Tag Archives: Hincapie Gran Fondo

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.

What went wrong?

As I’ve slowly started recovering from Saturday’s Gran Fondo Hincapie, I’ve had some time to consider what went wrong with the ride. If I could do things differently, what would I have done to improve my performance in the event. The more I’ve thought about it, the better I feel about how things went with what I had to work with.

Here are the things I was unhappy with…

  1. The work I did to chase up to the lead group
  2. The way I was already feeling weak by the time I reached Skyuka
  3. The onset of cramping on Howard Gap
  4. The onset of major lower back pain on Howard Gap
  5. The fact that I had to push my bike up part of Howard Gap
  6. The lack of speed on the rolling sections
  7. The near bonking as I approached the Green River Cove rest area
  8. The bad cramping nearing the finish

All of these are really related. I trace the root issues to the following mistakes I made. These are not surprises to me. They are things I’ve messed up on before.

  1. Improper nutrition and hydration (before and after)
  2. Lack of seat time leading up to the event
  3. Lack of core strength

Recovery: Feeling like death warmed over

I looked back at my TrainingPeaks and see that in August, I rode a total of 8 hours. In September, my time on the bike went up to 10 hours. Finally, so far in October, I rode for 27 hours — but 13 of those hours made up two rides (one of which was the Gran Fondo).

The last real ride I had before the Gran Fondo was the Ride for Mike which took place the Saturday before. On that ride I covered 100 miles on easy rolling terrain. When I got off the bike that day, I hung up the bicycle until the following Friday when I commuted over to Hincapie Sportswear to pick up my packet. My life had simply been too busy to get on the bike any other time.

Then Friday night I was standing most of the evening being a host at the Bruins soccer games. While I enjoyed the two come-from-behind victories, I knew I was going to regret standing on the hard asphalt all those hours. My legs and back were already sore and I hadn’t pedaled a turn.

Not only that, but I realized too late that I had not been properly hydrating in the days leading up to the event. I didn’t really start taking on fluids until that Friday night and didn’t get enough even then. I also didn’t eat very much due to setting up the hospitality area for the games and staying up late to tear down.

Then that morning, I rolled off with just my water bottles. I didn’t have any gel or nutrition in my pockets. I had figured I would get them at the first stop. However, I didn’t take into account how much energy I was going to burn on the way out!

Even after stopping that first rest area to take on some Bonk Breakers and electrolytes, I didn’t manage my caloric intake very well. I was out of water on Howard Gap and rode sucking drops out of my bottle until the Green River Cove stop. Without the water, I hesitated to take on any of the concentrated gels and stuff. That would have messed up my stomach royal.

What should I have done?

  1. Ride more. The Time-Crunched Cyclist Plan doesn’t help so much for these long rides. The TrainRight guys even gave us a 9-week training plan with 12 hours a week. Yeah, that sounds simple enough, but someone tell my calendar that!
  2. Start preparing nutritionally sooner. While I can’t control my calendar that much, I can control what, when and how I eat and drink. Of all the things I did wrong, this is the one that makes me palm my forehead. It would have made a difference.
  3. Hey, George, how about a little love and letting me start up closer to the front next time? I don’t know any other way to avoid the chase we had to do in the beginning other than to start up front. It was clear that the pace wasn’t as hard up there for the first 20 miles as it was for us guys who had to work up from the back.

The fourth thing here I want to expand on a bit. That is my lack of core strength. I know this had a big role to play in me wearing down so soon. Climbing, as much as you try to make it so, is not all about your legs. Your arms and shoulders bear a bit of strain just from tensing as you try to pump your legs. However, it is in the trunk of your body where it is all held together.

The weaker you are in this central section, the more your body has to work. Energy that should be going to your legs is getting used up in your upper body. Also, you feel more and more pain from the tenseness in your shoulders and the weakness in your lower back. It was that lower back pain that took me off the bike on Howard Gap.

That is going to be a key thing for me this off season. You can’t just wait until a week before an event to improve your core strength. I’ve got to start that now for the spring. A bit of mountain biking won’t hurt either. Moving those knobby tires about in the woods is a good workout for the upper body as well.

Still, looking back, I realize that I hopped on the bike with very little training with poor nutritional preparation and still knocked out a tough ride over nearly 80 miles with 8000 feet of climbing in under 5 hours and 30 minutes. That’s not so bad. Now, if I just hadn’t had to walk up part of Howard Gap…

I have been fondoed

One of the reasons I wasn’t excited about doing the Gran Fondo Hincapie was I dreaded getting up early and going out in the cold. Well, I still had to get up early, but I was pleasantly surprised to find the morning temperature was great. Maybe this ride might actually turn out okay.

