Fondo-mania is gripping the nation.
Two years ago when I started this blog, the Whistler Gran Fondo was the first ride of its kind organized in Canada. This year there are five such fondos in this province alone, a handful more scattered across the country. And, inevitably, they almost always sell out of their starting positions.
Of course, we could ride 90 or 120 or 160 kms on our own, any time, for free.
But there’s something affirming and festive about assembling with thousands of like-minded middle-aged white men and women (because that seems to be the demographic that dominates these events) to ride together, celebrate our fitness and have snacks handed to us by cheery volunteers.
As the Valley First Gran Fondo Axel Merckx is scheduled fairly early in my cycling season, when my mileage is just starting to crack 100 km rides on a regular basis, I signed up for the 92 km Medio instead of the 160 km full meal deal. Despite that, it was probably the most fun of the three fondos I’ve done.
Enjoying the scenery, and the Axel Merckx Gran Fondo.
Perhaps it’s because I knew I could manage the distance despite the heat, which finally decided to kick in that very weekend.
Perhaps it’s because this was the first fondo I’ve done with riding companions, as RDM and his Saturday cycling buddies also signed on, as well as my Uncle Pete.
It’s always better to ride with friends.
Perhaps it’s because of the brief thrill I experienced when the full fondo’s racing group caught me part way up the final climb but I was then able to latch onto the tail of their select peloton for about four km until they made the turn to hammer up the home stretch.
The Axel Merckx was well-organized and, with only 2,500 participants, a little more relaxed than Whistler or the Levi Leipheimer. Poorly-executed pacelines seemed few and far between; most riders seemed content to just enjoy the day and the beautiful scenery. The rest stops were perfectly positioned along the route and well stocked with fruit, energy food and water, all distributed by smiling volunteers. Mechanical assistance was readily available at the stops, although it did seem a little scarce along the route. And the post-ride party offered plenty of shade, treats and even a free beer!
Good thing there was lots of mechanical assistance available…
… as RDM took full advantage.
Enjoying the well-earned shade.
In fact, about the only quibble most riders shared was with the post-ride barbecued chicken burger; then again, it’s hard to match the standards of the tasty paella served up at the finish of the Levi Leipheimer.
Well done Axel and crew!
Aprés fondo, everyone heads to the wineries!
Ahh, this is the life…
… even if Princess of Pavement can’t indulge in the vineyards’ bounty.