Granfondo ready to roll with larger contingent

Axel Merckx has a reason to be feeling good as the second Valley First Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan-Penticton gets rolling Sunday.

Valley First Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan debuted with 2

Valley First Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan debuted with 2

Axel Merckx has a reason to be feeling good as the second Valley First Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan-Penticton gets rolling Sunday.

After having 2,000 riders participate in the debut of the event last year, including 1,337 in the granfondo format, there were 2,500 ready to take it on this year.

“It will be a great event again. Our numbers are up from last year,” said Merckx, adding that it’s crunch time and people are working hard to get things ready.  “It will be even bigger. It’s pretty cool to see.”

Merckx described the VFGAMO as a family-oriented event because people come for a good time and there is something for everyone. Along with the 160-kilometre granfondo format, there is the 92-km mediofondo and the 55-km cortofondo. There is also a tour breakfast, a dinner on Saturday as well as finish line festivities. Full details can be found at

“A husband and wife can ride, the kids can ride. If they are old enough, they can participate in the Piccolofondo on Saturday,” said Merckx.

The Piccolofondo has 175 kids registered, and Pamela MacDonald of the Penticton BMX Club said registrations are still coming.

“We should easily have 200 for race day,” said MacDonald.

The race is for any children aged two through 12 who want to push the pedals on the new downtown Penticton course.

“It’s free and undeniably a fantastic event,” wrote MacDonald on the Facebook page.

Those who want to sign up can by going to MacDonald added that the South Okanagan Brain Injury Society will be there doing helmet checks and providing free helmets to kids who need them, plus Planet Foods will provide treats.

Merckx emphasized that having fun is the focus.

“There are some riders who like to push themselves. I’m one of them too,” said Merckx. “That’s what we like to do on the ride. It’s not necessary to do that. I’m taking it a little bit easier. Kind of enjoy the ride and relax. Enjoy the pit stops and meet other people. That is other side of the event. You share a passion. You share a beautiful day.”

It’s expected to be a nice one as Environment Canada forecasts the high for Sunday to be 35 degrees with a low of 16.

Last year, the event got attention when former Vancouver Canucks captain Trevor Linden participated. He was planning on participating again, but Merckx said he won’t be able to make it. Mario Cipollini, a retired professional Italian rider was also going to be in Penticton. Merckx said he had to cancel due to personal reasons. Also having to back out is actor Ethan Suplee. Suplee, who was in American History X, Mallrats, Remember the Titans and several other films was called to work. According to Internet Movie Database, he is in the film Cottonwood, which is in pre-production.

“We talked by email and he was disappointed that he can’t make it,” said Merckx. “It is his job and I totally understand that.”

Merckx’s father Eddy will be back and his nephew Luca Masso is in town from Belgium.

On the VFGAMO facebook page, second time participant Brad Helland of Cloverdale said he can’t wait for this year’s challenge.

“Last year this was my biggest ride, but I only finished 50-km of it,” wrote Helland. “This year, I am 58 pounds lighter than last year and am a far stronger cyclist with a greater sense of my limitations. On Sunday, I rode all the way up Peach Orchard Hill whereas last year, I walked nearly all of it. Definitely won’t be in a “lead” group, but can’t wait for the feeling of success crossing that line.”

VFGAMO website states there are less than 100 spots available for the race. Online registration has now closed. In-person registration only is available on July 6 (1 to 7 p.m.) and July 7 (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) at the Package Pick-Up/Granfondo Cycling Expo (Penticton Trade & Convention Centre). The event begins Sunday at 7 a.m.