Even beginner riders can now join the Bluewater Granfondo

Cyclists line up for the start of the 2018 Bluewater Granfondo in Bright’s Grove. Gina Robertson, Gina Marie Photography

Cathy Dobson

A strong committee and a phenomenal location have contributed to the rapid rise of the Bluewater International Granfondo into one of the top granfondos in North America.

This year, the Bright’s Grove cycling event is expected to grow even more with the addition of a new route for beginners and additional training rides.

The new 30-kilometre beginner route, known as “The Grove,” is expected to push participation numbers over 1,000, says founder Ken MacAlpine.

“We’ve already got 250 registered without any promotion,” he said.  “And there’s been a very good response to the new route.”

Organizers added ‘The Grove’ to existing routes of 50, 100 and 150 kilometres so the day would appeal to all levels of cyclists, from those “who just got off the couch” to the pros, MacAlpine said.

Granfondo is Italian for “big ride,” and they take place in nearly 1,000 communities around the world each year.

After participating in some himself, MacAlpine decided to bring the movement to Sarnia-Lambton in 2016, with all routes starting and ending at Mike Weir Park.

The first year attracted 500 riders and the numbers have increased steadily. Each year, organizers have had to cut off registration even though more wanted to sign up.

That’s to allow time for delivery of cycling jerseys that retail for $150 each and are provided to each participant, said MacAlpine.

“We also provide food and hydration along the routes, so it’s a very good deal.”

Early bird registration begins at $65 and increases with the length of the route to $150 for the 150K ride.

All proceeds are donated to help train palliative care personnel at Bluewater Health and St. Joseph’s Hospice.  Last year, $60,000 was raised.

“One of the reasons for our popularity is the aesthetics,” MacAlpine said.

“The first group leaves at 7 a.m. riding along the lake with the sun coming up.  It is just beautiful.”

Granfondo is not a race but the rides include timed sections and altitude climbs in the 100K and 150K distances.

Cyclists arrive with all skill levels and from places as far away as Mexico and Europe.

It’s hoped beginners and intermediates will not only join, but register for 12 new Monday night training rides leading up to the Aug. 4 event.

Wednesday night training rides have proven almost too popular and organizers want to lower the number by moving less experienced cyclists to Mondays, MacAlpine said.

The new, 30-kilometre route is flat. It leaves Mike Weir Park, travels to Brigden Sideroad, to Michigan Avenue, on to Camlachie, down Queen Street and along Lakeshore back to the park.

A barbecue with live music ends the event.

For more information, or to register, visit www.bigf.ca. Early bird rates are available until Jan. 31.