Riders hit the road in an earlier edition of the Prospera Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan, which goes this Sunday.

Upwards of 2,500 bike riders are expected to gear up and race the roads of the region this Sunday as a part of the ninth annual Prospera Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan.

“We’re on track for one of our best years ever in terms of early registration, which is great,” said communications manager Jason Curran.

“I think it’s a testament to certainly the community, and the reception from residents and businesses, as well as the integrity of the event. And, of course, the great weather in the South Okanagan.”

Riders from across the globe, ranging from 12 years of age all the way to 91 – and even some celebrities – will depart Penticton starting at 7 a.m. en route to Summerland. The trip will then take them through Kaleden, Okanagan Falls and Oliver, for a total of 160 kilometres.

“Axel (Merckx) will be at the back,” said Curran. “He just got back from Brussels after being with his dad.”

Three members from Merckx’s under-23 pro team will also be joining him.

“The new head coach for the Anaheim Ducks, Dallas Eakins, he’s previously ridden the event … and Trevor Lindon is back again. He pretty much rides it every year,” said Curran.

Part proceeds from the event will benefit the not-for-profit Axel Merckx Youth Development Foundation, which promotes and helps steers the future of young Canadian cyclists.

“It’s getting more kids on bikes,” explained Curran, adding that the foundation helps with local programs such as the Red Devils Cycling Academy in Kelowna.

“It’s incredibly successful in taking kids who have never been on a bike before, or who have never dreamed of racing a bike before, and they’re actually now showing national level cyclists.”

The event runs the entire weekend, with the 160-km granfondo race kicking off Sunday, and a variety of other events today and Saturday.

The kids’ Piccolofondo fun bike race starts at 2 p.m., departing Gyro Park, and the Passo Apex Hill Climb Race is back on top of the mountain at 9 a.m.

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