The mountain air was crisp and the air quiet. My nipples stood erect and I shivered uncontrollably as I second-guessed the merits of a late summer Fondo in the Rockies.

While members of the Polar Bear Club stood around comfortably with bare arms and legs, others cobbled together what they could – From full Goretex kit, to sweatpants and sweatshirts. I was just counting down to the start gun, so I could get my legs turning and warm up a bit ;-)

After a neutral start around Tunnel Mountain Road and a short connection across Hwy 1 we started the ride in earnest around Lake Minnewanka… Well, that is to say – most people started the ride in earnest. We had been hanging onto the back of one of the lead groups and slowly working our way up (everybody’s an eager beaver, even with 100km+ to go), when we realized that somehow Sheldon has been lost. We had just seen him prior to entering the Minnewanka loop, but now he was nowhere to be found. A little bit of backtracking and a few texts later we were all reunited… Albeit right in the mid-pack swell.

As we made our way around the aptly named “Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive” our pre-dawn departure began to pay dividends… Yes, it made for an early morning, but seeing the sun crest the mountains and start to paint the Rockies with light is something I’ll never get tired of. Thankfully, Sheldon felt the same. Wanting to prolong the event as long as possible, he proceeded to double flat on our second loop of Minnewanka. Fortunately the Fondo support crew were on hand almost instantly, as was the moto crew, and offers of help rang out routinely as various packs of riders rode by.

After patching up, we rolled onward, enjoying the views, practicing our 4-man echelon, chatting, and just generally enjoying the closed roads – And they really were glorious. It really makes quite a difference when you don’t have cars whizzing by a couple meters from your left shoulder while you try to enjoy the company of your friends and soak in the scenery.

As we continued along the route down the Bow Valley Parkway to Castle Junction the sun began to warm the peloton and jersey pockets began to bulge with wind jackets, gloves and various other layers of clothing. We were continually rewarded with outstanding views, and even spent some extra time at the third checkpoint enjoying the oompah band and some great vino, chocolate truffles and shish kebabs courtesy of Jackson Triggs… I think I could get used to this Fondo thing ;-)

In light of our various escapades (lost riders, flats, and fine vintages), we ended well back of most riders, but still had a great day. It was more a day for enjoying the ride, than a day for crushing the ride. We all could tell we had ridden, but generally felt pretty fresh. After enjoying a celebratory burger and beer – We hit the road and headed back home. A great day.

Looking at the event critically, this is how I thought things broke down:

For debate:

  • Distance – The fact that the distance was cut short had a number of riders bummed… They had come for an epic 140km+ ride, only to have it shortened to 100km due to bear activity. In my mind though, this is just something that comes with enjoying a National Park. The animals come first. ‘Nuff said.
  • Elevation – The elevation gain was definitely pretty tame. This makes the event more accessible, but there was definitely nothing challenging from a vertical perspective. Personally I would have liked at least one sustained climb to look forward to.
  • Registration – I understand the need to register in Banff, and logistically it made the most sense to take the Friday off and ‘make a weekend of it.’ But from a convenience standpoint it might have been nice to have the option to register in Calgary and push the start back an hour or so – Allowing for Calgary-based riders to truly make a day trip of it. From a tourism, and ‘mountain culture’ immersion standpoint, it lets the riders really take it easy and enjoy the event.
  • Ride vs. Race – Is it a ride? Is it a race? To a racer, it definitely feels like a race, and the lead packs treat it as such. You really need to mentally shift your mind-set if you’re wanting to hit a rest stops, shoot the shit, and enjoy your ride. It’s pretty easy to get caught up in the ‘race.’

Great:

  • Organization – The organization of the event itself was super smooth, take off was very on-time and logistically dialled. Great to see for the inaugural event!
  • Race package – The instructions for the numbers and timing chips was great. Very straight forward and definitely helpful for those unfamiliar. Please, please, please get rid of the helmet stickers though ;-) Sponsor ‘goodies’ were great as well. I think the Rocky Mountain Chocolate lasted about 2 minutes and Kicking Horse coffee obviously knows who their target market is ;-)
  • The Route – Generally speaking the route was awesome! Everyone agreed that we could have done another loop or two around Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive, but the entire route was fantastic, offering great views and nice rolling terrain.
  • Post Ride Grounds – Although the lines for food and beverages were long, the event grounds themselves were great. A really nice place to relax, with lots of space and green grass to chill out on.
  • The Volunteers – Events like these just don’t happen without great volunteers and the RBC Grand Fondo was no exception – A huge thanks to everybody out there on the route keeping everybody hydrated and fuelled up!

Not so great:

  • Peloton – Since we spent most of our time at the back of the pack, there was a few people who didn’t really ‘get’ pack dynamics or really have good awareness of what’s going on around them… Despite using a bell when we’re passing folk very few people moved over (even though they were on the far left of the lane). Many cyclist would kind of be all over the road as well. Perhaps some tips on “cycling etiquette” would be beneficial in the race pack, both for courtesy and for safety.
  • T-Shirt – Everybody I talked to found the shirts oversized… I would think that most riders would appreciate a slimmer cut.
  • Après Ride – Again, finishing in the back of the back we found the lineups for food and beer pretty lengthy. Being impatient, snooty arseholes, we just took off and enjoyed our own beer in our Founders mug ;-)