Records fall at Granfondo

New best times set during race around the South Okanagan, although competitors claim they were most interested in the scenery

Records are meant to be broken, which was definitely the case in Sunday’s running of the third Valley First Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan cycling event.

Ironically, however, neither the men’s or women’s winners had any idea they had set new best times for the course.

Andzs Flaksis of Riga, Latvia, a member of Axel Merckx’s Bontrager Cycling Team, finished the 160-kilometre Granfondo in a time of three hours, 55 minutes and 12 seconds, knocking several minutes off the record.

On the women’s side, it was former Kelowna resident Gillian Moody, now living in North Vancouver, topping the standings with a time of 4:11:16, about 16 minutes better than the old record.

Afterwards, both riders admitted they spent more time looking at the scenery than concentrating on winning.

“I was just riding and enjoying the surroundings and putting in some good work,” said Flaksis as he sat with other participants following the ride. “It was beautiful here — all the lakes and mountains. It was nice.”

He and his teammates had been in Boulder, Col. training for the Tour of Utah and decided to come to the Okanagan. It was his first Okanagan Granfondo.

“It was worth it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Moody edged out her closest competitor by just over six minutes, however there was some confusion at the finish line over who finished first.

“I do remember passing her (Frank) at McLean Creek Road,” said Moody, adding the pair exchanged some pleasantries at the time. “But really it was very enjoyable the whole way. I was with a nice group and we were going at a nice pace and I didn’t even know what the record was.”

In addition to the Granfondo, there was a Mediofondo of 92 kilometres and a Cortofondo of 55 kilometres. As well, there was a Piccolofondo for kids the day before.

While organizers keep track of results for age categories and the records set, officials stress the enjoyment and recreational aspects.

Reported as a sell out at 2,800, the actual number of riders on the course was 2,527.

The two B.C. women are triathletes and both treated the Granfondo as a training session for the upcoming Ironman in Whistler. According to Frank, even events like Sunday’s ride can have their difficulties.

“You kind of go through dark moments when you’re out there, so it’s really great to have people around you so you can laugh and joke a little bit,” she said. “When you’re racing no matter what it is, whether its swim racing, cycling or running you go up and down but once you’re confident you’re coming out it, you’re fine.”

One participant who was especially happy with the day was Axel Merckx, a long-time professional rider and Olympic medalist.

“Once again our volunteers and the City of Penticton proved that the South Okanagan hosts some of the best events in North America,” said Merckx, the son of five-time Tour de France winner Eddy Merckx who rode in the first Granfondo here. “Every rider I spoke with had nothing but positive experiences. Our motto has been ‘Ride Hard. Smile Often.’ and I saw a lot of smiles out there.”

Jason Curran, who wears a variety of hats for Granfondo, echoed Merckx’s sentiments on the day.

“By all accounts it was fantastic,” he said. “We keep growing and these type of events are complex and there are a lot of details involved but fortunately Penticton steps forward again with its volunteers and community support and we’re really looking forward to next year.”

The 2014 race is set for July 27.