Tag Archives: Gran Fondo Hincapie

2014 Ride For Mike (Part 2)

The results are out for the Gran Fondo Hincapie. There was no surprise there for me. My time came in at just over 5 hours and 53 minutes. That is nearly 20 minutes more time that last year’s attempt. I know exactly why it happened.

It all started with the Skyuka climb.

My strategy going into the ride was that since I knew I was not in good shape, I would try to pace myself up the climbs and spend less time stopped at the rest zones. So, I rode on past the first SAG in Tryon. That allowed me to stay with several people who were riding a pace line to the start of the climb.

When we reached it as a group, I moved over to the white line, motioned the others around me, and went into my easiest gear. Right there I put my pride on the shoulder of the road and determined I wasn’t going to push this. I knew the 4 mile and then some climb averaging 9% was only the first step up to an even greater challenge to come.

There isn’t much to say other than I kept plodding along with riders coming around me one after the other. It wasn’t as though I could have kept up with them anyway. Even at this early point in the ride, I was starting to wane.

I was about two-thirds of the way up when Tejay van Garderen and a rider in a Hincapie Devo Team kit came flying past me. As they sped past, Tejay looked back and said something that based on the look on his face was meant to be encouraging. I didn’t catch it, but I did get out the words “Hey, throw me a rope!” as they moved closer to the turn ahead. Then they were out of sight.

I stopped at the top to take a picture. Last year my battery was dead in my phone by that point and I didn’t get one. That view is worth the climb. Yes, it is true, a photograph just can’t capture it.

I also stopped at the SAG just before the descent. I didn’t stay long, but as I was leaving I stopped once again to take another picture. There was no need to be in a hurry at this point. Besides, any delay allowed me to put off the pain of Howard Gap.

Before I could get to that climb, I would have to descend the other side of Skyuka. Here is where I really began to notice the difference between the Giant TCR and the Felt AR. The AR was my bike for the day due to the need for a last moment repair for the TCR. Going through the corners with the aero frame Felt with the longer wheel base was not normal for me.

I had to take it easy and even so, I over-cooked one corner and had to take a detour into a driveway. However, that was better than at least two riders I came upon. One had obviously laid the bike down. There were marks on the road and rider was standing in that stiff post-road rash stance.

I was happy to reach the rolling section that followed. Now my mind was turning to Howard Gap. I was already feeling tinges of muscle cramps. It had taken me 40 minutes to climb Skyuka. Howard Gap was less than half the distance, but with an 11% AVERAGE grade it was going to be tough.

Right away on the bottom of the climb I began to feel my legs cramp. It was as though they had gotten so use to spinning along that throwing them into the fray of climb like this had them protesting and threatening a strike. It wasn’t just my normal calve muscle cramp. It felt like every muscle from my hip down was seizing.

Experience told me to just relax and keep spinning. If I didn’t feed the cramps by tensing and just kept my legs moving, I would find relief. Sure enough the cramps backed off, but like wild animals just outside the ring of light from a camp fire they let me know they could return at any moment.

I didn’t look up. I just tried to find a rhythm. I wasn’t going fast, but I was moving. It was then my phone started “dinging” because my daughter and wife were carrying on a text conversation in a group of which I was a part. As I moved slowly around another rider who was even slower he said, “So, do you ring that bell every time you pass one of us?” I knew better than to make a comment. I figured he might be passing me back before the top.

Yes, I stopped. It was on the final straight section. I still had over half the ride to go. I simply could not cook my goose here. So, I dismounted and began to walk. My focus was on my left hamstring which was teasing me with a cramp. I took my mind off by watch the riders go around me in slow motion. Some were riding higher gears (a good idea!) and they were spinning along, but seeming not go anywhere fast.

I tried mounting one more time with about 50 meters to go, but had to get off and stretch out my leg. Then it was off again. Even though it took me 20 minutes to get up the less than 1.5 mile section, I was in good spirits because I had done it! Yes, Green River Cove was going to be tough, but I knew I could do it.

