It didn’t even matter to Dan MacDonald that he placed third in the inaugural Valley First Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan Penticton cycling event. Results just weren’t on his mind.
“There was no money on the line,” said MacDonald, who placed behind Svein Tuft of Langley and Vernon’s Olav Stana.
While navigating the course, the Penticton cyclist had the pleasure of riding with Axel Merckx, who was with Tuft. While there was a bit of joking around with Merckx, MacDonald said it was all business.
“It was definitely all business,” laughed MacDonald, who rides for rideokanagan.com. pb norco. “When you race with the level of Axel or Svein, you know what you need to do. You ride your bike fast until your legs can’t go anymore. I have never ridden with Axel before so it was fun to just to ride and chuckle with him.”
MacDonald got a laugh from Merckx when asked where the Belgian’s big ring (chain gear) was. Jeff Plant, the booth organizer for the event, had made a wager with Merckx to use it on a particular part of the course. While he did during practice runs, he didn’t during the event day.
“He said, This is way too fast for me on that part,” said Merckx to MacDonald.
“It was a treat just to ride with him in general,” MacDonald said of Merckx, who sat at the bottom of McLean Creek and shook people’s hands. “Stand up guy. Good with people.”
The VFGAMO began at the Peach on Okanagan Lake Sunday morning and rolled to a conclusion between Queen’s Park Elementary School and the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre. For MacDonald, participating in it was about the prestige of it being in his hometown and cruising roads he is so comfortable on. MacDonald enjoyed it so much that he already has next year’s date of July 8, 2012 marked on his calendar.
Merckx said he was pleased with how things turned out.
“Everybody was happy with the whole ride, the course, so it’s been a real pleasure and it’s been real good to be here,” he said. “I haven’t heard one bad comment (about the course) yet. I hope that everybody was really happy and is going to be able to come back next year.”
Merckx, who placed 25th crossing the finish line in 4:12.22, said the ride was lots of fun and he met new people.
“This is really what this is about,” he said. “It’s more a social thing and is more something I do with friends and family.”
Among his friends joining him for the ride was former Vancouver Canucks forward Trevor Linden, wearing bib number 16. Linden enjoyed hanging out with “a bunch of like-minded people who love cycling and love the outdoors and sharing that with everyone is just a pretty cool experience.”
“Rolling through the vineyards of the South Okanagan at about 50 km/h is pretty special,” said Linden, who tried to beat Merckx but couldn’t. He said he would be challenging the cyclist to a skating competition and was confident about his chances in that.
Completing the Mediofondo first was Vancouver’s Carolyn Russell in 2:36.05.
Russell was excited about coming in first and said the recipe of weather for the ride was perfect.
“Not too hot and a little windy,” said Russell. “I love the course.”
While she admitted to having some concerns with a few corners initially, she said the scenery is “stunning.”
“I enjoyed riding in big groups with good riders.”
Tracey McQuair, another local rider from Penticton, had fun despite dealing with some bike issues.
“I enjoyed all the camaraderie between all the different riders,” she said. “Just meeting a lot of different people.”
While the 2,000-plus riders enjoyed the cycling company of each other, they did it with the support of spectators. One of them was Janice Olson, who was near the Peach on Okanagan Lake for the start. To her, it was amazing that Penticton was putting on such an event.
“I know nobody in this race,” she laughed. “I admire everybody who comes out and does this.”
Jason Curran, media relations for VFGAMO, said the event went beyond expectations.
“By all accounts everyone seemed to have a fantastic time,” said Curran. “Check our social media sites, people are just raving about the event. Of course the volunteers and the sponsors are pretty much what made it happen.”
The biggest surprise came from the Piccolofondo, which attracted 155 kids from training wheels to eight-years-old. The kids were led by Olympic medalist Alison Sydor.
“I’m not sure who had bigger smiles, the kids or the parents,” said Curran. “It was just so much fun. That was just the coolest event for kids.”
During the course of the ride, there were some injuries suffered by riders, but none of them were serious enough causing concern for Curran and the organizers.