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Riding the 2016 Whistler GranFondo

By Katharine Mills

The 7th annual GranFondo Whistler will be rolling through the Sea to Sky on Saturday 10th September.

The GranFondo was first envisioned in 2007 when cycling enthusiasts Kevin Thomson and Neil McKinnon had the idea of putting on a world-class cycling event to serve as a legacy event of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. After three years in September 2010, their vision materialized as the inaugural GranFondo Whistler took 4,000 cyclists up the Sea to Sky highway in a dedicated car-free lane from Vancouver to Whistler. In the next years, rider capacity grew to 7,000 and the event has consistently been a recipient of Get Out There Magazine’s Readers’ Choice Award for the Best Cycling Event in Western Canada.

If you’re considering taking part, here’s our top reasons to take the plunge and join thousands of other riders along one of the most scenic routes in the world.

The Route

The Sea to Sky highway has been voted one of the top drives in the world. Sweeping vistas of the turquoise Howe Sound and peaked islands transform into panoramic snow-capped mountains as the highway climbs from Vancouver to Whistler. Aside from the views, the route climbs over 3,000 metres (or almost 10,000ft) over the 122km, making it a challenging Fondo for cyclists to test their abilities.

The route first takes riders out of Vancouver over the Lions Gate Bridge.

While the route is cyclable year-round, it is only for the GranFondo that part of the highway is closed to vehicles, giving cyclists a dedicated car-free lane to ride in safety.

The Support

All riders taking part are fully supported along the course with five Rest Stops along the GranFondo route, meaning that cyclists do not need a support crew following them. The rest stops are located at 20 km, 51 km, 73 km, 88 km and 107 km and are stocked with fresh water, nutritional supplements (gels, energy bars etc) and electrolytes. There are also first aid facilities, toilets and mechanical attendants at the Rest Stops.

Riders are also fully supported outside of Rest Stops in case of a mechanical problem with roving mechanical agents throughout the route!

Expect cheering crowds and cow bells at these Rest Stops and through the final ride into Whistler, as locals and visitors line the highway and the entrance to the village to bring riders along the home stretch.

The Race Categories

Riders can choose between three distances for the Fondo. Those with less experience to tackle the full Fondo but who still want to feel the thrill of the day can register for the Medio category, a shorter 55km ride from Squamish to Whistler. The main event is the GranFondo which takes riders 122km from Vancouver to Whistler. For advanced riders who want to conquer the mountains, there is a challenging Forte category which sees riders summit Vancouver’s Cypress Mountain before descending and then ascending the Sea to Sky highway to Whistler. This final category is limited to 500 entrants and is only for advanced riders who can maintain an average speed of 20km/h throughout the duration of the race.

As well as the three distances, there is a Giro Race over the GranFondo for Category 1, 2 or 3 only riders with Prize Money available.


The route ascends into BC’s coastal mountains.

The Transport

New for the 2016 race, riders and their support crew can stay the night in Whistler and enjoy the post-race activities and then take a bus back to Vancouver on the Sunday. There will be limited buses leaving on race-day, with more options available on the Sunday. Buses will stop at various locations to pick up passengers on Sunday, and will drop off at the Lululemon Head Office in Kitsilano, Vancouver. Please see the GranFondo website for more details: http://granfondowhistler.com/transportation


katharine millsKatharine Mills is a trail and ultra runner living in North Vancouver. Originally from the UK, she lived in Whistler for two years before making the move to the city. Compared to the UK, she thinks Canada has an incredible lifestyle, but terrible tea. Her favourite things are exploring the wilds of the BC backcountry, racing mountain bikers down the trails of North Vancouver, and Honey’s Doughnuts from Deep Cove.


August 2, 2016


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