© Guardian photo by Mitch MacDonald
Cyclists finish a 57 km ride Friday to kick off the first ever Gran Fondo cycling event on P.E.I. The three day Cycling P.E.I. event will see more than 200 cyclists make their way through Island roads this weekend.
Wheels have been turning, lungs have been pumping and Prince Edward Island culture is being noticed as the first ever Gran Fondo P.E.I. got underway Friday morning.
The cycling event kicked off in Charlottetown with a VIP celebrity ride led by Jeff Douglas.
Douglas, known for his role as Joe Canadian in Molson Canadian commercials and hosting CBC’s As It Happens, said the starting ride was a challenge.
“It was a great intro to the weekend. The weather was a little off starting out. There was a lot of wind. I think any of the come-from-aways who were riding here for the first time got a real appreciation for what the wind will be like.”
A gran fondo is a non-competitive group of bicycle rides along road courses set up so people can take a competitive or relaxed approach.
“It’s an initiative of Cycling P.E.I., they have seen gran fondos in other places and they felt it would be a good fit, and it is,” said event manager Mark Carr-Rollitt.
Douglas is enthusiastic about the Island event.
“What’s going to be great about this event is what separates it from some of the other gran fondos that are around. Those are all about your own best time, distance and strength,” he said.
“This is more about culture. And I think we got a good taste of that today.”
That taste of culture included a visit to Matos Winery during the VIP run Friday.
“The beauty of this place in the summer, it’s so spectacular. Matos was a real eye opener for me. They had some samples for us and my wife bought three bottles,” he laughed.
Charlottetown holds a special place in his heart.
“My first professional acting gig was in Charlottetown at The Feast (Rodd Hotel dinner theatres). I would come here and be in Charlottetown from May until Labour Day.”
That was one of the reasons Douglas says he jumped at the opportunity to be a part of Gran Fondo P.E.I.
“The summers were so good, they were so terrific. And I was so honoured and thrilled when they asked me.”
Douglas will compete in today’s 147-km gran fondo, which will take the riders along the shores and through the hillsides of P.E.I.
It will go across the North Shore, Cavendish and Rustico. After a stop at Dalvay for lunch, the cyclists will cross over to Mount Stewart before biking through Stratford and finish on Water Street, Charlottetown.
“I’m looking forward at getting further out and seeing more of the Island and just riding some more with these riders,” said Douglas.
More than 120 participants are involved in the 147-kilometre gran fondo, a 97-kilometre medio fondo on Saturday or another 50-kilometre ride on Sunday.
“For the first year we have an awesome turnout. This is the first year of many we hope. We hope to be around for five years and even more,” said Carr-Rollitt.
He feels that the P.E.I Gran Fondo will be a big help to tourism on P.E.I. with over 70 per cent of this year's participants coming from off-Island.
“It’s a tourism attraction. People are into active living. When you see a place on a bicycle, you see so much more than in a car,” he said.
“When you drive in a car you think there’s not much of a hill, but when you’re on a bicycle it’s a little different.”
“As this event grows it will just bring more and more to the Island to appreciate it. Once they’re here, once, like my wife, they’ll be coming back forever,” he said.
“I’m hooked,” his wife Anna laughed.
Saturday’s gran and medio fondo rides start at 8:30 a.m. and Sunday's ride starts at 10 a.m.
More info on the event can be found at www.granfondo-pei.ca