If you've never done a gran fondo before, they are billed as "group rides" not races, but of course there are some speedy folks there that will dominate the front of the pack. From what I saw, the front running peloton isn't where you'd want to be unless your group riding skills are on point, they are fast and tire to tire. For our ride we took a shuttle to the start line in Sydney BC where our bikes were waiting for us transported in trucks. The hardest part of the ride was the start where you are jam packed like sardines and getting momentum is tricky as you are at the whim of the person in front of you who in turn is a slave to their leader. Once you get rolling though the group quickly spreads out and it's easy going.
For the most part you have a road lane to yourself with no cars, though we did have some stretches where cars were on the roads. We were even honked and yelled at by a driver, which most cyclists are good and used to!. My wife isn't terribly comfortable on a bike yet so it was nice to ride together so I could coach her around shifting and when to push hard or coast. She didn't end up fuelling well and had low blood sugar 90 minutes into the ride making for a challenging finish, but I'll give her credit, she is tough and didn't quit. We even managed to pass a few people in the last kilometres finishing mid pack in the standings.
For me the ride was a mixed blessing. I thoroughly enjoyed exercising with my wife side by side. Our running paces are very different so we don't road race together, but on a bike I didn't mind slowing down and being with her. The atmosphere is much more relaxed than on a road race with most people just out for the ride. There were times when riders passed us and I'll admit to craving catching them, passing them and hammering on my pedals, but I'm glad I resisted. In the end it was nice to cross a finish line right beside someone I love that shares so many of my interests. Our biggest disappointment is that the race photographer didn't get a shot of us together as a couple on course, that would have been a nice touch.
I'm glad to have done this ride before the Vancouver to Whistler ride so I generally know what to expect. My guess is that I'll be fine until around 70km when we hit Squamish and the real climbing starts for the final 52km of the ride. My longest ride to date has been around 80km and I'm fully aware that there will be some suffering for the last hour or two of my day. The good news is that I'm not treating it like a race, but rather just getting familiar with cycling. If I need or want to stop at a rest stop I'll happily do so, grab a sandwich and take my time. I'm about as fit right now (I'm marathon training as well) as I've ever been and injury free, but a ride that long with that elevation gain is sure to humble me. I'm looking forward to that.
On a final note, my marathon training has been going well, my mileage isn't very high as compared to past years, but I'm of the mind that this isn't a race year, rather a relaxed year where I hope to avoid injury. My runs have been feeling rather easy and my speed is returned which feels great. I've had very little soreness I'm sure owing to the low mileage and I've been able to finish my long runs at marathon pace. The only trouble I have been experiencing is occasional nausea after runs which I'm trying to figure out first by moving my post run snack back 30 minutes. Having low appetite, particularly after a long run, is normal for me, but nausea isn't.