Cyclists will be rolling through the streets of Penticton and South Okanagan this weekend during the seventh annual Prospera Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan. The event features four cycling distances and a kids race, which is on Saturday. Mark Brett/Western News

Cyclists ready to ride hard, smile often

Seventh annual Prospera Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan full, again

Cyclists can be spotted throughout Penticton and on south Okanagan highways.

Chances are they are getting ready for the seventh annual Prospera Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan (PGAMO) event July 9. Founder Axel Merckx is expecting around 2,500 cyclists to take part in the granfondo (160-kilometre distance), velocefondo (126-km), mediofondo (92-km) and cortofondo (55-km) distances. Registration closed on Monday.

“Once Friday and Saturday comes around, it will be exciting,” said Merckx. “See all the people coming in and it will be fun.”

There are no changes to the schedule of events for Sunday. The weather forecast for the weekend is sunny sizzling weather between 35 and 37 degree celsius.

“It’s a pretty well-oiled machine,” he said.

PGAMO’s website describes the event weekend as “much more than an epic ride.”

“It’s an entire weekend of cycling camaraderie, family activities, Okanagan Sunshine and regional delicacies.”

Merckx looks forward to the celebration of the expo and the kids Piccolofondo, something he considers very exciting and fun to be part of. His wife Jodi said they currently have 250 kids signed up and expects the number to reach 300 by Saturday. That event starts at 2 p.m.

Related: Piccolofondo kids ride hit record numbers

“It’s great,” she said. “The idea of the Piccolofondo for us is to promote youth cycling. To get kids onto bikes and like it.”

A positive experience for riders may lead to planting a seed in which they want to move up and get involved with riding. The Axel Merckx Youth Development Foundation, a not-for-profit started in 2011 to develop the future of young Canadian cyclists. They have also now created the Red Devil youth cycling team.

“It’s just to get kids and families to like riding bikes,” she said.

Jodi likes seeing kids on their push bikes as well as the people she has come to know that return year after year.

Merckx described Sunday’s mass start as “spectacular.”

“To see that many people riding in the south Okanagan just doesn’t get old to me,” he said. “It’s kind of fun to see people coming back to fill up the town and supporting our event. Really having a good time over the weekend.”

An addition to the weekend, but a separate race event, is the Passo Apex Hill Climb on Saturday, which starts at 9 a.m. It is a 12-km hill climb that challenges the strength and determination of the intermediate and elite cyclist. Canadian Cycling Magazine named Apex Mountain the second best climb in Canada. Beginning at the turnoff for Apex Mountain, the climb features 861 metres of elevation gain with an average gradient of 7.9 per cent, with pitches up to 20 per cent, making it a climb worthy of the Tour de France.

“We just wanted to bring something new and different,” said Merckx. “It’s for some of the riders that look for something a bit more, I wouldn’t say challenging, but a little bit different. They can kind of challenge themselves against the Axeon (cycling team) boys on the climbs. It’s all in good spirit. It will be lots of fun.”

While more than three-quarters of the participants live in British Columbia, this year’s cycling event attracts riders from as far away as the United States, Mexico, Switzerland, Japan, Australia, Netherlands, Singapore, Cayman Islands, United Arab Emirates and France. Thirty-four per cent are women, and riders range in age from 14 to 89-years-old, with five riders over the age of 80 participating.

“Once again this event thrives because of our amazing local volunteers, the City of Penticton, and our title sponsor, Prospera Credit Union,” said Merckx.

In addition to the Axel Merckx Youth Development Foundation, the event again benefits Canuck Place Children’s Hospice – B.C.’s recognized pediatric palliative care provider, delivering care to over 600 newborns, children and youth and the families who love them. Last year, the PGAMO event raised $6,800 for Canuck Place.

The Penticton Trade and Convention Centre will host the participants’ Package Pick-Up and Granfondo Cycling Expo on July 7 (1 to 7 p.m.) and Saturday, July 8 (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.). A limited number of ride entries are still available on a first-come, first-served basis on-site at Package Pick-Up.



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