Time meant nothing to me at this point. All I wanted to do was find groups of riders that I could tag along with. The wind had picked up a little on this beautiful day and riding through it alone would only compound any issues I might be having.

And so it was that I made it to the SAG just before the gorgeous route through Green Rive Cove and to the base of the climb with 17 switchbacks. I spent some time talking with other riders there before climbing back on and getting underway. I was starting off alone.

It was along this stretch of the course that something really started to get to me. I think it had to do with the setup of my Felt. I have to stretch out more over the bike and it was causing me to tilt my head just a little more than normal. Since I broke my neck several years ago this has become the one remaining issue from the accident. I cannot hold my head in a position like that very long without the muscles in my neck and shoulder starting to fatigue.

By the time I reached the climb up Green River Cove I was almost audibly saying to myself, “If I could just stop and lay down my head.” Maybe you don’t realize just how heavy your head is. Hold a bowling ball and extend out your arm. Now, hold it there. Before long your arm will begin to tremble and your muscles will complain for you to drop the ball and give them some relief. That gives you an idea how I was feeling.

Even so, I only stopped once on the climb. Granted, it was my slowest ever time, but once again I rejoiced that I made it to the top. Now it was just time to head home!

It isn’t that the ride was easy. The entire way back to Hotel Domestique, I was fighting the urge to just lay my head down on the stem. The only portion where I felt somewhat normal was the descent down the water shed.

I was completely alone as I made the turn up the final climb to the finish. I felt like I had been out there forever and so the 5:50+ time I saw on the clock was not a shock — I was actually surprised I made it in under 6 hours. As I neared the line Chad Andrews called out in that announcer voice, “And here we have Jonathan Pait!” Frankly, I didn’t want any attention pointed my way and was slightly annoyed by his enthusiastic callout.

However, that annoyance quickly gave way to relief as I turned right after the finish to head back to my car. It was a challenge. Wasn’t that what I wanted?

Well, I got it!

2014 Ride For Mike (Part 1)

I was thankful for the new start time for the 2014 Hincapie Gran Fondo. This meant I was able to get up at my normal weekday waking schedule. Then it was just a matter of getting the stuff I had prepared the night before into the car. In the cool (but not cold!) air of an October morning, I drove the 30 or so minutes to Hotel Domestique for the start of my 2014 Ride For Mike.

The VIP package allowed me to drive right up to the hotel and park within a stones throw of the start. The only hitch I had was with the zipper of my vest. The base came unattached and I fought with it for awhile before finally deciding to ditch it and head over for the breakfast. I could sense my nervousness. However, it wasn’t the riding that made me nervous. It was wanting to make sure I was at the right place and the right time.

The breakfast was in the dining area of the hotel. You could look out of the large pane windows beyond the pool to the mountains in the distance. The sun was just beginning to kiss the tops of the ridges as I downed my muffin, egg biscuit, second cup of coffee, and more fluids.

Probably the biggest perk of the VIP area was not the chance to meet the pro riders who showed up, but the easy access to the hotel restroom. I did see a couple of the pros — though I didn’t speak with any of them. However, I did take advantage of that restroom multiple times before the start!

Then it was time to head out to the start. Another advantage of the VIP pass was the access to the front of the LARGE pack of riders who lined up for the start. It was a chance to connect with folks that I don’t normally see except at these types of events and position myself to avoid the majority of the “scrum” that comes from a mass start like this.

Then we were off. The nervousness was gone now. The weather was AWESOME and I could see the leaders pulling off no more that 50 riders in front of me. This was going to be a good day.

The nervousness returned as we got farther underway. I was riding along in the right lane of the road as the pack got settled into a rhythm. Then I noticed a good number of riders passing on in the left lane. The 50 or so riders ahead of me continued to swell.

