In 17 days, Axel Merckx will be joined by Alison Sydor and Kevin Cutjar on the starting line.
Sydor, a Canadian Olympic silver medalist and Cutjar, a local triathlon coach who won the Ultraman Canada triathlon are among the big names participating in the inaugural Valley First Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan race riding into Penticton July 10.
Also joining the mix will be former Vancouver Canucks captain Trevor Linden, pro cyclist and Tour de Beauce stage winner Svein Tuft and Merckx’s father Eddy, a five-time Tour de France winner.
Cutjar, who has already been training athletes for the 160-kilometre event, is an ambassador and wanted to get involved because he feels it gives recognition to triathletes.
“I thought it would be great for the community,” said Cutjar, a triathlete himself “To have an event like this run out of Penticton, I thought it was a great idea.”
Previously unsure if he would participate, Cutjar wanted to be involved on some level. He feels he has been promoting the event anyway just by training people for it during his camps, who plan to participate.
“I think it was a natural fit for me to be involved as an ambassador,” he said.
Cutjar will be more of a participant than competitor as he hasn’t had much time to train because of family commitments, but hopes to do his best under the circumstances.
As for Sydor, she too is simply looking forward to the ride. Familiar with the loop, Sydor believes it’s going to be fun as she loves the area. It was only a few years ago with friends that she discovered the riding the Okanagan has to offer and wishes she had known about it during her racing career.
“It’s a really good ride,” said Sydor, who resides in Vancouver “It’s quiet. Some good challenging terrain, some good hills but not extreme. I intend to enjoy the entire weekend. One of the fun things about these mass participation cycling events is after the first couple climbs, you sort of settle in and find the group you are going to ride with for the rest of the day and it becomes quite a social day on the bike. The entire weekend is also a bike festival.”
Event director Jonathan Wornell said everything with planning is going well and they have exceeded their goal of having 2,000 participants.
“This is going to be a full town in a couple of weeks,” he said, adding that it will be capped at 2,500. In the future, Wornell feels the event has the potential to grow to 5,000 or 6,000 riders in the next few years if they want. Recently the Prefondo had over 200 rider participate in the free ride and received strong feedback. For more info on the event, check www.granfondoaxelmerckx.com.