Trevor Gunderson learned a valuable lesson during the inaugural Valley First Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan last year.
“I did this last year and totally bonked,” said the Calgary resident, who placed 21st overall then and clocking in at 4:12:21. “With the heat today it’s all about drinking. Like about every five or 10 minutes I would have a sip just to make sure I was always hydrated because if you get to a point where you just sort of cramp, I mean you can’t go back. Eating all the time is important too.”
Gunderson was the first to cross the finish line in the granfondo format (160-kilometres), clocking in at 4:12:30 as he reached Penticton’s Gyro Park on Sunday. His result earned him a spot in the UCI World Cycling Tour qualifier in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. The top 25 per cent in each age group qualify. Only riders in the granfondo category can.
Nearing the finish line, it’s always a sprint said Gunderson.
“That’s where you have to use your years of experience of which wheel (competitor) to ride and how much power you’ve got and when you can go,” said Gunderson, who has won two master’s championships and has competed with Canada’s national team. “It’s all about knowing yourself and knowing your competition.”
Gunderson, competing in the 40 to 44 age group, said that riders didn’t start hitting the wall until they came into downtown.
“There was three of those TNA (cycling team) guys and I knew they were going to try and lead out one of them, but I don’t know them,” he explained. “I had an idea so I just sort of marked his wheel and I can see the finish line so that’s when I just decided to go and I just sort of nailed it. I think they just sort of petered out and I just surged.”
While his goal was to win, Gunderson likes that “anybody can jump on a bike and do the 92-km ride (mediofondo) or the 160-km.
“I think the fondo is a really great event,” he said. “It is so well supported. You don’t have to worry about not having food out there, or being taken care of. If you’re in a road race, you’re left for dead. You finish or you don’t.”
Gunderson likes the fun atmosphere and that the event also caters to families. He was impressed by the way it was organized and that’s why he returned.
“The volunteers do a heck of a job,” he added. “It’s just a great little town for events like this.”
The first female to come in was North Vancouver’s Ann Yew, placing 60th, clocking in at 4:27:30. Yew couldn’t be reached for comment.
Cyclist Dan MacDonald, who placed sixth, was the first from Penticton to finish the granfondo format. MacDonald enjoyed the day especially because it’s in his hometown.
“The Merckx ride is a blast, it’s nice to have,” said MacDonald, who is a member of the rideokanagan.com team. “There are 2,600 people so maybe next year it will be 3,000.”
While some riders brought a competitive approach to the event, other chose to be competitive among themselves but focus on fun.
Victoria’s Debra Evans-Hayes was one. Last year she participated as the bike fairy, but this year, she only used the hat from that outfit. Evans-Hayes completed the granfondo category that year and this time chose to ride the new cortofondo format. She placed 13th, finishing in at 2:17:46.
“It was beautiful. Just enough,” she said of the cortofondo. “I hadn’t been doing a lot of bike riding this year.”
Returning from Summerland during the ride she loved the look of the vineyards.
“It’s just spectacular,” said Evans-Hayes, who also volunteered with the Piccolofondo on Saturday.
With competition freaking her out, Evans-Hayes decided to wear the costume to help keep her calm.
“It really helped,” she said. “This year, I’m gonna see how fast I can go. I think I did good.”
Merckx, who placed 126th and finishing in 4:39:32, said to one of the race announcers that it was a long day in which he was “dying near the end.”
However, he was more pleased with the success of his event and hearing the positive things people said. Because they are coming back, he joked that he said he has to now.
“We have a great sport, we have a great title sponsor with Valley First. We have great support from the city of Penticton,” said Merckx, adding that he doesn’t see a reason why the race wouldn’t return.
A notable change to the event was shifting the start/finish location to Gyro Park. Last year the start was at the peach and the finish was located at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre.
“I think it really showcases the city and I think it makes it nicer compared to last year,” said Merckx. “It’s an event that is growing and everybody seems to enjoy. It’s a good event for the region.”