Tag Archives: Howard gap

Hincapie Gran Fondo Recap

The Hincapie ride could not have come at a worse time of year for me. I was recovering from a long season, recovering from a nagging injury, and trying to re-boot my training for another long season that would end in France. There were also some logistical and pocketbook issues, so I didn’t ride.

Fortunately through my own past experiences in the area, and from friends, readers, and other bloggers, I’m able to get a pretty good feel for how the day went. So this is a first (and probably a last). I am recapping an event where I was not present.

Riders waiting to start.

The general consensus from everyone I know who rode (which was a lot of people), was that it was a painful, grueling, quad-busting, yet exhilarating experience.

A number of pros showed up, including Tejay Van Garderen, Cadel Evans, who were #5 and #7 respectively in the 2012 Tour de France. There were plenty of others, including Christian Vande Velde, and of course, Big George himself. From what I hear, the riders were extremely pleasant, mixed in with the crowd, took pictures before and after, and helped create a festive atmosphere. According to the results, they finished with a large crowd at around the 4:53 mark.

As for the course, it was every bit as brutal as expected. Jonathan at Low Cadence claimed to have been ‘fondoed,’ likening himself to a melting pot of cheese. He hung on with a big crowd, took it easy on the Skyuka Mountain Road climb, and then struggled mightily on Howard Gap. After recovering and improving over Green River, he experienced some cramps at the very end. It was a tough day for him, as it was for a lot of people.

I corresponded with Wade, a friend and blog reader. He sent me many of the pictures in this entry. To my surprise, he found Howard Gap a lot tougher than Skyuka Mountain. Skyuka may not be as steep (although it isn’t far behind), but it is longer. Howard Gap may be a lengthy slog to the top, but it is short. He actually enjoyed the switchbacks of Skyuka, yet loathed Howard because it kept going and going. It certainly has a way of getting inside one’s head.

The start of the Skyuka/White Oak climb.

One thing that probably makes Howard Gap a lot tougher is that it comes right after Skyuka. Jonathan, and probably many others, suffered because they had not yet recovered from the first major climb. I have not ridden them back-to-back (yet), but they are close in proximity to each other, which doesn’t give much of a rest.

Kevin from Ram Cycling found the same. He conquered Skyuka without incident, then could not muster enough energy to keep pedaling all the way up Howard Gap. He stopped, could not re-mount on the climb, and had to walk a little bit. It is humbling, but a lot of people walked up part of Howard Gap. There’s no shame in that.

Top of Howard Gap Road.

Green River Cove is just a beautiful climb this time year. Jonathan noted that he was able to recover by riding easy and enjoying the sights. I had a similar experience a couple weeks ago. Usually Green River is considered to be a difficult climb, but coming after the two behemoths beforehand, I heard no complaints.

And of course, everyone loves descending the Watershed. Not only is a nice, gradual descent, but it also meant that the majority of the climbing was finished. There were only a few bumps left along the way to La Bastide, the starting and celebration point.

Even though I enjoyed my alternative ride, I have some regrets for not spending the day with George and the 1,000+ riders. Wait for me, George. I’ll be there next year.

Strava Link (Alex Bernstein)

Thanks to Mike, the other Mike, Wade, Alex, Steve, Wes, Jonathan, Kevin, and everyone else who shared their experiences with me.

View from the top of Skyuka/White Oak Mountain.

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

Howard Gap, revisited


This week I found myself again heading to North Carolina, this time to the Western side around Franklin and Sylva. There would be a few hours for me to kill, and I first planned to climb Clingman’s Dome. Unfortunately Mother Nature did not agree. A huge weather system materialized during my allotted time, so there went that idea.

Plan B was to get a shorter ride along the way before the storm arrived. I decided to take another stab at Howard Gap, which I had previously failed when attempting on tired legs. So I headed out early enough to beat the storm. When I arrived at Harmon Field, it was cloudy and overcast, but the rain had not yet arrived. According to my radar it was close, but far enough for me to get a short ride of around 20 miles.

I prepared quickly and got on the road. Rather than warming up on some flats, I headed straight to the climb, eager to finish up before the rain.

There was a short and steep hill a little ways before the major climb, which was around 11-12%. That was my warmup and it was tough. It made me wonder if my off-season legs were up for the challenge, but I soldiered on nonetheless.


The climb began slowly, around 6-8%, which was great as it allowed me to get in a rhythm. Early into the climb it turned upward, almost straight upward, and continued at a prolonged, constantly steep grade. It was always in the teens. The highest grade I noticed was 18%.

Yikes. This was tough, both physically and mentally. Part of the problem is that you can see a long ways ahead of you, and can tell that there are no breaks to the grade. It is completely disheartening to turn a corner and see yet another stretch of 200 yards or so at the same incline.

I pushed and pushed, slowly but surely. This was a short climb, but it still seemed never-ending. As I got closer to the top, I could hear the hum of cars on Interstate 26. When I got high enough to see them, I knew I was close to the end, after another few handfuls of steep climbing.


Phew. I made it to the top and gave my aching legs a break. I figured there would be time before the rain came, and really didn’t want to attempt descending Howard Gap in this weather. Instead I rode several miles of rolling hills until I reached the town of Saluda, where I would then turn onto 276 and descend via the Saluda Grade.

That seemed like good plan at first, until I started feeling raindrops after about a mile. Hmm. I considered turning around and taking the short Howard Gap route, then thought better of it. Even in heavier rain, Saluda Grade would be much safer even though it would mean an additional 10 miles of wet riding. It wasn’t pleasant, but that was the way I went. My Saluda descent was the slowest ever. I even stopped a few times to let off the brakes.


By the time I reached the car and checked the radar, I realized that this was simply a pocket of rain. Note the blue dot in the radar image below. The big monstrosity was still a little ways away. However unpleasant, it could have been worse. Besides, it was worth it to conquer something new.


Garmin Link