RBC GranFondo Whistler co-founder Neil McKinnon has long stressed the importance of the event in getting people involved in cycling.
The marquee ride of the annual September event, which is celebrating its 10th running in 2019, is the 122-kilometre ride from Vancouver’s Stanley Park to Whistler and pits several of the world’s top riders against one another in the elite category.
But with a number of amateur divisions on offer as well, McKinnon said the race looks to serve all its participants. That’s why, he said, the 55-km Medio event, which takes riders from Whistler Village to the Callaghan Valley and back, will open its ranks to those riding e-bikes at the Sept. 7 festival.
“We’ve reserved the Forte, the team challenge and the GranFondo to be exclusive of e-bikes. However, with the Medio, it’s all about experiences and it’s to get people into the event, into cycling and [building] further participation with families,” McKinnon said. “We thought that would be a great introduction to include it in the 2019 RBC GranFondo Whistler.”
McKinnon said though e-bike users are allowed to participate, they won’t receive timing chips to be measured alongside those riding the full distance.
“Because they have electric assist, to time athletic endurance and creating a level playing field would be difficult intermixing with the regular bicycles in the category,” he said.
McKinnon said in the future, there might be an opportunity to create that level playing field, but he doesn’t expect it to be in the coming years.
Though the announcement resulted in media attention with the race over half a year away, McKinnon doesn’t expect significant numbers to take up the e-bike offer in the early stages. However, the opportunity is just as much about offering it to riders at all as it is to bringing in swaths of new participants.
“We are usually first to market with all new innovations as we are with this inclusion,” he said. “It’s exciting to see that, again, there’s a new element that we’re bringing to the fore.”
Some critics are wary of the move, opposing it on the grounds that all participants should power themselves the entire distance. McKinnon, however, reiterated that e-bikes are only allowed in the festival’s most recreational division.
“I certainly understand if people in the GranFondo, and certainly the Forte (a 152-km ride with an incline up Cypress Mountain thrown in), where they’re really putting out as much athleticism as they can possibly muster – and towards the end of the ride, somebody pushes a button and they just pass you to the end – that would be very demoralizing and I understand that. We agree with that,” he said.
“The Medio is about experience and having fun, and it’s not as much focused on the incredible athleticism that’s involved in the Forte or the GranFondo itself – not to minimize, obviously, the ride up the Callaghan and the ride up Powerline Hill – but we have no plans to introduce e-bikes into the other divisions.”
McKinnon also added that apart from creating any confusion appearing to conflate the accomplishments of e-bike riders and regular riders completing longer distances, there are practical considerations for not allowing them in those divisions as well.
“Consideration for the longer distances is the battery life. The last thing we want people to do is have an experience in the GranFondo on the longer courses, then all of a sudden, coming up Powerline Hill when the battery runs out and now they have a very heavy bike to get to the finish line,” he said. “That would not be fun for any athlete, quite frankly.”