Tag Archives: gran fondo

All In for Hincapie

starting line

My main regret about last year is that I missed out on the inaugural Gran Fondo Hincapie. A great many friends and readers rode, and everyone I talked to had an amazing time. There were several VIP guests, over 1,000 riders, and they had pretty good weather. The course itself was as brutal as I expected, with some of the most challenging climbs in the southeast, and I understand that despite the suffering, it was a jovial, festive atmosphere.

Just recently when looking at my busy fall schedule, I was on the fence on whether to participate at Hincapie this year. At first glance, it just seemed like too much. After seeing what they are doing this year, I’ve decided to take the plunge and ride.

What really swayed was the latest news update about what they are adding to the 2013 ride. You can read about it here. To be honest, they could rest on their laurels, relying on George Hincapie’s celebrity to draw riders, and just phone it in. This shows me that they are genuinely doing everything they can to make this a memorable experience.

There are a couple changes I really like. The expanded packet pickup is going to be a major help. If I remember correctly, last year they required that packets get picked up Friday night in Greenville. Getting there on a Friday would be logistically challenging when people are coming in from out of town. Additionally, they are moving the start time to 9am, which will make it easier for same-day travelers. Not to mention, that’ll help with the temperature on this late October day.

Many of these changes are logistical, and they probably learned from their first experience last year. They will have full SAG support, and I am betting it will be superior to other rides, closer parking, shuttle service, and more. It sounds like smart event planning to me.

Another spectacular view from the climb.

Green River Cove Rd

They are also adding fun stuff like a 5k, Beer School (!), and by marking off the switchbacks on the Green River Cove Climb. Having ridden Green River a number of times and counted the switchbacks, I’m curious what sort of fanfare they’ll add to spruce up the climb.

I’ve heard a couple complaints about the price. True, it is more expensive than other rides. My first reaction last year was the same as many others. That’s a lot to spend to ride a bike all day. This year my perspective on event prices has changed simply because I’ve met a number of ride organizers, and learned what goes into these events. Many will lose money the first year. These things aren’t cheap, especially when you have state of the art timing systems. Hincapie is a premium ride, and given the high percentage of people who have registered for the VIP package, it seems that price is not that big of a deal.

I’m going to ride, and I’m already getting excited. The colors should be beautiful. I may get to meet a few of my cycling heroes. And this will be a fitting finale to a great season.

See you in a couple months, George.

Hincapie Gran Fondo Announced

Those who mourned the loss of the annual Marquis de Sade ride will appreciate this news. George Hincapie, Tour de France legend and Greenville superstar, has announced his own Gran Fondo taking place on 10/27/2012. It will feature many of the same quad-killing climbs as good ol’ De Sade.

What makes this ride special is the celebrity of Hincapie and perhaps some of his closest friends. He and his jersey company have become the face of Greenville cycling, and hopefully will continue to contribute to the community for years to come. Hincapie should be riding along with special guests. They have not yet been named, but I expect a lot of BMC riders (maybe Tejay, Cadel?), and perhaps some other tour pros. Since this is Hincapie’s retirement year, the inaugural event should be extra special.

The longer ride is 80 miles and features the toughest climbs in the area. It starts outside of Greenville and heads straight to the Tryon/Saluda area. I have long complained about Skyuka / White Oak Mountain in the past. We’ll be reunited again, as it appears to be the first major climb. After that will be its younger brother, Howard Gap. It appears that they have eliminated the dangerous descent, as we’ll take the higher elevation route to Saluda, alongside Interstate 26. From there we’ll descend Holbert Cove, and come back through Green River Cove Road. Since Tour de Leaves is the week prior, that means I’ll be climbing Green River two weekends in a row. Ugh!

While these climbs will certainly be painful, they should be equally gorgeous. The fall leaves should be at their brightest in late October. That’s a worthwhile trade-off for the cooler temperatures, which from my experience will most likely (hopefully?) require arm warmers and little else.

There have been a lot of rumblings ever since the event was announced. One of the reservations people have is that this is a Gran Fondo, meaning it is timed. That timing chip tends to attract the hardest of the core, but with a 3,500 rider maximum and a difficult course, I expect there to be a healthy mixture of paces. Regardless how fast or slow you are, there will probably be many others right with you. I know that when I’m going up Howard Gap, the timing chip isn’t going to get me to the top any faster.

