Piccolofondo kids ride hit record numbers

Penticton's Prospera Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan highlight race, Piccolofondo attracts more kids

CALEB BOTT (08) and Blake Bomford (07)

CALEB BOTT (08) and Blake Bomford (07)

The Piccolofondo keeps getting better.

Organizers of the Prospera Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan will be looking at how they can allow the free kids cycling race to grow. This year was the first time the race maxed out with 300 kids.

“It was fantastic,” said organizer Jodi Merckx. “There is so much interest by parents. It’s just such a great community event.”

Merckx received lots of feedback, including 200 emails from parents thanking them for having the kids event. The kids express how they are excited to go under the start/finish line.

Among the participants was Kaleden’s Oliver Wiedner, 10, who entered for the first time. He said the Piccolofondo was great.

“It was really fun,” said Wiedner, who loves biking fast. “I did an extra lap by accident.”

Four-year-old Sylas Goodale of Peachland entered for the first time told his father he had a blast.

Matt Hill, voice of the race along with Steve King, who announces area triathlons, said it was incredible and added the numbers show how popular the piccolofondo is.

“It’s so cool to be a part of. The energy around here is just phenomenal,” said Hill, a Canadian voice actor who was the voice of Raphael in Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation in 1997 and worked on the Dinotrux series. “Axel and Jodi put on another quality event.”

Jodi said she enjoys watching the kids on the push bikes best. She said how quick they get going without peddles “is just crazy.”

“They were all staying up right. No crashing,” said Jodi, who said the Piccolofondo is the highlight of the weekend. “One part of the course there was a little boy who fell over. One of the volunteers picked him up and said there’s no blood. The boy just jumped on his bike and kept going again. It’s great to see that. It’s nice for us because our passion is getting kids on bikes. With everything we do with our foundation, these are the guys if you can get them hooked on I love riding my bike, they will keep going.”

Jodi said this event has helped youth join teams and that one cyclist is now on their Red Devil youth cycling academy team and became a provincial champion.

Part of the reason they may be able to push the Piccolofondo up to 400 riders is because it is so well organized and credit goes to volunteers, who Jodi said are key people.

“I can’t even say enough. They are amazing,” she said. “The crew that ran that, called SheRide in Penticton, had 24 volunteers. Thanks to them for working so hard and pulling it off.”


Granfondo popularity grows

Axel Merckx, a former Belgian cycling champ with 10 Tour de France appearances, said what stood out about the sixth Prospera Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan event, is it felt more popular than previous years. Merckx said Gyro Park was packed.

“People hung out longer at the finish line. There was so much to do there,” said Merckx, adding there was the

Tree Beer tent, a band playing, the rock climb as well as a bouncy castle. “People realized that they can really bring their family. They can really enjoy the afternoon. It was really cool.”

The event had 2,747 sign up for the four distances, however, 2,237 finished. The granfondo 160 kilometre course had 882 cyclists.

“It was good. We were really happy with the turnout,” said Merckx. “We were very happy with the weather also. We were expecting rain and at the end of the day we had two beautiful days. It was perfect really.”

Peter Reid, the three-time Ironman world champ and Ironman Canada champ, took first in the granfondo distance. He clocked in at four hours, six minutes and 39 seconds. The first female finisher was North Vancouver’s Deanna Thompson, who was 32nd overall in 4:17:30. Prince George’s Rob Vogt was the first to finish the volcefondo 126-km distance in 3:32:20, while Calgary’s Melissa Paauwe was the first female, ninth overall, to finish in 3:46:50. The mediofondo winners (92-km distance) were Kelowna’s Baili Guidi in 2:22:48, while Tanya Thompson of West Vancouver was 25th overall in 2:47:56. The cortofondo (55-km distance) winners were Trail’s Jackson Konkin in 1:33:16 and Vancouver’s Michelle Rupp, seventh overall in 1:47:58.

Merckx said they are lucky to be able to return to Penticton, which has been great supporters.

“We need to be thankful to all the volunteers. You really have the feeling that the city is behind us, not only on the city council part of things, but the volunteer base,” said Merckx, adding they bring a lot to the community. “There are so many volunteers. There are so many good volunteers. People really appreciate all the volunteers do. The feedback from the participants towards the volunteers is just unbelievable. Every year it’s one of the reasons why we come back to Penticton. People are really into this event. They really like it. They really get behind it.”