How I learned what the Kootenay Gran Fondo really means

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It’s not just about the finish line, but the scenic backroads

JOANNE ELVES

CRANBROOK - We were told a Gran Fondo is just an easy ride with a bunch of like-minded cyclists. So, we signed up for the Kootenay Rockies Gran Fondo and took the newbie advice from our seasoned cycling friends. We stopped at the aid stations to enjoy refuelling and laughed with the volunteers and other cyclists that seemed to be going the same pace as us.

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But when we finished the 102-kilometre Medio distance, we were near the back of the pack. How could that be possible? I’ve never finished nearly last in any race. Turns out, a Gran Fondo is actually a long casual bike ride with a few hundred of your most competitive friends.

Kootenay Rockies Gran Fondo

Planning to visit Cranbrook for the Kootenay Rockies Gran Fondo? Check out these awesome activities and attractions to enjoy after the big race.

My disappointment with finishing near the back was quickly washed away. It’s all about the journey along the roads near Cranbrook BC.

We arrived early Friday to check in at the St. Eugene Golf Resort & Casino where the start and finish are hosted. I’m not a golfer but this resort tempted me to take up the sport. Long fairways flanked by thick trees and brilliant white sand bunkers scare me though. I just know I’ll be smacking the trees and digging in the sand on every hole. At least the rates are reasonable for the public. Rates fluctuate with the demand, but for 18 holes during prime time on the weekend, expect to pay around $75 to $90.

Riders can show up at the festival tents early to enjoy a continental breakfast before heading for the start line on the sprawling lawn in front of the resort. The Gran Fondo riders who will be riding 152-km start at 9 a.m. while the shorter distance riders cross the line at 9:15 and 9:30.

Pavement to ourselves

The ride instantly pulls onto Mission Road but only for a short distance. It quickly joins the paved North Star Rails to Trails connector path to ride into the Platzl in beautiful Kimberly B.C., where the first-aid station is manned by enthusiastic volunteers who offer refreshments, including the usual water and power drinks along with treats and gels. While the Piccolo Fondo riders doing 58 kilometres return to St. Eugene Resort the same way we left, the rest of the riders continue on the route.

The course winds quickly out of Kimberley and follows the Meadowbrook Road until the next aid station – where again you make friends with volunteers and other cyclists – or as we were slow to figure out, you grab your fresh supplies and keep riding.

Riding on Highway 93 was the only part of the race where the traffic was heavy, but that only means a car or camper passed every few minutes. We had plenty of pavement to ourselves. When we reached Fort Steele Heritage Town it was time for the Gran Fondo riders to turn onto the Wardner Fort Steele Road to add the extra 50 kilometres before coming back to highway 93.

Kootenay Rockies Gran Fondo

As part of the Medio riders only doing 104 km, we jammed in a few extra gels to try to garner some energy take on that nasty two-km 8 per cent grade hill that will eventually crown the events King and Queen of the Mountain. Those are the amazing riders who actually don’t notice the grade and ride it as fast as their feet can pedal.

Huffing and puffing up the hill was tough, and oddly, I kept clicking my gears in search of one more low gear. At the top though – it was a sweet ride out, almost all down hill to the finish where volunteers eagerly hand out fresh damp towels to wipe away the dust and sweat.

After the race the festival tent is home to a buffet dinner where food stations of endless supplies of carbs and protein are served on fine china and white linen table cloths. The winners of the draw prizes are announced as you jam in that last brownie.

After you’ve refuelled, it’s easy to explore the region. First, there is the St Eugene casino where you can turn the $5 gift card in your swag bag into an afternoon of winning. Or, rent a golf cart to play a few rounds of golf. But if that golf course is too strenuous – try your hand at the Elizabeth Lake Lodge Mini Golf in Cranbrook only 12 minutes away. This is hands-down my favourite golfing experience. Try to putt while a fisherman swings a blue fish over the hole or skip it through the windmill or past the swimming beavers. There is never a dull hole.

Beyond the biking

Kootenay Rockies Gran Fondo

If you are staying overnight, consider staying at the St. Eugene Resort or just 30 minutes away at the Trickle Creek Lodge where the condo-style rooms at the Kimberley Alpine Resort are perfect for keeping the après ride beer chilled. Of course, if you are in Kimberley and you are a cyclist, you have to dine at Pedal and Tap. The atmosphere and the food is worth wobbling on sore legs for. It’s on the Platz where you would have ridden past in the morning.

This year the ride is Saturday, Sept. 10. There is still lots of time to enter any of the rides. It’s fun and nobody cares if you come in last.

For more information, click through to Kootenay Rockies Gran Fondo.

Registration

                               Early Bird     After July 15

Volunteers                         $0       $0

Piccolo (57 Km)                $99       $119

Medio (102 Km)               $139      $159

Gran Fondo (152 Km)       $159      $179

Click here to register.

If You Go

Setting up base camp in Cranbrook allows you to so much more then just biking, find out what’s in store by visiting Cranbrook Tourism’s website.

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