The Prospera Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan will be running through Summerland on Sunday.
“All of the crew has been working hard over the last year to make it happen again and I am really looking forward to a great event,” said Merckx. “We are really lucky this year to have Clara Hughes join us, Trevor Linden, Alyson Sydor and everybody really.”
Popular in Europe, Granfondo-style mass participation events allow cyclists to experience the rigours of a full pro-level race with the same support enjoyed by professional cyclists. As Merckx mentioned, a number of Olympians and former professional athletes will be joining about 2,700 registered riders this year. Included on that list is local triathlete Jeffrey Symonds, Olympic medallist Sydor, U.S. national cycling champion Ryan Eastman and others. Retired Olympic medalist speed skater Hughes just finished a 110-day cross-country bike ride. She logged about 11,000 kilometres while raising awareness of mental illness.
“We are very fortunate to have someone of this calibre that wants to support this and what we have done with youth cycling. She rode across Canada and back and spent a lot of time on her bike and still wants to come out and enjoy the day,” said Merckx. “She knows we are investing ourselves personally and financially to the development of youth cycling in Canada.”
In addition to the ride itself, the Granfondo weekend hosts a suite of family events, including the popular Kids’ Piccolofondo fun ride for children under 12 years of age. It takes place on Saturday and a portion of the proceeds from each registration also helps support the Axel Merckx Youth Development Foundation. This is a not-for-profit initiative established in 2011 to help develop and steward the future of Canada’s young cyclists.
The emphasis on the trio of main rides (Granfondo, Mediofondo and Cortofondo) is not only on competition but also on participation.
“It is really a weekend of celebrating cycling,” said Merckx. “We are really fortunate to have such great partners and a great following of cyclists that want to come and just enjoy riding with us.”
The three-year commitment made by Prospera as the title sponsor ensures that cycling and tourism in the Okanagan region will remain as strong as ever. Locals and visitors to the region will be treated to a one-of-a-kind cycling experience that is focused on family and shows off all that B.C.’s interior region has to offer.
The Granfondo course (160 km), the Mediofondo (92 km) and Cortofondo (55 km) takes riders along parts of Okanagan Lake and into Summerland along Lakeshore Drive South, Peach Orchard Road, Lewes Avenue, Hillborn Street and back out of Summerland. Riders will continue through Penticton with some going as far as rural Oliver before pedalling back to Penticton. The ride starts at 7 a.m. at Penticton’s Gyro Park.
Over the course of three-days there are a number of other events happening. On Friday and Saturday at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre there will be a cycling expo. On Friday there is a women’s night at the Bike Barn for registered participants featuring wine, bike maintenance and fit clinics and a guest appearance by Hughes.
For more information on the cycling portion or other events visit www.granfondoaxelmarckx.com.