Despite blistering hot course conditions, 36 degrees, Vancouver’s Tim Abercrombie managed to save the best for last with his head-down sprint to be the first to cross the finish line in this year’s Prospera Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan.
Abercrombie put the pedals to the metal in the final 20 metres to complete the 160-kilometre circuit in four hours, 11 minutes, 16 seconds, with outstretched arms.
The retired elite cyclist edged out Vancouver’s Matthew Van Nostrand, who was second in a time of 4:11:44, while third spot went to Kamloops’s Aaron Weiss. Axel Merckx was the first Penticton rider to cross the finish line, followed by Rhys Spencer, who came in seventh at 4:14:46.
“I held off with four other guys for about the last 10-kilometres,” said Abercrombie. “You don’t want to attack each other too early because then there is a risk you might not get through, so we worked really well together right up until about the last 500 metres.
“Axel Merckx came charging up behind us and I think he was the one who really deserved to win, but he backed off. It was great everyone worked together and it was an absolutely great event.”
Gillian Moody successfully defended her title on the women’s side, finishing in 4:34:21.
A total of about 2,600 riders from 10 countries took part in the fourth annual event.
Notable participants included six-time Canadian Olympic medalist Clara Hughes, Vancouver Canucks president of hockey operations Trevor Linden, Merckx and musician Barney Bentall.
Abercrombie is no stranger to racing in Penticton having competed here in junior triathlons in his younger days. Abercrombie, who used to ride with his father and uncle, described cycling as, “a family sport.”
He is also the nephew of former Penticton city councillor Gary Denton, who was riding along with Abercrombie for much of the course as a guide.
“No, I wasn’t competing,” said Denton, sitting by his nephew’s side at the race finish.
“I’m just a proud uncle.”
“I sort of retired from elite racing and started coming to this event, which I love much more actually,” said Abercrombie. “It’s such a great atmosphere.”
Moody enjoyed the ride and said it was nice to have her husband, who was a saving grace with the water bottle at the perfect times.
“I definitely had some help out there,” she said. “Alison Sydor, I rode with her for a bit. If she didn’t stop, she would have been up there for sure. Clara, she doesn’t need to race. She can just ride.”
Hughes loved the PGAMO.
A double-bronze Olympic medalist (1996) in cycling and gold, silver and two bronze medals (2002, 2006 and 2010) in speed skating, Hughes said Sunday’s ride “was awesome.”
“I love all the small roads. Just to see so many people out on their bikes,” she said after completing the 160-km distance in 5:26:57 “I enjoyed seeing people supporting the riders. It’s a ride, it’s not like a bike race.”
Hughes praised the community and said she was happy to be part of the event.
“I don’t do a lot of these rides,” said Hughes, who enjoyed being out with some of the fast riders.”
Sometimes they get a little too competitive for me. This one particularly just had a really good vibe. Yeah, people wanted to go fast. I’m probably a lot slower than people think I would be. I just love riding my bike. I don’t care how fast I go.”
Jen Jones of White Rock completed the 92-km Mediofondo and said it was great. Having signed up twice for the event, she said it’s been a great ride and said it’s well put together, well supported.
Colleen Waugh of Langley enjoyed her second time and was impressed with the pickup for riders. What she enjoyed was cycling by Skaha Lake.
“Going around Skaha Lake was amazing,” said Waugh, who said she would be back.
Merckx told the crowd he feels this was the best year by far because of the volunteers, the course, and everything else.
With the new sponsor, Prospera Credit Union, he’s looking forward to the next three years.