Axel Merckx Grand Fondo 2018
Updated: Nov 26, 2019
Prospera Gran Fondo
Living in the Okanagan I had heard of this event as a ‘must do’ from several local riders. With Axel’s family background as well as personal pro world experience, it would definitely be a world class event. (In case you missed that, Eddy Merckx, yeah the guy you're thinking of, this is his son.)
I had also heard about this from friends in Calgary who made this an annual trip. A reason to enjoy some local wine, ride some bikes & simply bask in all the great things the Okanagan Valley has to offer. A couple of beauties, Michael & Motoko joined me for this one sporting the Black & Whites of the club colours.
They were the 'vets' of this & new that if we were going to ride the long course, we'd have to do a little preparation. I like to call it 'European blood thinning' a.k.a. 'let's go wine tasting'. I swear there are some antioxidant properties that just make you ride better. The key, never to much. How much is that you might ask? Well, that's where the 'trial & error' game comes into effect.
We like to make sure we do at least one or two 'pre' rides. If you've never been to the valley, there is a plentiful amount of ways to reward yourself. Tickleberries is usually a destination ride. (You're going to have to show up to find out this one) If we meet in Naramata, then it's a few little hills, up the back side of Penticton & down along the quieter East side of Skaha Lake. If you've ever imagined riding in Italy & haven't been, this is one of the closest replacements to it.
Between Naramata & Penticton is 'the bench' which is scattered with about 20+ winery options. Oh & two distilleries also. Several of the wineries have great little restaurants attached to them & much of the food is grown right in the area. These are 'training' ride days. If you venture a little further south, you can find some tasty bubbles. If you want hills there's a few around Naramata, one on the course that goes up Mclean Creek or make the short loop into Summerland & test out the KOM section. Regardless, there will be ample rewards.
This year we decided that we needed a little view with our 'pre-ride' meal & choose the stunning view at Poplar Grove Winery. (Not to be confused with Poplar Grove Cheesery, which is a story better told over wine ;) With some picture perfect views, delicious local food, a little European blood thinning, we were ready for the next days adventure.
A note for anyone who attends in or comes to watch in the future. If you're coming from Naramata, the road gets closed off for a few hours. Riding in is an option if you feel that you require a warm up. If you're attempting to drive in, then make sure that leave early enough otherwise, bring a coffee, find a corner & cheer the riders as they fly by. WE had been early enough to give our team driver, Pam, an ample spot to watch the start & get us close to the start line.
When you sign up for this event, they'll ask how long you will take to complete the distance you chose. Like most events, they then seat in a starting corral, of similar skilled riders. It's usually the safest way to do it. The main street is lined with people ready to ride & also friends, fans & family cheering them on. Within the first 5 min, the goal is to spread out the group which is usually a good safety tactic. Vancouver hill is a great little climb that pushes you all the way onto the upper bench. Be sure to choose a decent gear but as importantly, choose a line to ride which will enable you to climb at your preferred pace. There's nothing worse than running into someone and falling over practically standing still (ok, there's a few things worse than that. That's more of a destruction to your ego. ) After that we descend through town people cheering, everyone jostles for a position to get some speed as we leave Penticton & head towards the KOM section of the day. The highway between Penticton & Summerland is fairly flat, a beautiful view, cars re-directed to smaller lanes but also a test. The test becomes, can you ride in the group you want to in a safe manner. For many riders, the speed combined with the close bike riding & a lack of experience easily results in a very short event. There are continually crashes here as tires touch, people over re-act & your fancy new skinsuit is no match for asphalt.
If you get the chance on a pre-ride & never have been up the Summerland Hill, it's worth the spin. Get an idea of the steepness & the distance. This is usually an entertaining hill. Some people take off fast & die, many people test the limit of their mechanics with various gear grinding options & more than a handful take unnecessary risks in passing. If you wanna make an impression on the teams that have scouts there, this is where you do it. You'll be compared to the best of the day (on strava haha) & may have an invitation waiting at the end (to an extra beer in the beer gardens).
From here, we roll back to Penticton, blast along the East side of Skaha lake, make a little climb to then descend into OK Falls (I personally think the falls are a little more than OK but that might just be me.) There is a rest / refuel station here. Then it's a choose your own adventure from there on. The Fariview Climb is often a sting to the legs a little later on. By this point it starts to get hot outside. (We are in the only part of Canada that is considered to be a desert.) Make sure to eat the watermelon & if you can, add the salt, your legs will thank you in about 20min. After that climb there's a few more punchy ones on the long course (160km) & then it's a great descent into Penticton.
Michael & I rode together for most of it, as he was favouring a sore knee & I enjoy the scenery ;) We made sure that Motoko had cold beer at the end also. Gran Fondo's like this are great because you get a chance to ride with some amazing people & if you have the chance, a little chat with them also. This gives the beer gardens afterwards even more of a purpose as you scout out the people who pulled you on that long straight away or maybe helped you fix that flat. After a few recovery refreshments, pizza is usually in order. Then a shower & a nap.
Ahh it's a fantastic event that I hope to attract more riders to in the years to come.