Monday, September 8, 2014

Mangs open and close the Whistler Gran Fondo

Most of the Team Mangs rode in to the start line from
Capilano - crossing the Lion's Gate Bridge at 5AM for a
warm up.
Some of us just signed up for a 74 mile ride from Vancouver to Whistler - a cumulative climbing effort of little less than 7,000 feet. Ok, it's going to be difficult, but we should be able to handle it, right? And then we can enjoy Whistler.  But on the day of the packet pickup, someone (yes, you know who you are..wink) convinced the rest of us to upgrade to the 94 mile "Forte" ride - which goes through the same route except it adds a 10 mile, 2,500 foot climb up the Cypress mountain and back.
Team Mangs at the start of the Forte line
The Whistler Gran Fondo is one of those epic rides where locals and semi-pro riders descend into the neighborhood.  Local community and government participation is high - specially since it's a significant economic boost for the resort.  Major arteries, the Highway 1 freeway, and the whole stretch of Highway 99 (Sea-to-Sky Highway) from West Vancouver to Whistler were blocked off to give riders at least one lane (in the case of Highway 1, the whole southbound lane was dedicated to the ride from 6 AM to 11 AM).  Thousands upon thousands of cones to guide traffic and ultra nice and good looking (really!) government workers assisted in waving traffic away from cyclists until around 3 PM.   The organization, crowd support, cooperation from drivers and locals was all superb. This was by far the best road experience Team Mang has ever had...except maybe for the food on the stops (which wasn't much).  But then again, it's not a typical Cascade relaxed ride - it was a fondo...which basically means, you go and race!
The event entourage waiting on our flat tire repair so they can
reopen Cypress Boulevard, an hour and a half behind schedule
We rolled out at around 6:15 AM to the sound of the starting gun.  Even as the announcer made sure to let everyone know it was a neutral start all the way up to around mile 3, it seemed like we were already getting left behind just riding up to Lion's Gate Bridge.   Our fast riders, Mang Boni and Mang Alex kept up with the lead group and kept their race pace on. But the other half (the group I was in) took a more relaxed pace with other riders. It turns out that the unwritten expectation was for Forte riders to be done with the Cypress climb by 8:30. But a few riders and the other half of
At the top of Cypress Mountain
Team Mang were still on a relaxed climbing pace going up the the top by 9AM.  A couple of flats on the way down further delayed the trip.  We actually had the whole event entourage waiting on us do a flat repair just to make sure we were out of the Cypress road before they reopened it to the public.
Racing by ourselves on Highway 1 was a unique experience - as the empty freeway felt eerie and we were a bit embarrassed by the fact that by then, even the fondo (74 mile) riders who had rolled out of the start line 45 minutes after us, had already gone past on the same freeway.   It felt a bit better, though, on the Sea-to-Sky Highway as we slowly started catching up with the tail end of the Fondo group.
Mang Jay cruising along the sealed
off sections of the Sea-to-Sky
We all went on our own pace - trying to stick together and work together but we eventually all got separated into 3 groups.  A little after we reached Squamish (the start of the long 30 mile climb to Whistler), the lead group of Mang Boni and Mang Alex was only a few miles from the finish, crossing the line around half past 1. The other half of us slogged through, as temps reached the mid 90's.  The consistent rolling hills combined with the heat to drain the second half of the team.  Pit stops on the last half of the ride were abundant - almost every 10 miles - which was good for shade and hydration.  At the last stop - 9 miles from the finish - we all decided to wait for each other...except that the sweeper car was already there! Uh,oh...
So we soldiered on so as not to get swept up.  The lead rider of our group, Cris, finished maybe a half hour before the others, just past 3PM.  Mid pack of the tail end, Mang Jay, Raf and Dondi finished around 3:30 while Mang Harry literally closed the event - leading the sweeper car behind him about 20 minutes later.
Mangs at the Whistler Village after the "race"- From left to right:
Raf, Jojie, Jay, Cris, Alex, Boni, Dondi and Harry
This "race" goes into our history - another event where we represented in front, in the middle (Mang Jojie did the fondo event and finished with a decent time) and at the end - literally.  We may not have gotten great race results but we did get great ride memories! I have to give kudos, of course, to our friends from H2Velo, who were there to race with us - at least with the lead group.  They are an awesome group of riders, too, and awesome to hang out with.
Scratch that off the bucket list...and you can be sure we'll be back next year to do better...or not.