Gran Fondo Whistler: Cycling from Sea to Sky in British Columbia

by Editor
Courtesy Tourism Whistler | Scott Brammer

By Anna Lee Boschetto

An expansive blue sky, fresh mountain air and white-capped ocean tides cresting against the rocky shore. This sums up the view as you head up British Columbia’s Coast Mountains, which extend along Highway 99, the Sea to Sky Corridor from Vancouver to Whistler.

Courtesy Tourism Whistler | Justa Jeskova

While most people catch these immersive views from the comfort of a tour bus or their vehicle, since 2017, every September, a select number of cyclists have been getting a little more up close and personal, and discovering more about themselves along the way during the RBC Gran Fondo Whistler.

For Chris Bean, a cyclist from Ontario, the opportunity to race this event was one he didn’t think he’d have the chance to take part in until a few years ago, when his good friends and fellow cyclists made the move to British Columbia.

Gran Fondo events have been taking place across Europe for decades and in recent years the mass participation cycling event has been gaining popularity worldwide. Having run marathons together, Bean says the challenge of tackling part of the Canadian Rocky Mountains was not only about the adventure, it was also a testament to the kind of friendship they share, one that has gone the distance.

“When you’re training together, you inevitably share a lot,” says Bean. “It’s not only about the goal race, but there’s also a lot more and sometimes it can all be pretty emotional.”

In the darkness before dawn, the audible sound of ocean waves crashing against the seawall mingles with the energetic atmosphere of cyclists descending into Stanley Park. The intensity is palpable. Thousands of cyclists are ready to tackle the 1,900 metres of elevation gain against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean.

With early autumn beginning to show off its hue of amber, orange, and red for athletes gliding at the break of dawn and throughout the day, it’s clear this epic and challenging race day will be as inspiring as it is wildly energetic for the crowds of cheering spectators.

The Gran Fondo Whistler is a 122-kilometre race. As if that wasn’t challenging enough, Bean and his friends are part of a group of cyclists who are taking part in the 152-kilometre distance, the Forte. The ultimate challenge of the weekend, cyclists first head up Vancouver’s Mount Seymour then embark on the 122-kilometre climb, ending in Whistler Village. 

Skilled and well-trained, many cyclists make it look almost effortless. It’s a misconception, and one Chris wholeheartedly understands and appreciates. “You need to take your training seriously, and respect the distance,” he says. 

Cycling comes with a sense of independence. An unyielding level of mental and physical strength in being able to propel yourself somewhere on your own steam. With a steady cadence and rhythm, a group of cyclists can be unstoppable, a peloton of passion!

“Riding across the Gran Fondo finish line in Whistler Village together, that’s when you really appreciate how far you’ve come together.” Bean is talking about more than the race itself, or the training, it’s the companionship he shares with his British Columbia friends, a togetherness despite distance. “Even though we were across the country, we still motivated each other,” says Bean. “Having the same goal really helped to keep me focused in a way that I wouldn’t be without them.”

Destination races like the Gran Fondo Whistler give active, like-minded friends a different way to vacation together.

Even if you’re not about to cycle up mountains, as a spectator, the views of Blackcomb Mountain are as awe-inspiring as each athlete crossing the finish line. Wandering through the Village on race day is energizing and electric. The post-race party features live music, beer gardens, and a barbeque, surrounded by mountain views and wrapped in the genuine warmth of West Coast hospitality.

Watching as part of the cheering crowds at the finish line in Whistler, friends sharing heartfelt moments, the strength of the human spirit that Bean speaks about is evident in each athlete crossing the finish line. They have accomplished what seemed impossible a few hours ago. Each one, knowing they did not get there alone, but with the encouragement, strength, and heart of one another.

Your Turn

Destination racers and their cheering fans can kick back and enjoy the chill mountain vibe that is synonymous with Whistler. With a wide range of accommodation options to choose from, it’s time to kick back and relax—you’ve earned it!

For travellers wanting to be in the heart of the action in Whistler Village, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler is a luxurious option at any time of year. Post Gran Fondo, cyclists will appreciate the hotel’s proximity to the village, not to mention the Ayurvedic-inspired spa and option to lounge poolside the day after race day.

If you’re looking to escape the hustle of the Village, head to its forested outskirts you may appreciate the quirky and cozy boutique rooms at the Summit Lodge. Tucked along the edge of Whistler, what looks to be a ski lodge on the outside is entirely unexpected and unique the moment you walk into the lobby.

This award-winning boutique hotel also features restaurant options frequented by friendly locals willing to offer recommendations on other hidden treasures in and around Whistler.

Anna Lee is a freelance writer focusing on health, fitness, and travel. She is an avid runner and outdoors enthusiast and lives in Ontario with her two daughters.

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