I completed my very first Gran Fondo yesterday. It was the Rollfast Gran Fondo in Carmel, Indiana. This was an enjoyable and well organized and supported race/ride. What made it even more enjoyable was being able to ride with old friends and make new ones along the way.
Me, Steve and Cliff at the finish
There was no denying that this was going to be a leisurely ride. My friend, Cliff, made it quite clear he was “just looking to finish” and my other friend, Steve, was doing his first century ride. After a summer full of hammer-fests on Sunday mornings, including a century ride I completed the prior weekend, I was looking forward to a nice leisurely meander through the Indiana countryside at a comfortable and social pace.
It was a damn near perfect day for the ride. It was a tad bit chilly at the start requiring multiple layers, full fingered gloves and toe warmers but as the miles piled on, the layers were shed as the temperature climbed and the only chance of rain was the sun’s radiant energy raining down on our skin.
We lined up near the back of the pack, behind all the ‘serious’ riders but in front of families on mountain bikes. There was a mass start at 8am sharp and like any mass start of this magnitude it was a bit of a cluster. Getting out of town proved to be a slow and arduous process with average speeds in the single digits for the first several miles. It was well worth that to look ahead and a river of cyclists flowing smoothly through city streets and arcing around roundabouts. I imagined this would have looked very cool from a helicopter. Strangely there were no cameramen in copters chasing us. Note to race organizers: consider a chase drone for next year!
Once the crowd thinned to the point of allowing us to fall into a rhythm. Cliff started to push the pace a bit north of 20mph which worried me but we soon settled into a nice pace. Steve seemed to really enjoy climbing pushing up most hills before falling back to our normal pace. We spend most of the first 50 miles riding just the three of us, occasionally picking up riders here and there for a few miles but nothing really organized.
I started feeling kinda bad around mile 45. We had stopped at around mile 25 for sandwiches and bathroom break but here I was only 20 miles later starting to feel a bit bonky. The wind had picked up a bit and we were heading into it. Worst, though, was my ass. My ass was hurting and I was thinking to myself that this was gonna be a long ass day with a sore ass. Yes…I was trying to use ‘ass’ as(s) many times as(s) I could in that sentence. Anyway, I digress.
Cliff had promised me fried chicken at mile 55. Mile 55 came and went and there was no fucking chicken. I was starting to get pissed. Finally at about mile 57 we came into a cemetery, one of about 50 we passed on the route, where and aid station was set up. This was the turning point of the ride…for me at least.
At this stop I was able to dine on fried chicken and chili cheese Fritos. This made me feel better almost immediately. Better yet, there was a large group of riders there that seemed like cool people and we decided we would head out with them because we needed some draft time.
Starting off with the group was divine. We settled into the back of the pack while two very strong riders pulled for what seemed like forever at a nice pace north of 19mph. I looked at my buddies who had expressed no interest in riding that fast but they were comfortable. So, I’m thinking, “Fuck yea! This is going to be the shit!” Eventually the riders at front pulled off and we settled into a loosely organized paceline. We had enough riders so that the stronger ones could take turns at the front but those that wished to hang at back could do so without hurting the group.
The group was quite diverse. I’m not sure how many we numbered but it had to be at least a dozen. There were men and women. Young and not so young. There were roadies, triathletes and even a dude on a Surly gravel grinder in baggy shorts. About half of them knew each other and had started the ride together. The others, like me, Cliff and Steve, just tagged along. One of the more outgoing riders, a young lady named Brook, chatted me up when we were alongside each other in the paceline. She was explaining to me who knew who and who the strangers were. To that I replied, “there are no strangers on bikes.” She acknowledged that was true, a testament to the friendships forging on rubber and road with each passing mile.
Mile 75: The group fuels one last time
It was really good going until the next rest stop at 75 miles. At this point some people were feeling the pain. Somehow I had gotten some kind of second wind. My ass no longer hurt and my legs felt great. We turned into a headwind and Tisch, a “not so young” triathlete like myself and I plowed into the headwind. She was strong and pushed the pace. I kept up. Soon we were getting calls from the back that the group was suffering. We backed off and tried to keep it together. This would not last.
By mile 85 the group was fragmenting. We hit a hilly segment and the climbers were separated from those that struggled up hills. At one point Brook came to the front with me and started to push the pace. Shortly we lost the group and she dropped back. By mile 90 Tisch, Oscar (a middle aged roadie with the coolest looking Giant Defy) and myself were alone at the front with about a quarter mile from the rest of the group. We started riding hard. We were headed back to town doing north of 20 mph. It felt good!
At one point the road back into town was blocked a semi-truck deploying construction equipment. Not wanted to break pace, Ticsh, Oscar and I dismounted, got on the sidewalk and road until we cleared the obstruction. We then dismounted and carried our bikes over some sandy, gravely shit cross style and remounted on the road. We hammered back to town hitting the finish line a few minutes before the rest of the group.
All in all it was a great day. I really enjoyed the course and the scenery. In contradistinction to the Capital City Century Ride I completed last week, the roads were mostly in very good condition consisting of smooth blacktop except for a few short stretches of tar/chip and frank gravel. It was a well-supported ride with aid available at appropriate intervals. Thankfully Mother Nature provided us with a near picture perfect day.
The best part of the day, other than the post ride IPA, was that it reminded me why I love cycling so much. This ride took me back to my cycling roots. Before there were races and Ironman and Sunday morning Strava segment sufferfests, there was cycling for fitness and FUN. One of the best things was showing up to a group ride and being welcomed as a regular even if it was your first time. I have expanded my social circle through cycling more than any other activity I have ever participated in. The ride yesterday proved how ‘strangers’ working together can make easy work of many miles and pestering headwinds. It also proved how important fried chicken is to good cycling performance. Although post-ride ‘sliders’ were a necessity to replenish my caloric deficiencies. But most importantly it proved that a good group ride is a thing of beauty and this Gran Fondo was a beautiful thing.
F#$k the Chocolate Milk. THIS is my ‘after.’