The Beautiful Redhead drove me to the location off of Old Highway 25. I dropped off my bag and made my way to the start line. Along the way, it was good to run into some folks I normally see a cycling events.

George Hincapie and the other VIP riders were called up to the front. George welcomed the crowd and we got ever nearer to the start. I was actually starting to look forward to it. If I could just survive until Skyuka, then the crowd would begin to thin and we could get down to business.

Here we go! The announcement to start was sounded and.. and.. as is always in these types of events with hundreds of riders, you have to wait for your time to come. We moved closer and closer and then I was able to comfortably guide my bike.

Immediately we were strung out. Because of the winding roads it was hard to judge where the lead group might be. I only knew that I was hundreds of riders behind it. Finally, a Veloshine rider came around me and I hoped on his wheel. He basically pulled me up toward groups ahead of us and then through them.

About 18 miles in we caught up to the lead group. Then things got hairy. There was a constant yo-yo effect going on. We entered more and more curves. The leaves on the surface added an element of danger.

I tried to be very careful and not brake abruptly. This put me in the ditch one time. Going into a left turn, the group compressed and the riders in front of me began to bounce off one another. Then a rider went down directly in front of me. I attempted to slow as gradually as possible and moved to the edge of the road. Then to avoid the rider who slid into my path, I had to get unclipped and ease into the grass.

That little adrenaline rush over, I started off back to catch the lead group. Occasionally I looked down and saw 350 to 420 watts popping up on my Garmin. I knew this was going to hurt me later. However, I didn’t want to start climbing Skyuka with a huge crowd in front of me.

Soon, I was back in a group. I eased up to save something for the climb. It was in this stretch, Cadel Evans passed me. Then I saw Tejay van Garderen on the side of the road waiting for someone. That was the only time I saw any pros on the ride.

Finally, we reached our first rest area and I loaded up on some food. This stop opened up the road a bit as we moved toward Skyuka. Having never ridden the climb, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. Even the approach to the climb was unknown to me.

I knew we reached it when when I saw the “KOM starts here” sign. Because I didn’t know what to expect and because I had worked a little hard in the beginning, I decided to be conservative in my pace. The thought of going for the KOM was insane, so why kill myself?

It was what I expected. A long slog. How do I describe it? All I could do was put the gearing in the 39-28 and spin.

Because I was holding a steady pace I had a number of riders come around me. There is always a temptation to jump on a wheel. I resisted the urge and it paid back later as I returned the favor for most of them by passing them back before the top.

I went past the rest stop after the climb. I regretted that later. However, I had Howard Gap on my mind.

All the miles between Skyuka and Howard Gap are a blur. This ride was moving from one painful climb to another. Everything in between was just filler.

There was a good amount of descending. I wanted to be careful with all the leaves swirling around, but there were some people simply flying by me! Again, I was fine to let them go.

Then I reached Howard Gap. Before I ever started up the climb, I knew I was in trouble. My legs were not recovered from the Skyuka climb. Either that, or all the descending had cooled my legs down and they were stiff.

Whatever the case, I started the climb with the same conservative focus. However, it hurt more and more as I moved up the climb. I looked ahead of me and saw numerous riders zig zagging their ways toward the top.

I just tried to keep my legs turning in circles and riding straight ahead. Unfortunately, my pace got slower and slower. “Don’t get off. Don’t get off.” I kept telling myself. I can’t remember a time when doing a ride like this that I have gotten off the bike. Not even my two Assaults on Mount Mitchell.

However, with 1 kilometer to go, I came to a halt. I had to dismount or fall over. I began to walk pushing my bike up the climb. And let me tell you, it wasn’t much easier! One rider after another passed me. I was embarrassed to look at them.

Finally, I felt that my legs might be able to handle getting back on the bicycle. I mounted up again, but things didn’t feel much better. The difference was that the grade was less steep. I was able to move the bicycle forward and finally completed the climb.

As I made my way toward the next climb on Green River Cove Road, all the fire was gone from the ride. I knew I was not the rider of two years ago. However, rather than getting down on myself, I started looking around me. Wow, it was beautiful!

I saw riders going past me with their heads down churning away. I let them go. I rode easily along enjoying the view. The only bad thing is that my water bottles were bone dry and I was in need of hydration.

