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A MASS OF CYCLISTS – Yukon cyclist Jillian Chown, bib 3574, waits at the start line, surrounded by 5,000 other cyclists, before the Vancouver-to-Whistler Gran Fondo on Sept. 7 in Stanley Park. Photo submitted by Jillian Chown

Cyclists ride in North America’s largest Gran Fondo

A total of 5,000 cyclists, representing more than 45 nations, descended on Vancouver for North America’s largest Gran Fondo.

By John Tonin on September 10, 2019

A total of 5,000 cyclists, representing more than 45 nations, descended on Vancouver for North America’s largest Gran Fondo. The race saw participants begin in Stanley Park and travel 122 kilometres to Whistler Village.

Yukon cyclist Jillian Chown was one of the riders. It was her first time competing in the Vancouver-to-Whistler journey.

“I wanted to do it for the past three years,” said Chown. “I had done the Haines-to-Haines (Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay), which is a similar race. I had heard about the Gran Fondo but kept missing the deadline.”

Stanley Park was full of cyclists and fans before the race began. Chown said it was like nothing she had ever seen before.

“I have never seen so many cyclists in my life,” said Chown. “It was like a Who concert. It was overwhelming, it made me cry.

“It was very nerve-wracking in Vancouver. So many riders. The intimidation factor was super-high.”

From Stanley Park, the riders cross the Lions Gate Bridge and travel along the world-famous Sea-to-Sky highway as it drops toward the Pacific Ocean before rising slowly to the perch of Whistler.

“It was amazing; the scenery was stunning,” said Chown. “It was the chance of a lifetime.”

One lane of the Sea-to-Sky Highway is closed for the race. The event website says it’s the only day when it’s not full of traffic, but 5,000 riders using the lane seems pretty traffic heavy.

Once Chown knew she was going to be racing in the Gran Fondo, she set to work training on her stationary bike.

“I did a lot of training indoors, because the winters in the Yukon are so long,” said Chown. “And then I did as much outdoor training as possible.”

Some of the cyclists participating rode in teams. Chown was not one of them, but she said she was able to join in with other riders.

“It was so special to get on with a group of people,” said Chown. “I always had someone to ride with. We are all there for the same reason: we all love cycling.

“It was a cool vibe. Everyone was friendly and polite.”

Chown said the race featured more than 9,000 feet of climbing.

“I was surprised,” said Chown. “I didn’t realize how many hills there are here. You go from sea level to the equivalent of doing the Skagway climb three times.”

The hardest section, Chown said, was the coming out of Squamish heading toward Whistler. The leg had 20 kilometres worth of climbing.

Chown was competing in the F45-49 class, and finished the race in 4:28:30. She said her favourite section was the last 22 kilometres heading into Whistler.

“It was big crowds, it was like the Tour de France,” said Chown. “It was all new to me.”

In that final stretch, she was able to pass a bunch of other cyclists.

“It’s a good tactic,” said Chown. “That’s when people suffer and it gives you an edge. That is the mental game. The body is spent but your brain takes over.”

Once she reached the finish line, Chown said, there was a sense of relief.

Upon her completion of the Gran Fondo, she learned she was in the top 20 per cent of her age category which qualifies her to Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Gran Fondo World Championships from Vancouver to Whistler in 2020.

The UCI Gran Fondo World Championships in 2020 will be the first time the event is held in North America.

The championships are a prestigious event where all amateurs can compete for the right to wear the famous Rainbow Jersey.

“I was beaming,” said Chown after she learned she had qualified. “It was almost meant to be. Fortunately, it is in Vancouver next year.”

Now with the UCI race looming in a year, she said, she will take the race more seriously.

“My goal (this year) was to finish with a decent time,” said Chown. “I will be more strategic and stop less. You get sucked in.

There are great rest stops and it is hard not to stop. Next year will be less coffee and I’ll carry less.”

Chown believes her time of 4:28:30 could have easily been cut by at least 15 minutes if she hadn’t stopped as much as she did.

For the rest of September, Chown said, she is going to take a break before starting training again in October.

“I’ll start picking away in the winter months,” said Chown.

While looking through the results after the race, Chown realized she wasn’t the only Yukoner who competed at the Gran Fondo.

Somewhere in the sea of 5,000 people, seven other cyclists from the territory competed, five of whom also qualified for the UCI World Championships.

“I was looking through the results and went ‘wow,’” said Chown. “Just because you are North of 60 doesn’t preclude people from competing at this level.

“I’m so proud of the people from Whitehorse. It is incredible to have five people qualify (for the UCI) from such a small place.”

Those riders to qualify were Stephen Ball (division 45-49); Gemma Sleik (19-34); Heather Clarke (19-34); and Jenn Beardsdeth (19-34).

All placed in the top 20 per cent of their category to qualify.

Comments (3)

Up 2 Down 2

Henrick S. on Sep 12, 2019 at 4:55 pm

Vote Liberal so more of these great events can take place.

Up 2 Down 0

Jillian Chown on Sep 11, 2019 at 12:22 pm

Thank-you Neil! with over 600 volunteers and 5000 riders, it was a truly spectacular event and I am grateful for the support I received (from volunteers and participants).

Up 1 Down 0

Neil McKinnon on Sep 10, 2019 at 5:15 pm

Great story...Jillian, we look forward to seeing you next year. neil

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