Thousands of riders will be pedalling their way through the South Okanagan in what has been dubbed a marathon for cyclists.
The Valley First Granfondo Axel Merckx will invade the valley this weekend with events and the race happening on Sunday. Axel Merckx, Olympic bronze medalist, wanted to encourage more Canadians to discover cycling and share his passion. Encouraged by his father Eddie Merckx, a five-time Tour de France winner, when he told his son how much fun granfondos are in Europe; Axel choose the Okanagan to bring his event to because of the stunning views and weather.
“I think the number of spandex-clad cyclists are going to take Penticton by storm for one day,” said Jason Curran, communications director for the granfondo.
For many, Curran said, it’s more than just the pleasure of pushing the pedals to the limit — it’s the atmosphere of the event.
The weekend of events begins on Friday with a cycling expo open to the public all weekend. The kids piccolofondo race takes place from noon to 12:30 p.m., a family fun zone is open from noon to 4 p.m., the Merckx’s will hold an autograph session from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. and then from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. is the Granfondo festa dinner. On Sunday the granfondo and mediofondo starts at the Peach concession at Okanagan Lake at 7 a.m. There is plenty to do for spectators with finish line activities at the trade and convention centre including entertainment, bands, family fun zone, Tree Brewing Beer Garden and barbecue. Curran said the mediofondo riders could return to the finish line as early as 9 a.m.
The ride is promoted as an event and not a competition but Curran said don’t think there won’t be riders challenging one another or a few sprints down the line.
“We built this event as a ride for everyone, and it is a ride first and foremost for novices up to experienced riders but that does not change the fact there will be many cyclists trying to go as fast as possible. You will find the first few riders will be sprinting to the line. We have the Canadian National Road Race and Time Trial champion Svein Tuft riding and I am not sure if he is going to go full tilt, but if he does he will be encouraging others to try and match him. Most of all you are going to find people coming across the finish line with a big smile on their face and looking forward to the events that follow.”
Even though Axel is retired from his career as a professional racer, Curran said expect to see him challenging other riders.
“He has a lot of pride in him, so I don’t think he will try and win it, but I think he will try and make sure a lot of the riders won’t be able to say they beat Axel Merckx. His main priority though is to make sure everyone enjoys themselves so he will be circulating in the pack as much as possible,” said Curran.
If you can’t be at the finish line, Curran suggested Peach Orchard Road in Summerland as a good point to watch the riders. He said this is where they expect groups start to separate on the hilly section.
“It’s going to be interesting, then they are going to fly into Penticton again and at that point we are predicting you are going to see the people that were a bit slower on the hill in Summerland will try and catch up. It’s not going to be full tilt right from the start but with 30 to 40 kilometres left you will see the pace quicken,” said Curran.
For information on granfondo events, traffic information, routes and more visit www.granfondoaxelmerckx.com.