "But I really like riding along Howe Sound. It's gorgeous. I think I've raced my bike in over 25 countries now and that's still some of the best view for riding you can ever have."
Guloien grabs first again
Leah Guloien was the top female finisher for the second year in a row and the third time in the four-year history of the event. She hit the finish in 30th spot overall, arriving with the first big pack of riders to cross the line at 3:24:20.
"It always feels good to win," said Guloien, who rides with the U.S.-based Team Colavita. "I was a little nervous at the beginning with the weather conditions not really being optimal. There were some crashes and that always makes me a little bit hesitant on the bike to be aggressive and confident with my riding, so I'm happy I made it to the end."
Having now participated in all four editions of the RBC GranFondo Whistler, the Port Moody racer said the ride is definitely among her favourites.
"It's a really fun event and it's low pressure - well, it's becoming more and more pressured if I keep winning every year," Guloien laughed.
Morgan Cabot (3:35:36) was the women's runner-up Saturday, while third place went to Jenny Lehmann (3:37:47).
Team Whistler on top
The Team Whistler/Whistler Question squad took top spot in the mixed team event Saturday for the second year in a row, officially taking the title when Lehmann crossed the line as the fifth and final rider the crew needed to stop the clock.
With Guloien also on the team again this year, and Trevor Hopkins and Mike Boehm each placing in the top 16 overall, the victory appeared to be a fairly comfortable one for the squad on Saturday.
Hopkins said that with the strength of Team Whistler's roster for this year, the group was confident it could again take the title. Joshua Stott, who placed 75th overall, also counted as one of the team's five qualifying riders, needing to get three men and two women to the finish.
"We thought we'd take it for sure," said Hopkins. "There were three of us in that group at the end, including (Guloien), and we kind of stayed together and knew that Jenny and Josh were in the next group behind us."
Team members Tony Routley, Joe Maika and Brandi Heisterman all placed within the top 200 overall as well. Todd's Racing was the winning men's crew and Watts Up Dawgs took home the women's team win.
In the Teams of 2 category, Robert Vasta and Darren Gray were the winning men's duo, Christine Jakovicic and Denise Johnson captured the women's victory, and J.F. Courville and Melody McCague topped the mixed division.
Hopkins and Boehm came through in 14th and 16th place, respectively, as part of the first big pack making it in. Hopkins said he felt strong all day and was pleased with his finish.
"I had a good day so I felt really good the whole way up," he said. "I never felt that I was struggling or had any problems keeping up."
But Hopkins also had to make a quick move to avoid a wipeout during the sprint to the finish, and certainly ended up in better shape than a rider who ended up under his wheel.
"With maybe two K to go, there was a crash and I ran over a guy's arm," he said. "My front wheel made it over; my back wheel ran over his arm and I had to chase to get back on to the group. Right after I crossed the finish line, my back tire went flat and I have a feeling it was from the impact of hitting that guy's arm."
Justin Homewood and Greg McConnell were among other Whistler riders who cracked the top 100 overall on Saturday. The top local female was Adina Bois, who completed the ride in 4:10:22.
See page 39 for a full list of results from Sea to Sky riders.
Longer ride coming for 2014
GranFondo Canada president Kevin Thomson said organizers were once again thrilled with the response from communities along the ride route - one that stands to get a little longer next year.
For the event's fifth anniversary, riders will have the option of taking on a 152-km ride instead. Thomson wasn't ready to divulge where the extra 30 km will be added, but said the reaction to the lengthened course is already tremendous.
"We have measured the new course and know that there is a lot more elevation gain," he said. "Registration is open already, and definitely the 152 is a big hit without anybody even knowing where they're going. It's exciting, and it's created a lot of buzz in the cycling community, based on all the notes we've been getting. We've got to keep it fresh."
Although the King and Queen of the Mountain and Squamish Sprint sections unfortunately didn't go as planned due to a timing equipment malfunction on Saturday, Thomson said organizers plan to bring back those races within the race next year.
The Super Early Bird registration rate for Sept. 6, 2014 is now available at www.rbcgranfondowhistler.com.