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Ride Preview: RBC GranFondo Kelowna
Last year’s inaugural RBC GranFondo Whistler (read the PEZ report here) was a huge success as almost 4,000 riders filled the Sea To Sky Highway between Vancouver & Whistler, but 2011 looks to be even better. The organizers have added another ride in Kelowna, and Doug Smith of TOIT Events, Inc. takes us through the spectacular route in BC’s wine country.

– UPDATED: NEW ROUTE June 20, 2011 – Special Travel Feature by Doug Smith of RBC GranFondo Kelowna –

UPDATE: GranFondo Canada has announced a new 115 km route featuring a dedicated lane for the inaugural RBC GranFondo Kelowna on July 16, 2011 in the beautiful Okanagan Valley.

The first half of the route will remain the same as cyclists will begin their journey at Waterfront Park in Kelowna. They will continue riding alongside beautiful Okanagan Lake on Okanagan Centre Road and Carrs Landing after which they will start a 6.5 km climb to Predator Ridge and pass through the City of Vernon.

From here the ride takes a new direction as cyclists will now venture southbound onto Okanagan Highway, which will showcase beautiful Kalamalka and Wood Lake.

During the final portion of the ride, cyclists will find themselves in familiar territory as they make their way through the communities of Oyama and Winfield while passing through beautiful vineyards on Lodge Road and Glenmore Road. Finally, they will ride on a downhill descent that will lead them to the finish at Waterfront Park where they will celebrate the victory and accomplishment with friends and family.

The new route will still provide cyclists with a scenic and challenging ride on a dedicated lane through the Okanagan Valley with an approximate elevation gain of 1200 m. It will be a ride to remember and promises to become a Canadian classic.

If you’ve heard rubber on pavement and the sound of freewheels around you, you know what it’s like to be a roadie. As a road cyclist living in Western Canada I see stories about GranFondo events in Europe and wish they were in my back yard so I could enjoy the thrill and excitement of “The Big Ride” closer to home.

RBC GranFondo Kelowna is the kind of ride that you and I have been dreaming about.

I ride for a small amateur team in Vancouver, BC, Canada known locally as “the Pinks” because of the pink accents on our kit. As part of the team I have ridden many rides similar to the RBC GranFondo Whistler on the Sea To Sky route from Vancouver to Whistler and for the last five summers, as a group we have ridden an incredibly challenging ride in the interior of BC known as “Kelowna-Vernon-Kelowna” or “Loop the Lake.”

Locals have known and used this as a favorite training ride for years and now GranFondo Canada has taken this ride to a whole new level. The RBC GranFondo Kelowna has been developed to be a ride in the true GranFondo sense. Not only does it take place on rolling hills, beside Lake Okanagan, but its fixed aid stations and roving mechanical support provide a high level of assistance for every level of rider.

If I close my eyes I can imagine the whole ride. I take my place in the 5 to 5.5 hour corral and can feel the electricity of all the riders buzzing before the start. The sun is just rising and the temperature is climbing. I’m probably second guessing my choice to wear arm warmers right about now! It’s 7:00am and I’ve got the sun in my face when the MC gives the start command and we clip-in for the ride of a lifetime.

From the shore of beautiful Lake Okanagan at the Delta Grand Hotel, we head north through the City of Kelowna. Weaving past homes and shops at a slow pace, I’m thinking about the memories of racing the Tour Trans Alp and the good warm up I’m getting for the ride.

Once we hit the city limits though, we’re free. We start to see orchards and local farms line the road, the air is fresh and the riders are starting to spread out. I’m finding my groove and getting to know the riders around me, if we are matched up at this point, we are probably going to see a lot of each other during the course of the day.

We start getting into forest lined roads with some gentle climbs that warm the legs and get us ready for the more intense climbs to come. Suddenly, we change direction and find ourselves on the first of the climbs. I know from experience that this isn’t a long climb so sit in and relax; the big one is ahead. Once we reach the top, a fast decent towards the lake follows and those who spent some time looking at the course beforehand remind themselves: this is a switch-back decent, don’t go into the turns too hot.

Things level out and we ride together through the community of Lake Country where we will hit the first aid station to fill our water bottles. Since the event is disposable-bottle free, we’ll fill up from a water tanker, taking a second to appreciate the natural beauty we’re helping to protect from garbage.

Next, we pass vineyards and lake vistas, enjoying the sites and smells of the area. A look ahead reminds us that the road is starting to climb. We have reached the foot of the climb known as Predator Ridge. A short 14% pitch of 500 yards lets you know you’re on the climb. Sit in, relax, get your rhythm and spin; hopefully you have a good song in your head since you’ll need it for the next 6 km.

We crest a false top and start into the section of semi-pave: this is a sealed gravel road that reminds me of the spring classics and really brings that European feeling home.

At the top of Predator Ridge we slow, just for a minute, to look around. This is the highest point on the ride and the view is incredible.

Now for a fun decent into the City of Vernon and the major aid station; good timing too as most of us are nearly out of water. The Vernon aid station is deluxe. Some of us snag some water and Honey Stinger gels, but others take a load off and meet up with friends riding at a different pace.

Getting back on the road, there is a long easy climb out of Vernon and we head west to Westside Road. Local roadies know this loop, but this will be new experience: riding it with 1500 other gear-heads.

The fresh faces of the Medio riders have joined the ride at Vernon for a 90 km journey. It’s great to see that there is an option for the rider who may not be up for the whole 140 km. I feel a competitive rush though with fresh legs joining the ride.

A quick glance over the shoulder and you’ll notice a train of 20 riders coming your way. With a quick gear change to gather speed and a tucking-in of the back, it’s time to work with the group like my heroes from the Tour. I make my way to the front and take a turn, remembering why I love the flats. Now averaging 38 kph, this should make up for the few extra minutes of chatting at Vernon.

The flats go on for a few good kilometres as we ride through one of the two local First Nations reserves. Three-quarters of the ride is done and it’s time to get back to work as the road starts to rollercoaster with short climbs and short descents. We are gradually gaining altitude, heading toward the resort community of La Casa. Time to stop again to top up the water.

The last of Westside Road is a bit of a challenge. We’re getting tired and the climbs are steep, but thankfully they are also mercifully short. Up and down, up and down, just when we think we’re totally spent we emerge from the forest to see downtown Kelowna just across the lake. It is so close you can taste it.

• Thanks to photog Darren Kirby – see more at his Flickr page here.

We ride along the lake and triumphantly finish Westside Road. The last leg is now the quick descent to the William R. Bennett Bridge, where GranFondo Canada has done it again: we have our own lane on the new bridge. How cool is this? A fast left into town and we’re across the finish line in view of friendly faces and roaring crowds. It’s time for us to park our bikes and head to the Red Truck beer tent for a well deserved brew and burger. We’re surrounded by other finishers, excitedly chattering about their favorite parts of the ride, the unimaginable views, and the proud feeling of accomplishment.

In just a couple of months, RBC GranFondo Kelowna will fulfill this dream: giving road cyclists one fabulous “Loop of the Lake” to talk about for the year to come. July 16, 2011 marks the date for inaugural riders to take place in this unforgettable event.

SIGN UP NOW to ride the first ever RBC GranFondo Kelowna and live the dream with me.

• More info:
GranFondo Canada Website
RBC GranFondo Whistler Facebook
RBC GranFondo Kelowna Facebook
GranFondo Canada Twitter


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