Riders enjoy festive atmosphere at Gran Fondo

Organizers receive glowing reviews from riders for inaugural cycling event.

Cyclists approach the finish line at the Gran Fondo out at the St. Eugene Golf Resort and Casino on Sunday afternoon.

Cyclists approach the finish line at the Gran Fondo out at the St. Eugene Golf Resort and Casino on Sunday afternoon.

Despite a turn in the weather, organizers for the Kootenay Rockies Gran Fondo received nothing but praise for the first inaugural event, which featured 271 cyclists on three different distance courses.

Glenn Dobie, representing the Cranbrook Sunrise Rotary Club, said the event ‘exceeded’ expectations.

“I think the biggest thing was just the atmosphere of the volunteers and the cyclists,” said Dobie. “There was a real positive energy, positive vibe, tremendous compliments from the cyclists from out of town, about the volunteers.

“They raved about the beauty, despite the weather.”

A month before the event, Dobie estimated that registration would reach 200 riders, and was pleasantly surprised to see the final reach 271, the furthest of which came from Ottawa.

“There was a real surge in registration, particularly in the last week,” said Dobie. “A little bit unexpected. We were able to do a little bit of scrambling to accommodate them.”

Cyclists competed individually, or as a team, one of which featured a group from Jaffray, Dobie said.

“They’d definitely be the team spirit award, they all had matching jerseys, there was about 12 or 13 of them,” he said. “They’d grown up together, got into the sport of cycling and decided to join as a group.”

The three courses were featured at distances of 50 km, 100, km and 150 km, with the majority of the race participants in the longest one. Cyclists were treated to a post-race meal afterwards, and musical entertainment was provided by the Good ‘Ol Goats and The Testers.

Dallas Cain was the fastest cyclist, completing the Gran Fondo with a time of 3:55. However, Dobie said the organizers really wanted to market the event as a ride.

“They [cyclists] really appreciated just the ride concept as opposed to a race,” Dobie said. “What it created was a real friendly, festive atmosphere.”

Routes were littered with aid stations so riders could rehydrate and refuel their bodies, while the roving mechanics—Mike Stephens, Russ Peebles and Scott Alleyn—patrolled the courses on motorbikes to help out with any equipment issues.

The three courses were designed to showcase the local region, said Dobie. The 150 km distance started at the St. Eugene, and headed out to the Kootenay Trout Hatchery, with a turnaround at the Hwy 3/93. Riders headed back to Fort Steele and headed up to the Hwy 95A turnoff past Was and looped through Kimberley, taking the North Star Rails to Trails back to the St. Eugene Mission.

As with any first-time event, there are always a few minor things to change, but Dobie is already anticipating what next year will bring.

“We’re actually quite energized and looking forward to next year, because we can see it doubling quite easily,” he said.

Proceeds raised from the ride will go to maintaining and enhancing the North Star Rails to Trails system, as well as to other local community service projects.

There will be a volunteer appreciation night at the Days Inn on Friday, Sept. 13, at 7 p.m.