An estimated 2,500 riders will take part in this weekend’s Prospera Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan. (Western News file photo)

2,500 cyclists ready to take the South Okanagan roads for Granfondo

The Prospera Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan takes place this weekend

More than 2,500 cyclists are ready to take the roads in the South Okanagan this weekend for the ninth edition of the Prospera Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan (PGAMO).

While more than 80 per cent of the participants live in B.C., this year’s event attracts riders from 10 different countries, as far away as Italy, Slovakia, Japan, the Philippines and Bermuda.

Cyclists depart at 7 a.m. on July 14 from Penticton’s Main Street, adjacent to Gyro Park, before travelling through the District of Summerland and the towns of Okanagan Falls, Oliver and Kaleden. Along for the ride will be event namesake and former Belgian national cycling champion, Axel Merckx, who now resides in the Okanagan.

READ MORE: Granfondo rolls through Penticton

Merckx will be joined by three of his Hagens Berman Axeon under-23 pro riders: Michael Rice, Jonny Brown and Ian Garrison. All three return for a third straight year, with Garrison returning as the newly crowned U.S. national time trial champion, a title he captured less than two weeks ago in Knoxville, Tenn. In a reunion of sorts, their former Hagens Berman Axeon teammate, Adrien Costa, will join them at the start line on Sunday. Costa only recently returned to the bike after losing part of his right leg in a serious rock-climbing accident last year.

Other notables returning to ride the 160-kilometre Granfondo distance this year include former NHL all-star and Vancouver Canucks legend Trevor Linden, as well as Anaheim Ducks’ new head coach, Dallas Eakins.

“The response to this year’s Fondo has been incredible and we’re indeed fortunate to welcome back so many long-time riders to the South Okanagan,” said Merckx. “Together with our title sponsor, Prospera Credit Union, we’re proud to host a world class event that attracts participants from all over the world.”

The event benefits the Axel Merckx Youth Development Foundation (AMYDF), a not-for-profit initiative established in 2011 to help develop and steward the future of Canada’s young cyclists.

The AMYDF works with national and provincial organizations, such as the Canadian Cycling Association and Cycling BC, to enhance cycling skills through a variety of competitive events, development camps, coaching clinics and programs like the Kelowna-based Red Devils Cycling Academy.

Several activities are centred in Penticton’s downtown core, including the Kids’ Piccolofondo fun bike race on July 13 (2 p.m. start at Gyro Park). Also on Saturday, the Passo Apex Hill Climb Race returns to Apex Mountain, starting at 9 a.m. The Penticton Trade and Convention Centre hosts the participants’ package pick-up and Granfondo cycling expo on July 12 (1 to 7 p.m.) and July 13 (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.). A limited number of ride entries are still available on a first-come, first-served basis at package pick-up.

Large sections of Main Street will be closed from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Crossings that motorists can access are Lakeshore Drive (after 10:30 a.m.), Eckhardt Avenue, Duncan Avenue, Industrial Avenue, Warren Avenue and Green Avenue. On Saturday, the roads encircling Penticton’s Gyro Park will be closed for the Piccolofondo event, from 1:30 p.m. (following the Farmers’ Market) to 4 p.m. Main Street from Lakeshore Drive to Westminster Avenue remains closed until 5 p.m. on Sunday.

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