I was riding under the understanding that there was a yellow-line rule. What I didn’t realize was that during the “neutral” start, the marshals were creating a “rolling closure.” So, any traffic coming towards us (which was very little) was stopped and moved to the side to allow the pack access to both lanes. I could see this taking place on some of the longer straight sections of the road.

At that point, I decided to work my way toward the front. Sometimes I did this by going in the left lane and other times along the right shoulder. At other times, I just settled in to the middle of the right lane and followed others up through the riders ahead.

I was in this position when it happened. The group was taking up both sides of the road. We were in a slight right curve going down a hill. This allowed me to look ahead to see an upcoming left turn. Because of the vantage point, I could see that on the other side of the left turn a truck had been stopped by the course marshals. Suddenly the nervousness returned — at about 25 mph.

The riders ahead of me in the left lane began to call out — “Single lane! Single lane! Right lane! Slowing!” The brakes of multiple bikes were also calling out the warning of a quickly slowing mass of flesh, carbon fiber, and metal. I began to slow and look for my escape path. The wall of riders before me was beginning to compress as the riders to the left began to move over as the riders approaching the vehicle slowed.

Like an accordion the group compressed. I balanced myself on the bike fully expecting to get hit from behind. I aimed the bike to a small gap while trying to keep my momentum going forward. Just as I thought I was going to hit a rider moving across my wheel from left to right, the accordion released in front of me.

However, it was too late for a rider I could hear very near me but behind me to the right. As I was rejoicing that a lane was opening before me, I was struck once again with adrenaline as I heard brakes squeal and then carbon fiber snap. It is a hard sound to describe, but if you have ever heard it you understand. I can’t help but think of bones breaking.

Once again I just knew I was going to get hit. However, the anticipated impact never came and I rolled away. Just a second or so later an even larger sound of entangling cycling equipment erupted behind me. The sound was slightly more muted by that point as I was moving beyond the carnage.

Later I heard from a rider who had stopped to check on the group that all the people involved were okay, but that at least two bicycle frames were broken in half. At the moment of the event it sounded so much worse. After making my way past the truck (that had stopped, but had done so without moving out of the road), I set my position to the right of the field and decided to not worry about how many people might be passing me!

I knew that the craziness of the start would end when we started climbing. However, there were still a couple of technical sections I would have to make it through. I saw one more near accident as a rider was sandwiched between two others. He did a great job of using his body to protect himself and hold his position while keeping his balance.

Finally the faster guys started to pull away from me while the slower folks were beginning to fade back. Before I reached the first SAG, there was a sizable gap ahead of me and looking back I could only see a few riders interspersed along the way. So, rolling through Tryon, I knew the ride was now in my hands. There wouldn’t be a lot of pacing at this point and the climbing was about to begin.

There would be no more worrying about the riders around me. Now, I just had to worry about myself. I would find that was enough to worry about!

To be continued…

Riding the Gran Fondo Hincapie for Mike

People have stopped to ask me how my ride in the Gran Fondo Hincapie went this past Saturday, October 26. It will help me to sort my thoughts by putting them here. That is if I can get my dehydrated brain to work well enough!

This year I decided to avoid the large start by signing up for a VIP pass. This pass gave me parking place near the start, a breakfast “with the pros” before the event, a massage following the ride and — most importantly for me — a start near the front. It was good not having the pressure of worrying about how to park and making sure I had the fuel to start.

I pulled up a little earlier than I needed to, but I wanted to make sure I was ready. The volunteers were all out working hard in the freezing temperature. I say freezing in the literal sense. The temperature was below freezing here in the foothills. The work they did earlier, at that moment and later is one of the things that made the event enjoyable. As best I could tell, there was only one hiccup in the whole day and that was the sound system went in and out during the start. Of course, that could have been the cold!

After breakfast where I saw Christian Vande Velder and Tommy Danielson (along with George Hincapie, of course), I started deciding what to wear. I knew it would be cold early, but I also realized that by the time we started climbing I would be getting warm. You don’t want to under dress, but you don’t want to over dress either.

