Over 2,500 cyclists from all over North America descended on Penticton for the annual Axel Merckx Gran Fondo last weekend.
The fun began Saturday with the brutally hard Passo Apex hill climb and continued on Sunday with the gran fondo races.
The gran fondo — or “big ride” in Italian — offered three different races to choose from. The 160-kilometre gran fondo attracted 878 riders. Local riders who won their age class were: Kelowna’s Dean Broomham, fourth overall and first in M40-49 in four hours and nine minutes; Gary Denton (M70-79, Penticton); and, my riding buddy, Cliff Serwa, (M80-89, Kelowna).
Serwa, who was a founder of Big White and an MLA several years ago, is in his mid-80s, but he finished ahead of 240 younger riders.
Serwa also won the King of the Mountains award for having the fastest time in his class up the long, steep hill out of Summerland that is timed separately.
More than 530 riders competed in the 126-km race, the veloci fondo.
Kelowna rider Katherine Force won her F30-39 class and was fifth woman overall. I rode in the veloci fondo, but was hit with cramps at the 85-km mark. After having to walk my bike up four long hills, for some reason the cramps went away, and I was able to set my fastest last 20 km ever in the event.
By then, though, I had lost so much time that I finished well down in my age group.
The 94-km medio fondo had 723 competitors. Kelowna’s Rod McInnes took the M40-49 age class, and Vernon rider Brian Willis the M70-79 class.
The medio fondo also had the oldest rider in the four distances. Robert Allan of North Vancouver, 91, finished ahead of 178 younger riders in four hours 20 minutes.
The 55-km corto fondo had 236 competitors, and attracted a number of Okanagan riders.
Local winners of their age classes included Douglas Meszaros (M30-39, Kel.), Joyce Stevens (F50-59, Kel.), Graham Fraser (M50-59, Pen.), Mike McClosky (M60-69, Pen.), Ian Ross (M70-79, Pen.), Tyler Laplante (M20-29, Pen.) and Christa Miller (F20-29, Vernon, first woman overall).
— Our local pro and national-class riders have been busy also.
Jacob Rubuliak has had a great season so far, and it will get even better.
”Jacob won the junior individual time trial at nationals last week in Beauce (Que.),” his father, Chris, wrote in an email. “He has been extremely focused for 12 months, trained hard and had ‘amazing legs’ on the day. Due to this result, he will be representing Canada at the World Championships in Yorkshire in September.
“Additionally, because of his notable racing the next day in the road race, he was named to a six-man Team Canada squad, racing in Tour de l’Abitibi in Quebec next week.”
The Tour D l’Abitibi is an event for the top junior cyclists in North America. This year is the 51st annual race. It is the only Junior Nations Cup race held in North America.
As of this writing, Rubuliak has had very good results for the first four stages of the seven-stage race. He was eighth in the first road race (117 km) and second Canadian in the next road race, a tough 137 km.
He finished in a bunch sprint just 12 seconds behind the winner. The next day, in the 10-km time trial, he took third overall and was the top Canadian.
In the 52-km fourth stage, he again finished in the main peloton, two seconds behind the winner.
We will hear a lot more about Jacob over the next few years.
— Jordan Cheyne and his team, Elevate KHS, competed last weekend at B.C. Superweek in the Lower Mainland. Cheyne rode for his team in most of the events, but in the final event, the Tour Of White Rock, he rode for himself and he was, to put it mildly, impressive. The 134-km race is considered to be one of the toughest in North America because of the endless hills.
He dominated the 2019 edition of the road race, breaking away from a group of seven with just over 40 km to the finish.
“I went up the climb with four to go and I didn’t really attack hard, but I saw a gap open up and I just committed to it. This circuit is so hard that it’s almost easier to go on your own sometimes,” the 27-year-old said.
Tour announcers said they’ve never seen anything like it in the tour’s 40-year history.
Kelowna’s Midsummer 8K was held July 14. This race is one of the oldest runs in the Canadian Tire Interior Road Race Series and always attracts a good field.
The first runner to cross the finish line was a runner from Vancouver, Jonathan Behnke (M25-29); Kelowna’s John Vogt (M40-44) and David Guss, the best M55-60 runner in Canada, followed him.
The first woman across the line was Peachland’s Brittany Webster (F30-34). Webster, who has cross-country skied for Canada at the Olympics, finished 10th overall and was almost five minutes ahead of the second-place woman, young Kamloops runner Drew Keam (F0-15). Third place went to Kelowna’s Danielle Shand (F30-34).
Several of our local runners won their age class by wide margins.
They were: Amanda Kosmerly (F45-49, Kel.), Sally Heinrick (F55-59, Kel.), Lynda Proce (F60-64, Ver.), Igor Pichugin (M30-34, Kel.) and Peter Pollhammer (M75-79, Kel.).
It was fun to see a few of my old running friends back at it again.
Mike Whitaker, who I consider the father of Kelowna running, ran his second race of the year after a hiatus of almost 20 years. He finished second in M75-79. John Lopes is also making a comeback, and running very well. He gave Roly Muller, who has been virtually unbeatable in M65-69, a good battle, finishing just 17 seconds behind him. My wife’s long time running partner, Laurie Charbonneau, ran her first race in several years and took second in F60-64.
Kelowna-raised Kamloops runner Bruce Butcher continues to inspire us.
At 85 years old, he has run five of the seven Canadian Tire Series races this year. His time was faster than the winner of the M80-84 class and would have placed him fourth in M75-79.
Kelowna has a new and exciting race that is in the Interior Road Race series, and it’s coming up soon. The inaugural Fast Days Of Summer 5000 will be held on July 28.
It will be run on the Rail Trail, starting at Dilworth Drive. The organizers have posted details at Interiorrunningassociation.com.
They describe it as a flat, fast 5K with chip timing and pace bunnies on a certified course.
Cash prizes for top male and female finishers are $150 for first, $75 for second and $50 for third. The top three male and female masters athletes (40 or older) will receive free entry for next year.
Bill Stephens is an Okanagan resident and founder and past president of the Kelowna Running Club, a founder and past president of the Interior Running Association, past Chairman of Compe-tition for the B.C. Cross-Country Ski Association. He has more than 500 races to his credit.