Banff set to host "big ride"
By: Ciaran Thompson
| Posted: Thursday, Aug 02, 2012 06:00 am
Later this month, 1,500 cyclists from around the world will take part in the first GranFondo event held exclusively within a national park.
On Aug. 25, riders of all experience and skill levels will embark on a 142-kilometre course through Banff National Park in what is the next installment of GranFondo Canada’s goal of introducing the world to the many cycling opportunities in Canada. GranFondo is Italian for “big ride.”
Kevin Thomson is one of the co-founders of GranFondo Canada and said the trek in Banff National Park is nearly three years in the making, yet the tickets for the ride sold out in only two months.
“For me this is the gem,” Thomson said about GranFondo in Banff. “Everywhere is scenery. The route that we have here, there’s very little interaction with automobiles. This has a more serene element.
“It became apparent to all of us that road cycling is one of the best ways to experience the national park, because you can see so much more of it than walking,” he added. “You are able to just focus on the nature around you as opposed to driving a vehicle.”
Starting at Central Park in Banff, riders will visit several scenic locations along the counter-clockwise route such as Tunnel Mountain, Two Jack Lake, the Minnewanka Dam and the Bow Valley Parkway before concluding at the downtown park.
According to Thomson, the majority of the 1,500 participants who have signed on for the ride are from Edmonton and Calgary. However, with more advertising, organizers hope they can reach larger audiences over the next couple of years.
“Our vision is to have thousands of people from around the world descending upon Canada to ride their bicycles in our beautiful spots,” the co-founder said. “It’s happening all over the world. We’re late in blooming here, but we’re blooming.”
Including this inaugural event in Banff, GranFondo Canada has rides in Whistler and Kelowna as well as another new trek planned for Niagara Falls next year.
For this month’s ride, the Vancouver-based group, which is sponsored by RBC Canada, has taken procedures required by the national park to hire a company to conduct an environmental impact study and provided the town with estimates on the effects for local businesses.
“We’ve heard this before in Whistler and in the end, it’s not just been an non-issue, but we’ve won an award from the business association because it’s been a positive impact,” he said about local businesses.
“The short-haul tourist experience is still very important to any resort community and you want to find ways to bring the populations that are nearby to you, but they don’t always come,” he added.
“With this event, I think what we’ll end up seeing is that for some retailers this is going to be great. We hope that the overall impact is positive and we’ll be reaching out to the retailers to find out what happened afterwards.”
In a press release, Banff mayor Karen Sorenson indicated she was pleased GranFondo Canada has chosen the national park as its new location.
“The RBC GranFondo Banff event is a terrific fit for the Town of Banff,” the mayor said in the release. “It promotes a healthy and earth-friendly activity and is a wonderful way to enjoy the splendour of the Canadian Rockies. We will be pleased to welcome all the participants and their families to Banff.”
Although the ride is not a competitive race, each cyclist will be timed with the first male and female overall finishers recognized and celebrated at the finish line. Members of the team that finishes first will also be awarded with a Thule Crossover Backpack.
For such a large event to run smoothly, GranFondo Canada has enlisted the help of 350 volunteers, but is always looking for more, as Thomson points out.
“One of the hard things in any market is to inspire people to come out from the community and to help us put this thing on,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun to volunteer at these events. If there’s volunteers that want to come and help us, that would be incredible.”
To learn about volunteer opportunities and see a detailed map of the planned route, visit banff.granfondocanada.com