There’s a new kid on the block in the city’s increasingly high-end economic sports tourism industry.
Hot on the heels of the announced return of the Vancouver Canucks Young Stars hockey tournament was Sunday’s inaugural Valley First Granfondo Axel Merckx cycling event.
Meaning roughly “big ride” in Italian, local officials say granfondo also translates into big bucks for the community.
“I just finished doing a fairly top level impact assessment on it and looking at Penticton alone the total economic impact is over $2 million,” said Jeff Plant, sport tourism co-ordinator with the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce. “It’s so high because of the level of participation, their travel parties that came with them and the length of stay.
“I think too the demographic is older — the largest segment was actually in the 50-year plus category which is a fairly affluent demographic. Overall economically it was a premium in terms of the return.”
For retailers and others in the various service industries this hopefully annual event is also riding the wave of success of the recent, more established money makers, the Elvis Festival and Peach City Beach Cruise. Adding to the monetary influx last week was Penticton’s hosting of the 60-team provincial minor soccer championship also resulting in a substantial cash infusion.
Granfondo got underway at 7 a.m. Sunday as more than 2,000 participants left the Lakeshore Drive starting line en masse to go the distance of either the 94-kilometre Mediofondo or the grueling 160-kilometre full-length Granfondo.
For some of those riders the timed event was a competitive race while for many others it was more recreational in nature.
And according to Axel Merckx, who was instrumental in putting the entire program together for Penticton, it’s this combination of fast and fun which makes it enjoyable to so many.
“Cycling is a growing sport in Canada and it’s been shown again today with 2,000 signing up that people really enjoy riding their bikes and making friends,” said the veteran competitive cyclist, who along with his even more famous father Eddie were among those on the course. “You push yourself and your friends and family a little harder, you do a little bit of racing but you also do a lot of socializing and making new friends on your bike as well. That’s what I’ll long remember about this day.”
Plant agreed: “Most people are here for the experience and to take in the scenery and the ambience of the event. There was a very festive atmosphere. It’s certainly about the wining and dining and that’s why the wine festival (Sunday night) was part of the attraction.”
Another popular celebrity sports figure impressed with the proceedings was former Vancouver Canuck Trevor Linden, who along with brother Jamie also took part.
“Once again Penticton did an amazing job hosting a great event,” said Linden after crossing the finish line. “They are very good at hosting events like this.
“The course is amazing. It’s beautiful. Well organized. Great support from volunteers. It doesn’t get any better than that for a bike ride.”
Another participant, Stephen Grady, described it as: “Spectacular, like riding in France.”
Both Plant and Merckx credited the efforts of everyone involved from the volunteers who staffed the various venues to those on the front lines who did the flag duties on the hundreds kilometres of roadway to provide safe passage for the cyclists.
“I think that we really pulled it off as a first year event all the people that I talked to today said how smooth everything went from registration to the finish line,” said Merckx. “I’m really happy it was just such a huge success and we hope we’re going to be here for many years.”
Plant too is already looking ahead to future Granfondos for the Peach City.
“I think what we are going to see is that anybody who wasn’t here this year is going to be kicking themselves. This event in terms of participation is going to explode next year. There’s certainly scope to double the event if we can accommodate it and that’s a great problem to have.”
Svein Tuft(left) makes his way up Vancouver Hill. The Langley rider topped the standings in the 160-km event in just under four hours.
John Forsythe of Vancouver gets a kiss from girlfriend Sunae Lee at the finish line.
Teammates Peter O’Brien (left) of Vernon and Quinn Middleton of Winfield join hands at the finish line.
Carolyn Russell of Vancouver raiser her arms in triumph after finishing the 94-km Mediofondo course in first place.