I decided to go with knee warmers, my bib shorts, arm warmers along with a base layer under my short sleeve jersey with a long sleeve jersey over that, and topped off by a vest. Under my helmet I had a head cover that went over the tops of my ears. My hands were covered with knit gloves underneath my Specialized long-fingered gloves.

All geared up, it was nice to pull up to the front of the field — well at least lining up with the first hundred or so. Behind me stretched a longer field of at least 1000 riders. I remembered the year before where I had chased hard to catch the front group and was nearly taken out a couple of times. That was my first order of business. Avoid that kind of action!

Then we rolled off. I was really quite comfortable at this time. Though my computer read under 32 degrees, I did not feel that cold. The stillness of the morning played a role in that. By riding in the group I was able to avoid much of a draft getting through my layers.

The only issue that began to cause me trouble was that my head was getting cold. Shortly into the ride I found I could not breathe through my nose. I was doing all my breathing through my mouth. The times when I would take a swallow of water, I would find myself panting trying to make up for that second or so without oxygen. It came back to haunt me later.

I saw George once. He came back slowly through the field as he was making a phone call to the support vehicle to let them know a rider was having trouble. I sat on his wheel for a moment at that point before coming around to follow along with the group. It wasn’t long before he came around me and left me behind.

That was just before we entered Tryon, NC. It was also at this time I began to dangle off the back of the lead group. I needed to take a nature break and get some food. At this point I realized it was going to be a long day.

And so, less than 20 miles into the 80 mile ride, I was on my own. Only a couple of other riders stopped and they seemed to be in even less of a hurry than I was. After mounting up and getting on the road, I set my sights on Skyuka.

Skyuka Mountain Road is a 4 mile climb up around 1,800 feet along a 9% grade. Really, for me it was just something I had to get up in order to meet the real challenge — Howard Gap. To get up this first climb, I just set myself in a rhythm. Just as I started up, I was caught by a group of riders. We yo-yo’ed back and forth as they would surge ahead and then I would reel them back in. Finally, in the last kilometer, we all crossed the KOM line together.

It is funny because at that point, I was berating myself for how poorly I was riding. Mentally, I had already made succumbed to the realization that I was not going to finish the ride in under 5 hours like I wished. That thought was tainting my perception of how I was riding.

As it turns out, I climbed the mountain in almost the same time as I did the previous year — when I was in better shape. Actually, I finished 30 seconds faster than in 2012. I averaged 7 mph up the climb. Of course, Winston David, the fastest climber, averaged 10.5!

I stopped at the top to take a picture. I don’t know if it was the cold or what, but my phone crashed. It was the only picture I got to take from the ride. That is one of the reasons you don’t see and pictures here. Then I stopped at a SAG stop to eat some more before descending the other side of Skyuka.

People talk about the climbing on the Gran Fondo Hincapie, but don’t underestimate the descents on the route. There are some pretty hairy turns to negotiate on a steep descent that builds up a good amount of speed. However, once again, this is a place where the volunteers played a crucial role by warning us of the more dangerous lines.

From that point, the ride was simply a matter of aiming for Howard Gap. I can’t tell you much of what happened on the ride between the two climbs. My body was tensing from the cold. Oddly enough, it wasn’t as cold as when we started, but the wind had started to pick up and I was riding alone. The chill was definitely finding its way into my layers. My dread of Howard Gap continued to grow. I just wanted to get there and get it over with.

I dreaded Howard Gap because last year I didn’t make it up the climb. I had to get off and push my bike up a portion of it. No matter what happened today, I did not want that to happen. Still, the way I was feeling physically and mentally, I wasn’t very confident. To make matters worse, I was beginning to feel a tightness in my calf muscles. I knew I would be cramping before the day was done.

There it was. The start of the Howard Gap KOM. This climb was “only” 1.4 miles long. The problem is it averages 11.4%. This was going to hurt.

