Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Banff Gran Fondo

I have had the opportunity to ride a few Gran Fondos in Canada and the one that stands out the most to me is the RBC Banff Gran Fondo.  The ride was limited to 1,500 cyclists in 2013 which is small compared to many Gran Fondos out there.  You could call it an intimate gathering.

The Canadian Rockies are a majestic place.  They are quite a bit different than the mountainous areas to the south of us in the U.S.A.  Banff national park is 6,641 km² (more than double the size of Yosemite) and contains really only two towns that are quite small.  Development in the park is extremely limited, which is quite different to places like Colorado.  Driving I-70 from Denver to Vail, you will see development everywhere.  In Banff National Park, by contrast, you will see the town of Banff, Lake Louise and a few rest stops and other visitor centres.  It is a wild place that looks a lot like land with paved trails in the outback.  In 2012, the Gran Fondo was cut short due to few large critters that wanted to watch the Gran Fondo up close.  Nobody wanted to risk a bear attack that year, so it was shortened.  

Riding in a huge national park without traffic on closed roads is a treat.  You get to enjoy the scenery and ride the pace you want.  The 144 km course has terrain that is not overly challenging, but there are a few climbs thrown in there to test you.  Guaranteed you will see wildlife - in 2013 we were almost stopped by a herd of Big Horned sheep that wanted to rest on the road and chew on the weeds in the ditch.  There are multiple waterfalls, rivers, lakes, and peaks which rise up around you to over 10,000 feet.  The fourteeners are huge in Colorado for height comparison, but they don't seem as high in relation.  I'm not sure if it's the base elevation or the rugged appearance of the Canadian Rockies, but they are amazing.

The rider support is fantastic at the Banff Gran Fondo as well.  The rest stops have all the water and fluids, facilities, food, mechanical help, first aid, and massage that anyone could need.  There are mechanics following the riders helping out as needed.  In fact, the first year I rode the Gran Fondo, I had a terrible mechanical on the climb out of the town in the first 10 km.  I had taken my bike to a shop for adjustments on my rear derailleur because I just couldn't seem to get it just right.  I didn't get a chance to test ride it before the big ride and it caused a massive chain suck on the first climb when I tried to shift.  It took me and 3 mechanics 20 minutes to get that chain out from between the spokes and the rear cog (understandably, they did not have all of the proper tools in their backpacks).  They also quickly adjusted the limit screws so it wouldn't happen again.  I thought the ride was over after only a few kilometers.  Thanks again guys!

If you are thinking of a Gran Fondo and want a truly unique experience, this would be a great choice.  Not only to you get to ride in one of the world's most beautiful places, but you will do it on closed roads with awesome support.  I also have a feeling that one day, Parks Canada will no longer allow this magical ride to happen.  There is always the question of what impact the ride has, and Canada holds it's national parks in a sacred place close to it's heart.

Do you have a favorite Gran Fondo?  Any opinions on what impact these rides have on the National parks?

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