Get your Gran Fondo on with these grand rides

Get your Gran Fondo on with these grand rides

Pedal and find peace during a memorable group ride this summer

Joanne Elves

It’s likely, somebody, or maybe all of them, at the front of the pack are grinding their gears, trying hard to take the lead. Me? I’m near the middle in this long line of brightly dressed cyclists and happily keeping a pace that allows me to enjoy the view.

While my competitors' dash for the destination, I’m happy with the journey.

Participating in a Gran Fondo cycling event is a great way for cyclists of every ability to enjoy the freedom of the highway, and along the way, friendly volunteers fuel you and cheer you on.

Most Gran Fondos sound daunting with distances of more than 150 km winding along varied terrain like secluded backroads, prairies and rolling (read steep) mountain roads. But like marathons, there are usually short distances, to choose from, too.

If you are new to cycling or don’t need to bag that Gran Fondo, the journey can be as short as 50 km. A very doable distance on a bike, and a rewarding accomplishment.

No journey has to be from point A to point B. It's more about the transformation you’ll experience along the way.

Here are a few cycling events across Western Canada, to get you in a peaceful, pedalling state of mind.

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Mountain Equipment Co-op offers nearby rides

MEC in Alberta and B.C. offers Century rides throughout the riding season near major centres. It’s really low key, and the cost is very reasonable. Each race offers options on the distance, aid stations and has roaming mechanics. For the small fee of around $50 per race, it’s a fantastic opportunity to enjoy a safe ride with like-minded riders.

Want to learn more about the Edmonton area? Click here. 

Are you bad enough? Gran Fondo Badlands

The “Are you bad enough?” stencilled on the butt of the rider in front of you may taunt you to grind up the 12% grade out of the Drumheller Valley and pass your competitors. But save that for a downhill section of the Gran Fondo Badlands, on June 23. The race offers three distances of 50, 140 and 160 km, each passing spectacular geological sites and attractions. Starting under the jaw of the largest dinosaur in the world, you easily ride past the Royal Tyrrell Museum to make the first climb out of the valley before zipping down to the century-old Bleriot Ferry. While on that two-minute crossing, gear down because as soon as you land, there’s a nasty grade.

While the Piccolo returns to town, the Medio and Gran continue to the town of Wayne, crossing a world record of bridges in the shortest distance. The Gran carries on into the valley past East Coulee and the Atlas Coal Mine. The ride eventually turns around at yet another prairie peak with roughly 60 kilometres of easy grades back to the finish area.

Did you know you can discover dinosaurs in Alberta? Read about it here. 

Ride to the highest paved pass in Canada

The ATB Financial Gran Fondo Highwood Pass on July 7, is a 134-km out and back race starting with the sunrise at Stoney Nakoda Resort and rolling south through the heart of K-Country. The highway shoulders are wide and traffic at that time of day is minor. Perhaps the fresh smelling forest and snow-capped peaks will take your mind away from the slow grind. The road out is almost entirely uphill. When you finally reach the crest of the highest paved highway in Canada - stop for that selfie at the highway sign that proves you are at 2,206 metres before doing the U-turn. That grind is now a well-earned long tuck and an easy return to the lodge.

Looking for even more epicness? Learn about the top hikes in the Crowsnest Pass.

Be one with the elk, squirrels and sheep through Jasper National Park

The MNP Gran Fondo in Jasper National Park, be prepared to see snow at higher elevations on June 9. There are three distances:  the Gran Fondo at 165 km, the Medio Fondo at 100 km and the Piccolo Fondo at 65 km. The Gran Fondo is a thigh burner with two mountain climbs, including a trip up the road to Marmot Basin Ski Resort. The Medio riders enjoy the route up to Marmot as well. The Piccolo riders appreciate a relatively flat route along the glorious Icefields Parkway with very little traffic. It’s just you, other cyclists and the occasional elk or deer or squirrel.

Read about the Maligne Canyon located in Jasper National Park.

Make the Kootenay Rockies Gran Fondo a destination race

When the leaves start to change in early September, it’s time for the Kootenay Rockies races near Cranbrook, B.C. Choose from three distances; 58 km, 102 km and the Gran Fondo at 152 km. Starting on the sprawling lawns of the St. Eugene Golf Resort & Casino, the race 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 Kimberly where the first-aid station is manned by enthusiastic volunteers. The course winds quickly out of town, eventually passing historic Fort Steele. The Gran Fondo riders turn onto the Wardner Fort Steele Road to add the extra 50 kilometres, while the Medio riders take on that nasty 8% grade hill that will eventually crown the King and Queen of the Mountain. The volunteers and organizers put together a flawless race and the post-race buffet is amazing.

Details and suggested accommodations here. 

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