Gran Fondo organizers apologize after food stations ran out of supplies during 122-km bike race

·2 min read
The organizers of the 2022 Whistler Gran Fondo boasted record registration of over 6,500 participants for the ride on Sept. 10, 2022. (Twitter/@RBCGranFondo - image credit)
The organizers of the 2022 Whistler Gran Fondo boasted record registration of over 6,500 participants for the ride on Sept. 10, 2022. (Twitter/@RBCGranFondo - image credit)

The organizers of the Whistler Gran Fondo have apologized after many riders at the popular cycling event on Saturday found feed stations out of stock.

Participants took to social media during and after the race to report meagre supplies, long waits for water and, in some cases, green, unripened bananas that could barely be peeled open.

The Gran Fondo — Italian for big ride — is a mass participation cycling event that has enjoyed a huge amount of popularity in Europe for decades before spreading around the world.

Whistler Gran Fondo organizers had boasted a record turnout for this year's race with more than 6,500 registered cyclists, most of whom rode the 122-kilometre distance from Vancouver up the Sea to Sky highway to Whistler on Saturday.

The ride — sponsored chiefly by the Royal Bank of Canada — can cost participants between $250 and $950 each and is advertised as including multiple aid stations along the route with "nutrition, hydration, mechanical, medical and washroom support."

Twitter/@RBCGranFondo
Twitter/@RBCGranFondo

Cyclist Mark Firmani says, instead, he experienced "a horrific set of blunders."

He says by the time he got to food stations, they were cleared out, except for one that was stocked with green, unripened bananas. When he got to the last two stops, the only hydration left was water.

"I am a seasoned, grizzled endurance rider, and I am busted up worse than I can remember from lack of nutrition/hydration," he wrote in an email to CBC News. "I can only imagine how other, less robust riders fared."

Firmani is a veteran of the Whistler Gran Fondo and says he recommended it to friends and told them it wouldn't be necessary to pack their own supplies because the rides had always been well stocked in previous years.

Organizers say 'headwinds' caused shortages

Cyclists on social media reported symptoms of dehydration, including dizziness and cramping during the ride, which took place under hot and smoky conditions in the Sea to Sky region.

This year's event was the first since 2019, after the last two years were suspended because of the pandemic.

The organizers issued two statements on Twitter apologizing to participants.

They said the "poor access to food" and "longer than usual wait times for water" were the result of several factors, including "strong headwinds during the day creating greater calorie demands than usual."

"The 'headwind' excuse is utter rubbish," according to Firmani. "There was no food available at the first stop. There were no headwinds on that part of the route."

Organizers also say they faced "late food supply challenges" and struggled to recruit enough volunteers for a record number of cyclists.

According to the Whistler Gran Fondo website, rider capacity grew to 7,000 cyclists in 2011 and 2012 "as the event quickly established itself as one of the premier cycling events in North America."

Organizers are already advertising and accepting registrations online for the 2023 race.