My First (but not last ) Gran Fondo by Mark Schachter
Before I even begin to recount my adventures a word of advice .Travelling with your bike by air is fraught with many caveats. You are at the mercy of the airline agent when you check in regardless what it says on the website as far as extra baggage charges. On the way there I was forced to pay 50 dollars for the privilege of transporting my giant. On the return I was surprised to learn that different rates apply and I now only had to pay 35 dollars for the bike box but also a 50 dollar handling fee. Add that to the cost of the box ($25 for the week) assembly and disassembly of the bike in san Diego ($140 ) because I am severely mechanically challenged and all that extra gas I burned driving the bike around in a Chevy Traverse I rented. I guess my CCB forum banter buddy and 401 challenge boss Gene was right .It would have been way cheaper to rent. Lastly make sure you leave yourself at least two hours to make connecting flights as the airline employee who carries the bike between terminals has no sense of urgency and you will make the connection but your bike wont necessitating another trip back to the airport 6 hours later to retrieve your trusty steed.
I dropped my bike off for unpacking and assembly early the morning after I arrived then grabbed my trusty Garmin 800 preloaded with the map and headed off to do the route in the car. The route starts off right in the heart of little Italy, then runs along the harbour past the cruise ships, past the naval academy, and through the suburbs of the city before heading out into the incredibly scenic outskirts. There are formidable looking mountains as far as the eye can see .I drove with one hand and held the garmin in the other as it guided me precisely along the course until at 150k it decided that I may want to redo the whole ride again and it sent me back to the timed hill climb. I find out when i actually do the ride that the garmin wanted me to get on the bike path to the end of the ride and that’s why it showed me off course. The timed climb is a 12k ascent up honey springs road with grades anywhere from 2 degrees up to 12 degrees and an ascent of 2000 feet. The total climb for the ride is 5000 feet. I start to get a bit worried when i realize it took me a little over three hours to do the ride in the car.
The Saturday before the ride there is a bike expo to pick up your packet and sweater and I am surprised to find I can squeeze into an XL size to go along with the XL bib shorts I bought before leaving at Gianella
Thanks Sue Anne!!!!
I take advantage of the free mechanical services to get my derailleurs adjusted (i wonder if they would have assembled the whole bike out of the box if I asked) by a local mechanic who is enrolled at Mcgill next fall. I take the bike out for a little shakedown spin and then try and get a good night’s sleep after preparing all my gear.
I arrive at the parking lot at 6:00am the next morning, pickup a paper map (still not 100% confident in the garmins abilities) and then face that age old dilemma of what to wear. There is no wind to speak of but it it only 46 Farenheit (6C) with a forecast high of 62F (16C) I opt for a balaclava, long sleeve gloves and a cycling jacket over my CCB sweater. Unfortunately my timing chip is under my jacket and so I get no reading as i go by the beginning of the timed climb (more about that later)
I line up at the starting line trying to stay far enough back that i don’t get sucked onto that vortex of those riders competing for king of the mountain trophy. I estimate there to be about 1500 riders about half appear to be doing the 100k route by the colours of their bibs and the rest doing the 173k full route. They are mostly locals who appear to know each other and some who even remember me from the AYH (American youth hostels) rides I did down there in the 80’s.At 7:25 someone massacres the American national anthem and we are led out onto the route to the sound of the three Ferrari pace cars struggling to keep their spark plugs clean while rolling along at 30-35k an hour. I keep my distance from other riders and in the first thirty Km I see three crashes where I notice riders still lying motionless on the road even though it appears the crash happened before I arrived.
Our first stop is 30k into the ride at the Olympic training center and the route takes us through every type of sporting venue imaginable with Olympic hopefuls engaged in training activities. I turn up the hill and realize that I am overdressed but I press on .My bib does not register as I pass the timing machine so I make a note of the time and the distance so far to check my progress up the incline. About a km later I reach the turnaround point for the 100k ride and my riding partner tries to convince me to join him and turnaround but I still feel strong so I press on. On the steepest portions of the climb I wish I had a compact crank and thank god that I ordered one on the new bike. I pass quite a few riders on tri /TT bikes as well as someone riding a fixie. The King of the mountain winner does it in 29 minutes the queen of the mountain in 32 minutes. It takes me 75 minutes and I make a note to check the results for people in my age group later and to incorporate more hills into my training regimen as I know i can do better.
I get quite the surprise when i arrive at the top of the timed climb and see most people turning around and heading back. when I inquire I am told that since the timed part is over most people turn around and head back and end up with 70 miles total Everybody warns me that the last 100k are brutal and that I would be smart to follow their lead .I figure I need the kms if I am ever to be ready for the 401 so I press on and encounter some more steep climbs. Finally I arrive at the next rest stop and it looks like a scene out of Saving Private Ryan .Bodies are strewn every where , people are limping around and some are sitting on chairs. I see people loading their bikes into cars of those who have come to pick them up and many others on the phone begging for lifts. I am incorrectly told that is the end of the climbing for the day and I believe it as I rocket down the sides of canyons with the wind buffeting me and2000 feet drop sheer cliff faces on my right and switchbacks that make this one of the most technically demanding descents I have ever done .I start to see less and less riders and at the 115k mark I run out of water and food and start cramping on every uphill of which there are plenty. My goal had been to finish by 5:00pm in order to get a medal but now I realize that John Phlllipson was right when he told I probably didn’t have that kind of mileage in my legs so early in the season. I make the decision to stop at the 142k rest stop and beg for a ride back in a sag wagon while repeating to myself that line from the Jimmy Cagney flick “Public enemy” “I ain’t so tough”. On my way there I keep getting passed by sag wagons that are loaded to the gills with abandoned riders and their bikes with no room for me. I explain my severe cramping to the sag wagon drivers and lack of food and water. They give me a peanut butter and banana sandwich a bottle of water and some electrolytes (Hammer Nutrition brand) .In deference to the fact that that was Elvis Presley’s favourite meal I give them my best Elvis “thank you very much “ imitation and get back on the bike .I’m feeling stronger here and now I just want to finish. At 151k I come to where the garmin went haywire a few days back and it goes haywire again.I am told by the sag wagon driver there the route continues on the bike path. The sag is full with three riders and their bikes. There is an African American a Hispanic girl and an Italian from LA. I challenge then to get back on their bikes and finish the last 14k (9 miles) with me but they are adamant about staying in the van until I hurl enough racial insults at then to piss them off to the point where they threaten me with bodily harm if they do get out of the sag. I offer to submit to any physical punishment they can dish out but only in the parking lot at the finish line. I lure them out of the comfort of the SUV and we all start riding along the most beautiful bay side bike path I have ever seen. I soon drop Rick and Othello but Marybelle cranks up the pace and we complete the ride at 30-32kph.We cross the finish line get our medals and head off for a well deserved meal of penne, tomato sauce and salad. I look at my Garmin and it shows 9300 calories and 173k.I am sitting there enjoying the meal and being off my bike after 10 hours in the saddle when Othello (who by the way rides the same trek as Franky D) comes up behind me yanks me to my feet and proceeds to give me a bear hug and thanks me for getting them to finish the ride. I spend about half an hour chatting with him and Rick as we store our gear back in our cars and then I spend some time chatting with the organizers of the event. I am dismayed to find that everybody who came over the finish line got a medal even those some people with the 108mile bibs came back at 11:00am.I explain to them that to do 108 miles in three and one half hours with the climbing involved would put them all in the lead peloton at the tour de France
I envy you guys doing the new York gran fondo I would love to join you but Ella’s son is getting married that weekend. Anybodywant to join me at the GF in Ottawa July 21st