Granfondo gears up for return to city

More than 3,000 cyclists expected to take part in cycle race from July 6 to 8

Some of the more than 2

Some of the more than 2

After a solid start last year, a major bicycle race will be back on Penticton and South Okanagan roads this July.

In July 2011, the first ever Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan Invitational drew 2,000 riders to participate, including sports celebrities like Axel and Eddy Merckx, former Canuck Trevor Linden, many local riders and Ironman enthusiasts. The event, which was sponsored by Valley First, brought an estimated $2 million into the Penticton economy.

“This event, which focuses on inclusion and participation, also had huge economic spinoffs for our city and allowed us to showcase our local communities,” said Valley First president Paulette Rennie. “Valley First is proud to lend its support to an event with such wide appeal and economic benefits.”

Valley First is onboard again as the title sponsor of the 160-kilometre cycle race, which takes place from July 6 to 8. But the event is also getting some help from the provincial government, in the form of a $3,000 grant from the Ministry of Community, Sport, and Cultural Development’s Hosting B.C. program to the Axel Merckx Youth Development Foundation.

“This July, over 3,000 cyclists of all skill levels are coming to Penticton. This is a great event for our entire region and helps to support the South Okanagan economy,” said Penticton MLA Bill Barisoff. “It’s a weekend to look forward to.”

The Granfondo was the first large-scale cycling event of its kind to be held in the Okanagan Valley. Popular in Europe, Granfondo events allow riders to experience the rigours of a full pro-level race enjoyed by professional cyclists. However, the emphasis is not only on competition, but also on participation.

One of the biggest surprises from last year’s event came from the Piccolofondo, which attracted 155 kids from training wheels to eight-years-old.

The Piccolofondo will be back this year, along with categories and distances to challenge riders of all levels. Riders have the option of challenging themselves with the traditional 160-km Granfondo route or the 92-km Mediofondo. For those new to the sport, a 55-km Cortofondo route has been added to this year’s lineup of events. The shorter course will appeal to those who have seen major events pass through the region, but have been deterred by the longer rides.

“In building our inaugural event it was very important for us to connect with a strong, local presence in the Okanagan region,” says VFGAMO owner Axel Merckx, who now calls the Okanagan home. “New events are always tough to launch, but Valley First provided us with instant stability and credibility. This has allowed us to increase the number of entrants and add a fun, competitive element to this year’s event.”

That competitive element is the Okanagan Granfondo’s addition as the only North American stop on the UCI World Cycling Tour. This new competitive twist gives all Granfondo category riders the chance to qualify for the UCI World Tour final in South Africa.

For their part, Granfondo organizers have jumped on board to support Valley First’s Feed the Valley initiative. Competitors will be able to donate both food and funds to Feed the Valley and event organizers have also committed to donating any unused race non-perishables and race bottle recycling refunds to the local food bank.

The Granfondo weekend will feature a full schedule of events leading up to, and after, the ride. For more information about the event, visit www.granfondoaxelmerckx.com.