It is all about the expansive and dramatic terrain for Prospera Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan cyclists.
“I like the course. I like that you’re really going to an awesome tour of the area,” said Kelly Servinski of Squamish, who crossed the finish line to complete the 160-kilometre Granfondo distance with Axel Merckx. “We’re not professional riders. It’s a lot of fun, it’s hard. The scenery is beautiful.”
Servinski, among 2,500 riders in last Sunday’s event, said the people cheering on the riders from the sidelines provides a great atmosphere, as does the camaraderie with the other cyclists.
“Penticton is a beautiful place to come,” he said.
Kelowna’s Peter Watson completed the 92-km Mediofondo distance and rode the course as a guide. He was asked by organizers to assist riders. Carrying extra equipment with him, Watson changed three tires and helped a couple of riders with dropped chains.
“It was really fun to see a different aspect of the race,” he said. “Typically I’m more towards the front row and fast. Today was all about cruising along; chatted with people. It was really cool to see. Everyone was smiling.”
Penticton residents Sunette and Perold Louw finished the 55-km Cortofondo together.
“I think the drafting is a lot of fun. Just the spirit of the fondo and everybody is welcome,” said Sunette, of what she likes most about Granfondo which was her third time participating. “It is always quite a high just to be part of the event. I think if you feel strong, you can ride hard. If you feel like you are not strong, you can ride slow and still have a good time. It’s a very dynamic atmosphere.”
Her husband added its nice to ride in the crowd, but he also enjoys the drafting aspect and “flying down the highway.” He said the event creates a nice atmosphere.
Trevor Linden, president of hockey operations for the Vancouver Canucks, who completed the 160-km Granfondo distance, has participated every year.
“It’s always a great day here in Penticton,” said Linden. “It was hot, but it was nice. I like to work hard and then eat hamburgers after.”
Merckx said it was another great year for the event as he received a lot of positive feedback from participants, the City of Penticton, sponsors and volunteers. The most important thing to Merckx is that everybody had a great time.
“There is a lot of enthusiasm behind the event,” he said. “We are really proud of what we have done over the last seven years. We couldn’t have done it without the support of the city. That is important to us. The feeling that I have is that it is actually becoming the city’s event. This is their event. It’s really cool to see people rally behind that.”
The event concluded Monday with a volunteer appreciation night.
“It’s a huge part, an important part of our event,” said Merckx. “We want to be thankful to all the volunteers.”
Piccolofondo a hit with families
The Piccolofondo on Saturday attracted 300 kids.
“It is a huge part of our weekend,” said Merckx, whose wife, Jodi, is behind organizing that event. “It brings a lot of enthusiasm, not only to the participants, but I think to the local community also. A lot of local families sign up their kids. It is a cool event to be part of.”
William Lemieux, nine, experienced glory on the hot day, winning his race.
“The race was hard. It was just quite easy to win,” said William, part of a riding group in Calgary.
The Piccolofondo is free for kids 12 and under as they participate in a race as small as 400 metres up to five km in a loop past Okanagan Lake and around Gyro Park.
Apex Mountain Hill Climb
Between 40 and 50 cyclists rode the Passo Apex Hill Climb Race last Saturday, which is 12 km featuring an elevation of 861 m with an average gradient of 7.9 per cent. Canadian Cycling Magazine said it is worthy of the Tour de France. Merckx agreed it was a difficult climb.
“I took my time. It was a nice ride up there. It’s kind of a nice warm up for the fondo,” said Merckx. “I’m just looking to have a good time with some friends.”
Merckx, who competed in the Tour de France, said the climb reminded him of the famous L’Alpe d’Huez climb in France. Merckx said Apex Mountain road is pretty steep in the beginning, hard in the start, and it gets better towards the end.
“It gets less steep towards the end of the climb,” he said. “It’s wider and less switchbacks. On the grade side, it really reminds me of that climb.”