The other thing is the price. This is an expensive ride. The longest route is $170, and it scales down from there. A jersey is included in the price for the long ride, so there is that, but it’s a lot more than most. Mitchell is close, but with all the logistics to get people and their bikes up and down the mountain, it makes sense. That said, I think the price is fair for this type of event. Copper Triangle was similar. It was close to the same price, also included a jersey, and was superbly organized. I expect the same, if not better, from Hincapie. However expensive, this event could immediately become a major attraction, putting the area on the map for many.

Hincapie Gran Fondo

Fort Jackson Awareness Ride, 2012, Columbia, SC

The Fort Jackson Awareness Ride was something special for us that ride in Columbia. The fort graciously allows cyclists to ride on their beautiful, traffic-free roads, which is simply amazing for the local cycling community. Having dropped buckets of sweat on their pavement, I cannot thank them enough.

This was the first organized ride on the fort, and it was a long time coming. Proceeds go to the Family and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (FMWR) organization, a quality-of-life program that provides soldiers family support and services. They do great work, and we were pleased to give a little back. Turnout was over 200, a surprisingly high number for a first-time event. I think most of the grassroots support was because cyclists value the fort so much.

This was technically a Gran Fondo, or ‘Gran Fundo,’ since it was both a race and a ride. There was a good mix of hardcore racers and casual, Sunday riders. I was somewhere in between. The course was a 12-mile loop, starting from the heart of the fort at Hilton Field. Riders could choose to do either three or six laps, extending clockwise in a large loop through the quiet, smooth back-roads. I chose the longer ride. Having ridden these roads numerous times in the past, I should have known better.

The fort is arguably some of the toughest riding in Columbia. The hills are rolling, but they bite. This route was particularly nasty. Our group rides typically go counter-clockwise, and for good reason. It starts with an easy descent down Golden Arrow, a chewed up and choppy bed of pavement. From there we turn onto the smooth pavement of Dixie Road. At first the road rolls up and down comfortably, and then the beating begins. The latter half of Dixie Road is called ‘Dixie Grind.’ It is a prolonged, gradual ascent. The grade is moderate enough that it doesn’t seem like a true climb, yet it has a way of chewing up even the strongest legs. There is little rest after turning onto Wildcat, where the real behemoth rears its ugly head. We call it ‘The Wall,’ and I was far from excited to climb it six times. After that the course calms down with rolling hills or descents most of the way back to the field.

I’m not a racer by any stretch, but since I’ve been having a good year, I decided to try and hang with the big boys, most of which were Cat racers. The lead pack set a ferocious pace. I hung with them until about midway through Dixie road. There was no way I would keep up during the tough climbs. I faded back and connected with the next group. This one had familiar faces, which I was pretty sure I could hang with, despite the intense pace. My time was around 32 minutes for the first lap, around a 22.5 mph average, which was probably in the top 15. I was happy with that.

The second lap went just as well. My heart rate was running high and I was somewhat concerned with burning out, but the legs were staying with me. Rather than push too much, I backed off again and hooked up with another pack. We made it up Dixie and The Wall without issue. The second lap was probably just a little slower than the first. My average at that point was around 21.

Back on Dixie road during my third lap, and realized I was in trouble. My body was hurting more than it should have. I could no longer hang with the current pack, so I dropped again. I was gradually losing steam, yet still keeping a respectable pace. By the end of lap three, my pace was 20 mph and and dropping.

I downed three orange slices before starting lap four. For some reason those always help when I’m struggling. All was fine until I was back on Dixie, when all of a sudden I had little. Ouch! My quads burned with every pedal stroke. I started breathing hard, yet my heart rate was low. This meant I was bonking. I grunted my way through that lap and took a 10-minute break.

It was tempting to just give up right there. My car was 100 feet away. I even said out loud that I was going to bail. Fortunately Vince, a good friend, caught up with me and I decided to pace off of him. He was generous because he was a lot stronger than I was at that point. My power was in the toilet and I would die on the climbs. He’s a good guy and waited for me. Lap five was a major struggle. About midway through lap six, my mojo finally came partway back. I accelerated, caught up with some other riders, and rode hard until the end.

Relief! I was very happy to be finished. Final time was 4:08.

Thanks to all the volunteers, organizers, and especially the Fort that made such a fine event possible. This was a blast.

Official lap times:

Lap 1: 32:23
Lap 2: 37:41
Lap 3: 38:25
Lap 4: 43:04
Lap 5: 55:57 (includes the 10 min break)
Lap 6: 41:29

Strava link