First ever Kelowna Gran Fondo set to be biggest cycling event in city’s history

Over 1,200 riders expected to hit the road Saturday morning

Big Ride: Riders in last year's Whistler Gran Fondo take part in the first ever Canadian gran fondo ride. The first ever Kelowna Gran Fondo

Big Ride: Riders in last year's Whistler Gran Fondo take part in the first ever Canadian gran fondo ride. The first ever Kelowna Gran Fondo

In cycling terminology gran fondo means big ride.

Much like running’s marathon, a gran fondo is the cyclist’s test of endurance.

On Saturday morning in Kelowna, over 1,200 cyclists will head out on a 115 kilometre ride in the inaugural RBC GranFondo Kelowna.

“It’s not a race, even though we time every rider and every team,” said GranFondo Canada co-founder Neil McKinnon. “It’s similar to a marathon where you have the opportunity to challenge yourself in a safe and supported environment.”

Gran fondos originated in Italy, a hotbed of cycling, but the sport is new in Canada.

Last September GranFondo Canada played host to the first gran fondo in Canada where 4,000 riders took part.

Last weekend, a separate company hosted a gran fondo in Penticton and this weekend GranFondo Canada kicks off its first event in Kelowna, a place organizers targeted early after finding success last year in Whistler.

“We looked very quickly at Kelowna,” said McKinnon. “First and foremost we looked at cycling destinations that can offer a spectacular and compelling route. The Kelowna route is scenic with incredible vistas along the lake. The climate is very close to a true European cycling experience: The dry climate, the rolling hills the wineries. That was the main reason we chose Kelowna.”

GranFondo Canada moved into the Grand Hotel a week ago and by race day over 30 staff members, 25 motorcyclists, four doctors and 34 first aid attendants will be joined by hundreds of volunteers looking to pull off the biggest cycling event in Kelowna’s history.

“Gran fondo’s are big, ambitious, expensive, complicated and intricate events to produce properly,” said McKinnon. “We’re very excited. We’ve been working on this for a year and we can’t wait for it to happen. There are a lot of moving parts but we’re going to put on a great show. We want to people to come out and watch, volunteer or participate.”

About 75 per cent of the cyclists taking part this weekend will be from the Lower Mainland with riders from the Pacific Northwest, Alberta and the Okanagan making up the rest of the field. The average age of riders registered is 49. Organizers are hoping the economic spinoffs from hosting such an event are a major boon to the local economy.

“In Whistler last year we brought in a net economic impact of almost three million dollars,” said McKinnon. “With the average age being 49 a lot of the riders are affluent and they have families so it’s a family destination event. We want to expose the region to cycling and to the benefits of bringing people to the region.”

Plans are underway to make the GranFondo Kelowna an annual event and the group is also looking to expand to Alberta and Ontario next year. The second annual GranFondo Whistler this September is already sold out with 7,500 riders signed up.

Registration for the Kelowna ride will remain open until 8 p.m. on Friday night and organizers say they can always use more volunteers. Race headquarters is set up at the Delta Grand and information can also be found online at www.rbcgranfondokelowna.com.

Kelowna Capital News