In the wee hours of Saturday morning, a convoy of dedicated cyclists briskly huffed and puffed their way into Sooke, just as organizers and volunteer were laying out the fresh muffins and coffee – the annual GranFondo bike race was back.
Only with a slight difference this year: it was bigger; raising the length of the route to a staggering 270 kilometres; big enough to both shy away intermediate cyclists and entice those experienced enough who are looking for a challenge.
After starting near the Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria, Sooke was the first of six support stations, with the Sooke Mountain Cycle bike shop being the host.
Complete with racks for riders to hang their bikes, full shuttle service, snacks and drinks (non-alcoholic, of course) and storage for their luggage, stations were placed 40 kilometres apart to ensure the riders didn’t overexert themselves.
Not that the GranFondo (which means “big ride” in loose Italian) was easy to begin with – also why this year it was called the GranFondo “Doppio” meaning it’s double the length of the last one.
“Done the Fondo three times before, it’s pretty hard,” said Andrew Drennin, an experienced rider from Victoria, adding that the natural beauty on this part of the Island is worth it. “At least there aren’t too many hills on this route, so it’s pretty nice. It really is a beautiful, scenic ride.”
Some riders even took the Galloping Goose down to Victoria for extra points, which was the idea for the race in the first place: to explore new horizons that doesn’t involve an engine.
As such, Lorien Arnold, owner of Sooke Mountain Cycle, said the GranFondo is more than just a bunch of strangers passing through, but also about putting Sooke as a town and as a naturally-beautiful area into perspective.
“The motivation here is to get people to stop in Sooke and see the town a little bit,” he said. “You want to attract people who want to live here for the right reasons, such as the beautiful and unique environment we’re living in, because we’re just pieces of it.”
It was also the creation of the Pacific circle route connecting the lower and middle parts of the Island that makes the GrandFondo very unique; both in length and location, noted Karl Ullrich, one of the event’s main organizers and owner of Oak Bay Bicycles.
“The fact that we have this unbelievable loop with a great view of the landscape is pretty unique, especially that you have 270 kilometre to enjoy it first-hand,” Ullrich said, adding that it’s longer than the ideal ride that attract lots of experienced riders.”
This year there were more than 100 riders involved, with more expected to sign up next year. And while the 2015 GranFondo is now behind us, the Galloping Goose is certainly here to stay year-round. So grab your bike, your helmet, and your sunscreen, those sunny trails are waiting.