Jennifer Hawkrigg has won multiple medals as a member of Canada’s National Snowboard Team. Yet it was a new sport – road cycling – that captured his heart.
“I actually had never ridden a road bike before the pandemic,” said Hawkrigg, who competes in parallel giant slalom snowboard races and was a member of Team Canada at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. 2020 our World Cup season was canceled and I was so bored with indoor training so one day I grabbed my mom’s old road bike and went for a long ride and fell totally in love.”
Hawkrigg is not alone. On September 10, Hawkrigg will be one of thousands of new cyclists to participate in their first-ever RBC GranFondo Whistler, a group cycling event and festival that is the largest of its kind in North America.
“There has been a marked increase in interest in cycling during the pandemic, and we are certainly seeing that reflected in our registration numbers,” said RBC GranFondo founder Neil McKinnon. “It’s amazing – in 2019, the last time we held the event, we had 4,500 runners. This year we already have 6,500 registered (and counting), that’s more than ever. And 40 % of them returned to sport during the pandemic.
Despite the large number of cyclists who will be riding on their first large group ride, McKinnon isn’t concerned about the logistics of getting that many cyclists from Stanley Park to Whistler Village in a matter of hours (the fastest time recorded is three hours, 14 minutes).
“There are no cars for the racers, and we have three distance categories (the 55km ‘Medio’, the 122km ‘Gran Fondo’ and the 152km ‘Forte’),” McKinnon said. “We also have full nutritional, medical and mechanical support, and the spirit of a GranFondo is very supportive and collegial.”
The festival vibe begins with VeloSpoke – an international destination expo on September 9 and a post-race party at Whistler’s Olympic Plaza.
“This will be my first ever organized cycling event, and I’m really thrilled to see so many participants with a shared love of cycling and the energy to ride with such a large group,” said Hawkrigg, “I’ve spent a lot of time on snow in Whistler, but riding in that village atmosphere is definitely a to-do list item.
Hawkrigg will compete in the event with fellow Olympians John Smythe (Field Hockey, Tokyo 2020) and Darren Gardner (Snowboard, PyeongChang 2018) at the event, both of whom have started cycling more seriously during the pandemic. All three are part of the RBC Olympians program. RBC has supported the event since its inception in 2010.
“We are thrilled to welcome so many new cyclists into our family, from Olympians in other sports to people who have simply discovered our sport during the shutdowns and tasted the freedom,” McKinnon said. “Now they can also experience its great social power.”
Over 30% of RBC GranFondo 2022 attendees are from outside of British Columbia, and a total of 25 countries will be represented.