As the 8th Annual Prospera Valley GranFondo got underway in Fort Langley early Saturday morning, Beckett Gunn was waiting near the bottom of 208 Street in Walnut Grove with a sign for his friend.
That is where eastbound cyclists on 96 Avenue turned to head south, climbing up the sloping hill that leads them to the route out of Langley.
Beckett would have liked to ride in the GarnFondo, but at four, he’s too young, so he settled for holding up a sign that read “Go Ben Go” with a neatly drawn heart below, next to ‘Beckett.’
“It’s for ‘tall Ben’,” the four-year-old explained.
Beckett has two friends named Ben, and Ben Terrill, who was riding in the GandFondo, was the taller of the two.
As Ben pedalled past, Beckett yelled and rattled a bell, like many of the onlookers who cheered on the more than 1,200 riders in the 8th Annual Prospera Valley GranFondo as they rode along one of three routes that ranged in length from 50, to 100, to 160 kilometres.
It was the first GrandFondo managed by M1 Sports Management, founded by Mark Ernsting, a former cycling champion, who took over earlier this year.
His company has more than 11 years of experience with large cycling events, including running the annual B.C. Superweek series that includes, the Tour de Delta, New West Grand Prix, Global Relay Gastown Grand Prix, Giro di Burnaby, PoCo Grand Prix, and Tour de White Rock.
Ernsting is a five-time Canadian national track cycling champion and four-time Division 1 US Collegiate national cycling champion. As an athlete, he rode for cycling teams in North America and Europe, and was part of the Canadian national team for 10-years, competing at a variety of international events including the Pan-Am Games, until his retirement in 2004.
But he’s never done a GranFondo.
“I actually haven’t,” Ernsting admitted.
“I would love to. If we could get the next few years to the point where everything we know is working really, really smoothly, [I might].”.
READ MORE: VIDEO: Changes coming to Langley GranFondo
It takes dozens of volunteers to operate a GranFondo, people like Willoughby resident Ali Nicolle, who was part of what was possible the largest single cohort of volunteers, more than 40 from the Canada Institute of Linguistics at Trinity Western University.
“This is my third [GranFondo],” Nicolle noted.
For Barret Kropf, also from Willoughby, the Saturday event marked his second year helping out.
“I love that this ‘fondo is not one of those big corporate machines that puts money into some rich guy’s pocket,” Kropf observed.
“It’s a ‘fondo and community ride that raises money for youth sports.”
There were some new additions this year, include live music, a first for the event, a beer garden open to the public, as well as an axe-throwing event, a kid’s cycling event, food trucks and free bike valet.
Next year, when M1 has had some time to discuss proposals with the Township of Langley, Ernsting would like to add a non-competitive mass participation bike run within Fort Langley, running a five- to 10-kilometre loop.
His goal is to see GranFondo become a “signature event,” an all-day festival of cycling.
A portion of the registration fees from the GranFondo helps support local various programs, including the Cycling BC iRide program and the DCBank pro cycling team, Canada’s only western-Canadian based team that is part of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the worldwide governing body for cycling.
More photos of the event can be viewed online.
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