I set my wheel pointed straight up the road. Almost from the start, I saw riders begin to zig-zag their way up the incline. I just set my teeth and kept a straight line while trying to keep up my momentum.

It was at this point I drew strength from WHY I was doing this. I was riding in memory of my friend Mike in order to raise money for the I Do It Foundation. The foundation was helping Ellie, Jessica, Juanita, Andrew, Connie and the Slattery family. All these Inspirations have fought or were fighting battles with cancer and harsh situations in life. I took my mind off of the road. I put behind me the thoughts of stopping. I kept reminding myself that these folks couldn’t just “get off the bike” in their battles. They had to push through. I could push through.

I did. Slowly and steadily I made it toward the top while dodging the zig-zagging riders around me. Yes, I was tired, but once again I beat my time from the previous year by 4 minutes. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was on pace to beat last year.

With that climb behind me. I really started to fight cramping. At one point along a rolling section of road, I stood to power over a rise. Cramps attacked my left quad and groin muscles. It threw me back in the seat. If this kept up, the Green River Cover climb was going to be rough!

The rest of the ride from there to the final climb was a story of me nursing myself along. I was trying to regulate my temperature by zipping and unzipping layers. At the same time I was trying to eat and consume liquids. Unfortunately, I realized that I had gotten behind on both of those needed resources. This was going to be about survival.

I took a good amount of time at the final SAG before the Green River Cover climb. However, I couldn’t put off the inevitable, so I mounted up and started out again. This was misery. The scenery was wonderful. However, a headwind was pushing through the gorge. Riding along it was tough. I found my cadence getting slower and slower. I was bonking.

Thankfully, a group of riders came around me and I jumped on hoping that I could maintain the pace. What a relief to find that I could hang on to the bottom of the final big climb of the day. At this point, I did not care at all how fast I got up it. I just wanted to get over and head to the finish.

Once again, I let the group leave me and I settled into a pace I felt I could handle up the 2.4 mile climb with 17 switchbacks. I know there were 17 because the ride organizers put signs by each one. It was a help to be able to tick them off. The more I did, the better I started to feel.

Before I reached the top, I had passed two of the riders. At the top, I caught a third one pushing his bike to the KOM line. Now I knew it was just a matter of getting the bike to keep rolling to the finish. However, I also knew that the distance to the finish could be deceptively long. If I pushed to hard just to “get it over with”, I could end up cramping just before the finish like I did in 2012.

I tried to pace myself and catch up with any groups to help me cut through the wind. As we came into Saluda I felt a sense of relief because from this point I had ridden these roads enough to know what was around each turn. Coming down the watershed, I opened it up a bit even picking up yet another PR on the descent.

That was it. By the time I reached the reflection of the water from the watershed, I was toast. A group I had left behind me coming down from Saluda caught me. I tried to jump on their wheels, but it didn’t happen. It didn’t matter, the finish wasn’t that much farther.

I did remember from the previous year that the finish kind of surprises you. It sort of appears when you don’t expect it. That thought gave me a great sense of relief. It was an anticipation that was rewarded as I began to see the signs along the road pointing me toward the finish.

The finish loomed ahead and I followed a group of Wounded Warriors up to the line. I slowed to let them get the attention they deserved and crossed the finish in around 5 hours and 32 minutes.  I do believe that was 3 minutes faster than 2012. The final finish list shows me 180th out of 434 riders.

No. I did not make my goal of a sub-5 hour finish. Yes. I did accomplish my goal of staying on the bike all the way up Howard Gap. Also, though I felt I was much slower, I actually did improve over my 2012 ride. Most of all, I raised over $2500 to help fund the I Do It For Foundation.

I’ll be back in 2014. Like a moth to the flame, I am drawn back to the suffering. Of course, I always tell myself, “Next year will be different!” I’m sure it will be, but probably not in the way I think.