When it came time to sign up for the Jeremiah Bishop Alpine Loop Gran Fondo I decided to go for the Medio Route (76 miles) instead of the full 100. Since I always sign up for the most difficult challenge this marked a big departure for me. And a little guilt.
But last year, my friend and a very good cyclist, Mike Reyes, went the Medio route which made me think I didn't always have to do the biggest challenge. Besides the 30 mile difference the big difference for me is gravel. There are two sections of nasty gravel on the Gran Fondo full route which, frankly, aren't fun and aren't good for my bike. Many people bring cyclocross bikes or change their tires to 28cc. I wasn't prepared to do either and didn't want to subject me or my bike to miles of gravel.
At the start line I was next to pro riders Jeremiah Bishop (host), Cameron Cogburn (winner of Mt Washington Auto Road Hill Climb), Steven Cozza (I think), Joe Dombrowski (Team Sky), and Ben King (Radio Shack but soon to be Garmin). There are two ways to be on the start line at the Gran Fondo. One is to be a pro. The other is to be a Prostate Cancer Survivor. I highly recommend becoming a pro.
|Start line: Steven Cozza, Joe Dombrowski (back turned), Ben King|
One minute before the starting gun and I looked down and noticed a bubble sized bulge in the sidewall of my front tire. I was screwed. Maybe that explained the two blowouts on the Civil War Century, the last time I used that wheel.
I did the prudent thing. I rolled out with the pros for two blocks then peeled off and went back to my car. There I switched wheels and rode back into the group.
It was a chilly start. While it may have been close to 60 in Harrisonburg, out on the road my Garmin showed 52 degrees in the wooded section approaching Shenandoah Mountain.
The climb went OK. I passed more than I was passed by, many more, and initially was pleased. The first year I did it in 48 minutes. Last year it was 35. Today it was 34 and change. A personal best but not a great improvement.
|Honey Baked Ham Sandwiches|
When I came to the Medio/Gran split I was glad I was not headed up the gravel road. And I was rewarded with a new view. The Medio route was called the Shenandoah Mountain Adventure which differentiates from the Gran Fondo.
The second rest stop was at the base of the Reddish Knob Climb. Not good. Well, the food was great! Ham sandwiches along with fruit, drinks, energy bars. But after 10-12 minutes of standing around, the lactic acid built up. The start of the climb was painful. But once I settled in it got better until there was a downhill and no pedaling. Then it was like starting over.
This climb is beautiful. The paved road is so much better than the dirt road of two years ago. It was also much harder than I remembered from last year.
|Robert Hess of the Prostate Cancer Awareness Project|
After the last rest stop it was following familiar roads, until I didn't. Somehow I managed to miss a turn. Usually there are enough cyclists in front that one doesn't need to rely on the painted road markings. But I messed up. When I saw the open road and it wasn't familiar from the past two years and no cyclists ahead, I knew I messed up. I decided not to go back but keep going. I would find my way. And I did.
It was a good day. It was fun. I don't regret giving up the gravel and doubt that I would sign up for that option again. I hope they pave all those roads.