Close to 3,000 cyclists will put their skills to the test in the South Okanagan this weekend.
The athletes are in the Penticton area for the popular road biking event known as the Valley First Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan.
"The 2,800 athletes are the most we've had in three years," said event organizer Jeff Plant. "And we attribute that to the massive growth of road biking in North America."
The cyclists of every skill level will be joined by celebrities including former Belgian national cycling champion Axel Merckx, as well as Olympic gold medal winning triathlete Simon Whitfield, Peter Reid, the three time Hawaii Ironman World Champion, and Alison Sydor, a former Canadian mountain bike and road bike pro, who is a three time world champion mountain biker.
The event , beginning in Gyro Park in Penticton on July 7, offers a 160 km granfondo, 92 km mediofondo and 55 km cortofondo ride through the Okanagan's hills and valleys. In addition, there will be Oakley King of the Mountain hill climb challenge and a family event.
Among the finish line activities will be a Tree Brewing Garden, a barbecue and the Granfondo wine tasting.
Along the way, riders will be treated to local delicacies at various aid stations, as well as get the opportunity to meet with cycling celebrities
"We see this as more than just a ride, it is a real destination event," said Plant.
Penticton Councillor Andrew Jakubeit said having the nearly 3,000 athletes and their families come into the area is a real boost.
"This is turning into a signature event for the Penticton area," he said. "It is family friendly and pretty prestigious with some of the celebrities attached. Eddy Merckx, he's like the Wayne Gretzky of cycling."
Merckx, a legendary cyclist and five-time Tour de France winner, rode the event last year.
Maps and course profiles can be found at: www.granfondoaxelmerckx.com/event-info/routes.
A weekend schedule of events is at: www.granfondoaxelmerkx.com/event-info/event-weekend.