Thankfully, I soon reached the rest stop at the church at Green River Cove. I was glad! I needed fluids to keep from cramping.

I continued my Saturday spin along the Green River. I forgot all about time. I just enjoyed the views surrounding me. At the same time, in the back of my mind I dreaded the climb ahead.

Once again, a number of riders passed me and I let them go. However, I could still see them as we would hit a straight section of the road. Then we reached the start of the climb.

Green River Cove Road is one I am familiar with. That knowledge was helpful. I knew it wasn’t overly long. I also knew that if you take the turns on the switchbacks on the outside (avoiding the steep grades in the inside of the turn) you can avoid a lot of work.

Starting this climb, I had no ambitions. I just hoped I wouldn’t have a repeat of Howard Gap. All there was to do was start climbing.

Then something good happened. It was as though my legs had gotten strong. It wasn’t that I was flying up the climb, but I was able to get in a rhythm and keep moving. I passed one then another of the riders ahead of me. By the time we reached the end, I had passed all the riders who had gone around me since the rest stop except two.

Hey, maybe I could pick it up here! Nope. It didn’t work. Climbing was working, but as soon as I got out on flatter tarmac I could not pick up the power. Once again many of the riders I had passed on the climb came around me once again. It was frustrating, but I just had to keep going… the good news is that the third major climb was done!

I started counting down the miles at that point. We went into the town of Saluda and then started toward the Watershed. There was a bit more climbing at this point and once again I passed the same riders until we crested the final bump and I big-ringed it down the Saluda Grade.

My computer ticked past 77 miles and I knew I had to be getting close. I also knew that I had one last climb to go to the finish. Sure, it wasn’t that big of a climb on a normal day, but this could be painful.

Yep, as I got within 1K of the finish my legs started to cramp something furious! As each leg stretched and compressed, cramps were hitting my calves, hamstrings and my right hip. I could even see the turn to the finish, but I wondered if I would end up falling off the bike in pain!

Cramps can be as much mental as physical. I knew if I could just calm myself and concentrate on relaxing the offending muscles that I could spin my way clear. The more tense you get about cramps, the worse they get.

By the time I reached the final stretch I was sore but not seizing up. Seeing the finish made it all melt away. I crossed the line with my computer showing 5 hours and 8 minutes in the saddle. My ride time was 5 hours and 26 minutes. The clock above the finish line showed 5:30+. That gives you an idea how long it took for us to get going.

Well, this blog post has gotten way too long! Maybe that is just my way of making you suffer as much reading this as I did riding. I have been asked, “Well, are you glad you did it?” I’ll be honest, there were times on the ride where I just thought I was stupid. However, looking back, I am glad I did.

Well, I am doing it

A couple of days ago, I asked for you all to help me decide whether or not to do the Hincapie Gran Fondo. Well, in a couple of hours I’ll roll off on the 77 mile/10,000 feet climbing ride. This will be partly because most of you told me to.

First, why I am not riding. I am not riding because I am star struck. It isn’t the fact that there will be a number of pros there. My world doesn’t revolve around the professional cycling world. That simply isn’t the big draw. Besides, chances are I’ll only glimpse them. That is what I do on TV. At the same time, I’m not letting the fact that the pros are there keep me away from an event.

Second, it is not primarily to see George into retirement. This is partly the case. George Hincapie is a part of our Greenville community. While I am disappointed with some of the choices he made in the past, I still recognize that he is one of us. I won’t go into it again because I already wrote a blog post about it.


I'm all geared up to ride the climbs

So, why am I doing this. Yes, partly because the majority of you said I should. However, it was not a huge majority.

The main reason I am doing it is because I know if I don’t I’ll wonder what the ride would have been like. Not just the ride on the road, but the entire experience of the Fondo. This is more than a ride, it is an event.

I’m riding it because I want to see how the event is run. From the information I have received, I believe it is going to be a class event. I’m interested to see if it lives up to that perception. There is a lot I can learn as I move forward with the I Do It For Foundation.

There is another reason I’m riding. It is the people I meet along the way who read this blog. I met a number of them on my way to the packet pickup and afterward. They asked what I had decided to do. I’m looking forward to riding with them.

What is going to happen? I don’t know. I’m going to go and give it my best shot and see what happens. My guess is I’ll start off in the crowd, work my way toward the front in the beginning and then get dropped on the first climb. I’ll then hang with various groups until I slog up the second and third climb. I’m guessing I’ll come soft-pedaling across the finish as a survivor.

That is okay. As I’ve mentioned many times before… at least it will give me something to write about!