– Special Travel Feature by Doug Smith of GranFondo Canada –
As a young aspiring cyclist in the 80’s, I often found myself in Banff for training rides and altitude training. This summer, I’ll be returning to the Rockies of Alberta for the inaugural RBC GranFondo Banff, where there will be 1,500 cyclists in Banff for the August 25th event. People from around the world have cycled there either on their own or with small tour companies but this will be an entirely new experience. The gran fondo has arrived to the Canadian Rockies.
The mountains rise in every direction from the town of Banff.
Gran fondos are very cool events. GranFondo Canada strives to differentiate from most of them in North America by giving the rider a full lane width of closed course. What this means to a rider is that for the full length of the event there are no cars in your lane. Imagine 120 to 140 Km of no cars. The RBC GranFondo Banff is 142 Km of just that. Add in the majestic beauty only found in Canada’s first National park and you have the makings of an amazing Fondo.
Here’s how your experience will unfold
Lined up on Buffalo Street adjacent to the banks of the Bow River at the base of Sulphur Mountain is where we begin this adventure. But first, have a look around. Towering over the town of Banff are the Iconic Mountains of Rundle and Cascade. Now look at the waters of the Bow River and recognize that the water you see flowing by you today will be flowing into the Hudson’s Bay in a few weeks. Our journey is not nearly that long but we do have an epic adventure about to start.
The sun is coming over the mountains and the air is warming up as we are about to begin. Starting out, we head to the base of Tunnel mountain and past the Banff Centre of the Arts. Here is our first climb; short and sweet and only one kilometre into our ride. Circling around on Tunnel mountain road, riders will head out towards the world famous Tunnel mountain campground. This brings back memories of family camping trips I had as a kid.
Just past the campground, we pass the trail that takes day hikers over to the HooDoos; these are monoliths created over time by wind and rain, when the ride is done you should consider this hike and enjoy these wonders of nature.
Spectacular Cascade Mountain from downtown Banff.
We descend out of the town of Banff before hitting the only major climb of the day. The 5 km climb up to lake Minnewanka and the base of Cascade Mountain.
One of the many picturesque glacial fed lakes.
Heading down the quick descent from Lake Minnewanka, we come to the first Rest Stop. Check your water and food knowing that we are at altitude and dehydration sets in faster. Bottles full, back on the road, head west, the adventure continues.
Heading west we jump onto the Trans-Canada Highway for a short stint on the way to the Bow Valley Parkway (BVP). For the next 100 km, with support from Parks Canada, the BVP will be closed to motor vehicles. What’s that, no cars all the way to Lake Louise and back; how absolutely amazing can this be! The BVP is 51 km of rolling goodness with you, your bike and the wildlife. This road is renowned for the amount of wildlife you can see so keep your eyes open. You may see elk, deer or if you are lucky maybe a bear.
Don’t be surprised if you see some wildlife – Banff is teaming with it.
The BVP is a beautiful ride on your own, but now you are out there with 1,500 other riders in the peace and quiet of the Rockies. This IS a very unique experience. Heck, you may never want to leave. Dense coniferous forests and alpine meadow’s line this route out to Lake Louise. We’ll now ride past one of the most dramatic mountains; Castle Mountain formally known a Mount Eisenhower looks very fortress-like. Look up at the mountain while you enjoy the services at the second Rest Stop located here at Castle Junction. Following the GranFondo, you might want to come out here for a great hike up to Rockbound Lake in the center of Castle Mountain.
Enough gawking at the mountains. You’re now back on your bike and off to the Lake Louise turnaround. It will be so quiet out here that you will actually be able to talk to your fellow cyclists. New friends, quiet mountain roads, wildlife, fresh air… what could be better.
You may not realize it, but from Castle junction to Lake Louise is all uphill. Reaching the turnaround, it’s time for another little break to top up the bottles and grab some food before heading back to Banff. When the route was first conceived there was a worry of an out and back but the great thing about the mountains is, when you turnaround there is a totally different view. It’s like you’re riding two routes in one.
Heading back to Banff you are now on the Bow side of the road where you get to overlook the Bow River flowing through the valley taking us back to the start line in downtown Banff. One last break back at Castle junction and the adrenalin rush back into Banff. Riding this way we get to see the full majesty of Mount Rundle towering above the Town of Banff and the Banff Springs hotel. A few short climbs and great views later, we emerge from the BVP onto the Trans- Canada Highway. Here we have a quick 4 km ride to the town limits.
The breathtaking Bow Valley.
At the entrance to town we are about to cross a set of train tracks that are essentially responsible for building the town. The Canadian Pacific Railway built the Banff Springs Hotel between 1887 and 1888 to attract tourists to the area. Think back to when these tracks were first laid and the historical significance that they still have.
You’ve now made it into the finish to the cheers and bells of family, friends and locals. It’s time to park your bike and grab some food and a bevie, all included in the price of the event. Grab a patch of grass, sit down and reminisce about the ride with your new friends; take pride in the fact that you are now one of a select few inaugural riders for the first ever RBC GranFondo Banff.
• There are limited spots left for the inaugural RBC GranFondo Banff. For more information and to register, visit www.Banff.GranFondoCanada.com