by Joanne Elves

Drumheller, roughly two hours northeast of Calgary and 2.5 hours southeast of Edmonton, is home to millions of years of paleontological history. The deep, wide valley walls are a rainbow of earthy hues with layer upon layer of secrets from the past. Recently, it was a more modern dinosaur, Stuffy, who asked “Are you bad enough?” The prehistoric lizard came in the swag bag that at the annual Gran Fondo Badlands.

It was the forecast that was bad. With an 80 per cent chance of rain, everyone was flooding the bike stores in Calgary and Edmonton in preparation. Yet, by the time 850 riders crossed the start line, the ominous clouds that haunted us merely sprinkled. The wind, however, turned into a friend and a foe.
Gran Fondo Badlands kicked off at the Canalta Jurassic Hotel on Friday night with a sold-out feast. Knowing how much everyone values their bikes, the Jurrassic allowed participants to keep the bikes safe and dry in their rooms.

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A three-minute drive in the morning had riders at the start in the centre of town under the largest dinosaur in the world. After a hearty breakfast, they were en route quickly leaving town on the Dinosaur Trail, to roll past the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology. The event included five distances; 50, 75, 100, 140 and 160 km that followed the same route, dropping the shorter distances at designated loop-back corners.

The headwinds were strong, but with everyone still in a bunch, it was easy to keep the pace up. That ism until the first grind out of the valley with an elevation gain of more than 100 m. That gain was quickly lost a few kilometres later as riders blasted down the road to the first aid station and the coolest feature in any race: a river crossing on a ferry.

As riders waited for the Bleriot Ferry to return, they snapped selfies and got ready for the next grind on the other side of the Red Deer River. All of that elevation was to be re-conquered in one of the hills used in the King and Queen of the Mountain race. (I’ve driven that hill many times and never remember it being so long and steep.)

Back on the Prairie and heading downwind was welcomed by everyone. The ferry crossing takes about 10 minutes per load of eager riders, so it really broke up the groups into less than 100 riders at a time. Heading back down into the valley with the entire road to call your own was a highlight for many of the riders. The scenery is stunning.

Without much effort, riders kept a pace of 35 to 45 km/h. That tailwind for the next 20 km made the ride past ghost towns of Dunphy, Kirkpatrick and Nacmine a relaxing break. The 50-km riders dropped off in Dumheller, but the rest continued on to turn at Rosedale to ride into the historic town of Wayne, crossing a world-record 11 single-lane bridges in 10 km to the best aid station.

Surrounded by the steep valley walls, riders feasted on bacon and tomato sandwiches on the back porch of the famed Rosedeer Hotel in Wayne. If they weren’t in a hurry to get back on the road, they could have stopped for a pint in the Last Chance Saloon where the “sobriety tester” is an antique gopher trap. If your finger gets trapped when it’s triggered, you don’t drive.

Back to the Hoodoo Trail (Highway 10) the 75-km riders turned into the wind for less than 10 km back to the finish while the longer-distance riders continued to enjoy the tailwind as the pavement meandered with the flat valley past hoodoos, relics of the mining history and shrub-filled gullies where thousands of dinosaur fossils have been discovered. The 100- and 140-km riders were dropped at their turns while the gran fondo riders took to the last hill out of the valley just beyond the picturesque town of Dorothy.

Turning back towards Drumheller was tough. “I was going down the hill at Dorothy pedalling as hard as I could but could not go any faster than 30 km/h,” said Wade Belbin of Calgary. “On the flats, we usually average 30 km/h as a group, but we fought to manage 18 km/h in that wind.”

It was another 40 km in 45-km/h headwinds before the finish was in sight. As the riders trickled in, the look of relief was smeared on every face. The lunch and two-buck showers at the community fitness centre quickly had everyone talking about the next ride on June 24, 2017. The organization of the race was great. The volunteers along the road and at the aid stations were really helpful and appreciated the efforts in the wind and cheered everyone on. It seems everyone was bad enough.


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1 Comment

  • David Robertson says:

    “Memorable” day! I’ve never done 160km in a day and made it home just 20 minutes before it closed.

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