For Axel Merckx, the fourth annual Prospera Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan is a weekend to celebrate cycling.
The PGAMO rolls into Penticton Friday with a great following of cyclists who want to do the ride, said Merckx, founder of the event.
The weekend begins with the Granfondo Cycling Expo from 1 to 7 p.m. as well as Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday also includes a special guest meet and greet with Merckx and Clara Hughes from 11 to 11:30 a.m., the kids Piccolofondo from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at Gyro Park and the family fun zone from 1:30 to 3:45 p.m. also at Gyro Park. On Sunday, the cycling begins at 7 a.m.
This year will see roughly 2,700 cyclists take to the road. They come from as far away as Norway, Japan, Australia and Bahrain. Ages range from teenagers to 84 years old, with more than half of the registrants riding the full 160-kilometre Granfondo distance, approximately 35 per cent riding the 92-km Mediofondo, and 15 per cent tackling the 55-km Cortofondo.
Merckx will be joined by Canadian Olympic legend Hughes; former mountain bike Olympic medalist Alison Sydor (who returns for a fourth year); Ryan Eastman and Tanner Putt, members of the Bissell Development professional cycling team, as well as Canadian musician Barney Bentall, who grew up cycling in Calgary and Vancouver.
“I’ve just always really loved it,” said Bentall, who rode the GranFondo Whistler. “It’s always been a passion of mine. It’s a great way to stay in shape. I always find cycling a very healing thing.”
It’s the first time that Bentall has signed up for PGAMO and will be doing the Mediofondo.
“I’ve always wanted to do it,” said Bentall, who will be performing at the Dream Cafe on July 11 and 12. “When I was a kid, Eddie Merckx was an absolute hero of mine. That was at a time when cycling was so huge over in Europe.
“The cycling around Penticton is fantastic,” continued Bentall, who found inspiration for the song The Inside Passage while cycling in Bragg Creek in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. “Often when I come, I teed this up so I could play a couple of nights at the Dream Cafe, one of my favourite venues in Canada.”
Other notable cyclists include Vancouver Canucks president and former NHL all-star, Trevor Linden, as well as current Edmonton Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins and Olympic medal-winning rower Andrew Byrnes.
Sydor is doing the ride because it’s fun and she will be accompanied by friends from B.C. and Alberta.
“I think Jodi and Axel do a great event,” said Sydor, who had been coaching young cyclists in Vancouver and have signed up for the Cortofondo. “I’ve seen it grow over the years. It was great the first year and they just keep making it better.”
In a release, Merckx said the PGAMO continues to be one of the highlights of the summer for many cyclists, including himself.
“The excitement surrounding the event is a testament to the hard work by volunteers, organizers, local communities, and event partners,” said Merckx.
The event benefits both the Axel Merckx Youth Development Foundation, as well as Cops for Cancer – an initiative by first responders in support of the Canadian Cancer Society and Camp Goodtimes, a Lower Mainland summer retreat for children with cancer and their families. The goal is to raise $30,000 from Cops for Cancer riders.
A limited number of in-person entries will be available at the Granfondo Cycling Expo and package pick-up on Friday from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Cyclists depart at Gyro Park before travelling to Summerland and Okanagan Falls, Oliver and Kaleden.
Registration cash-only fees are $200 for the Cortofondo, $225 for the Mediofondo and and $250 for the Granfondo. Registration is not available on the day of the event.
Event notes: The Ramada Penticton is the host hotel and has a weekend planned for riders, which includes cooling down poolside and soaking in a hot tub. Kettle Valley Station Pub is another sponsor and have a special Granfondo-themed cask for the weekend, which will be tapped on Friday at 4 p.m.