There were a few surprises for organizers of the inaugural RBC Kelowna Gran Fondo on the weekend.
Thankfully, they were mostly pleasant surprises for the first ever gran fondo to be held in Kelowna, a mass 115 kilometre ride through the hillsides of Kelowna, Vernon, Oyama and Lake Country with 1,200 cyclists taking it all in.
“I think we surprised a lot of people with the beauty of road cycling in the Okanagan; that was a common phrase I heard a lot was how beautiful it was,” said Kelowna Gran Fondo co-founder Kevin Thomson. “I had some friends that were riding and they were cheered on quite consistently through the course. That was surprising for a first year event. Watching people in their communities get out there cheering is something that really stirs the soul.”
Gran fondos are hugely popular in Europe and are more of a recreational ride than a race with the emphasis on cycling rather than winning.
Still, after 115 km, just eight seconds separated the top three male finishers as Calgary rider Chris McNeil rode the course in 3:06:31, followed closely by Kelowna cyclists Cyrus Kangarloo (3:06:37) and Cory Forrest (3:06:39). The top finishing female rider was North Vancouver’s Krista Rawlings, who crossed the finish line in 3:35:28, three seconds better than the lower mainland’s Marni Hambleton.
With thousands of cyclists traveling through multiple communities using a dedicated cycling lane for the entire route, there were relatively few problems, according to Thomson.
“There were some little things, individual issue but we had no mass issue that we had to fix,” he said. “Certainly there are things we are going to improve upon but as an inaugural event we couldn’t have been more pleased with how things came together.”
Things came together so good, in fact, that organizers have already committed to another gran fondo in Kelowna with the second Kelowna ride set to take place July 14, 2012.
“We’re here for the long haul and we’re looking to build this event,” said Thomson. “We want to give people a reason to get on the bicycle and join what feels like a renaissance movement in road cycling.”
Gran Fondo Canada will host the second annual Whister Gran Fondo this September with other events in Niagara Falls and Alberta in 2012.
-Kelowna Capital News