This was two events in one. Or at least that was my expectation. It was the inaugural Jeremiah Bishop’s Alpine Gran Fondo and a fundraiser for the Prostate Cancer Awareness Project. The cycling event was pretty neat. The fundraising portion was disappointing.
First the cycling.
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We rolled out and I was quickly in about 10th position. I think for at least the Gran Fondo riders (there were two other routes as well) we stayed together as a peloton for the first 11 miles. Once we got on US 33 the pace picked up or I started to drop back. Doesn’t matter. I was wearing four bibs on my back, the only person to honor or remember those fighting cancer, and I decided that no one would see them if I stayed in 10th position. So I drifted back.
Although not a race, we had two timed King of the Mountain climbs. The first one was on US33 and the peloton sped up as we approached the start of the climb then abruptly slowed down to make sure their timing chips were read. I stayed in the back. I was the last to go through although I think at this point we had a major split in the peloton and I foolishly had been hanging with the first group led out by Jeremiah Bishop.
The climb on the lower slopes of 33 was pretty easy but I thought I would catch and pass someone. Anyone. Nope, no one. Then about halfway up the climb some riders from the second group began to catch and pass me. In all, I was probably passed by 20 riders and passed no one. Nada. It’s the first time on a climb with other riders I don’t remember catching anyone. That’s what I get for hanging at the front.
After a screaming descent where I caught some other riders, followed by a brief rest stop, we rolled out to our next turn and this warning sign: “Gravel.” If only it had just been gravel. It was a mud road. The GPS quickly registered 12% and I tried to find a line where I could sit and pedal. I made it up the first mile and a half then saw everybody ahead had dismounted and were pushing their bikes. The GPS registered 25%. I was determined to pass them all. Until all I did was spin. Then I joined them.
I thought I could go where no one had gone before but it was the wise decision to dismount before I fell. It would be fun to tackle this section on a day the road was dry.
I was wise enough to have brought cleat covers which I used while walking in the mud and dirt. Others weren’t so lucky as they reached the top of the climb and found their cleats wouldn’t clip in because of the grit.
The profile of the route shows four major climbs. The first, basically the first 23 miles, was on US 33 and had good pavement. The second, around mile 34, was the mud section. All of it. The third section, around mile 47, was on paved roads coming out of Franklin. The fourth, mile 62, was all dirt. Again.
Leaving the rest area at Franklin, West Virginia, was a short climb where I was passed by four riders. I was getting passed by everybody and had no response. It may have been my nutrition. Or just my suckage. I planned to take some gels, one for every 15 miles but left them in the van. Damn.
At the top of the climb coming out of Franklin, I summited then hit a four-mile descent. I took off and passed a couple of riders. My descending was excellent today. Then a six-mile climb began. And a partial transformation. About halfway up three men and a woman caught me. I stayed with them for half a mile then dropped off.
Riding by myself I was caught by Jim Mortson. Although he should have dropped me he either eased up or I picked it up but we rode together. About one mile from the top we passed the woman who had been dropped from their group. Then near the top in a 13-14% section, we passed the three men. All walking! I mentioned to them the story of the tortoise and the hair. Fear the Turtle! I hope they weren’t offended.
Jim and I rode to the rest stop at Moyers Gap Road. When we left there were five of us soft pedaling as the road turned to dirt. Unlike the first climb, this road wasn’t mud and one could ride it without spinning out. This was the road up to Reddish Knob.
There were a couple of cones off to the side of the road and a sign “KOM Start.” The King of the Mountain competition. We all kept pedaling. No attacks. Nothing hard. Someone mentioned they’d see us at the top.
I was the oldest of the five and had just been hanging with Jim and had no expectation of staying with him. As we climbed higher the road went from dirt to rocks. Not the loose rocks or heavy gravel but the rocks that were simply part of the road perhaps when the road was grated years ago they were just sheered off. Trying to find a line to ride without running over rocks was impossible.
One guy dropped behind us while two went ahead. Jim and I kept pedaling. I had no idea of the length and it was hard to judge from the trees. Each time I looked up I could see daylight through the trees and thought I was near the summit. I wasn’t. The two guys in front of us pulled over, the relentless climb getting to them.
Jim and I stayed together although at perhaps two miles from the summit he dropped behind me. I never looked back to see where he was.
The road was tough to pedal and many times the grade was 11 and 12%. But it wasn’t a 12% average like Mount Washington. I calculated it to be an average 8.1% which is pretty formidable, especially with that road surface.
I continued on alone just wondering where the summit was. And I felt that I was getting stronger. Having already dropped everyone in my group (after believing it would be me who got dropped) I soon caught one of the riders who left the rest stop five minutes before we did. I continued on and the road started to flatten out with 1K to go. I picked up my speed and blew by a rider trying to sprint my way to the finish line although I knew I had no hope of an age group podium.
I went from feeling crappy to passing everyone I rode with. I could have continued on but waited for Jim to come over the top. He was five minutes back of me.
What was most refreshing was there was no cramping. Often at mile 50 or 60 if I have a long climb the “cramp monster” finds me. Today I felt good. And with Mount Washington type grades I did not have Mount Washington type gearing – just my normal gearing.
The descent was foggy and a little chilly but nothing like France prepared me for in July. Again I bombed it then waited to ride with Jim.
I gave up five minutes waiting at the summit and after the last rest stop maybe as much as 20 minutes more sweeping, waiting for a rider battling asthma. It’s not about the time of the ride – it’s just a ride – and there’s no way I was going to leave a struggling rider behind. Besides, I accomplished what I wanted to.
Having dropped all the climbers in my group on Reddish Knob I was feeling good. We hit some pretty steep rollers and I had drifted to the back to help our struggling rider. Then I made my way up the climb, catching and passing everyone in my group. One guy said, “I hate you.” I smiled. With that, I soft-pedaled then let them go and dropped back to sweep.
I didn’t post a great time but I enjoyed the ride. I didn’t understand the KOM was cumulative with two climbs and took my time on the first one – 14th out of 14 in my age group. On the second climb, I was 8th out of 14.
On the day I say it was 10% fun, 90% suffering and 100% satisfying.
Now the fundraising.
My expectation was this was a cycling event/fundraiser which ultimately turned into a neat cycling event. Jeremiah talked of recognizing the fundraising teams but none was made. I spoke briefly with Robert Hess, the founder and president of PCAP after the event and shared with him better ways to improve participation and to get the message out. I think I was the top fundraiser with $1,000.29 but will never know. The 29 cents paying homage to the organization 29,000men.org.
Donating to this event was complicated compared to the sites at LIVESTRONG, Team in Training, and the MS Society. There, people can search for a participant and donate in their name. Their apps show the top fundraiser giving incentive to others chasing to recruit more donations. Donors like to see their names in the scroll. And maybe more importantly, while waiting at the finish for official results, the top fundraisers could have recognized, perhaps with prizes for certain thresholds.
This was a first-time event and they look forward to doing it again. Hard to improve on the awesome cycling but maybe they can improve the fundraising.