Ride Report: Jeremiah Bishop’s Alpine Loop Gran Fondo

Well, we were warned that Jeremiah Bishop’s Alpine Loop Gran Fondo was “the most challenging and adventurous Gran Fondo in the United States”, and we can now safely say that it was definitely the hardest road ride that this author has ever been on! Right from the start we (that’s David and Chris, from our headquarters) could tell that we were in for an epic day in the countryside around Harrisonburg, VA. But let’s begin at the beginning, as they say.

We started our adventure loading up the car in the rain, which we have a knack for finding whenever we head out. We drove up to Harrisonburg the night before the big ride to attend the gala dinner, where we got the chance to meet some of our fellow gran fondo riders, and even chat with Jeremiah Bishop himself. As he was all weekend, Jeremiah was approachable and excited to talk cycling – we talked about his experience riding in the pre-Olympic mountain bike test race (the course is harder than it looks) and he even talked a little smack about the upcoming Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race (where he’s the 2-time defending champ). But mainly we talked about the route for the Gran Fondo – the route was designed by Jeremiah to be the most challenging training ride for himself and his friends  that he could devise. He scoured Google Earth to find back roads, country lanes, wicked climbs and amazing views. He promised us that the route would make us think that we had been transported to the Alps, while also testing our limits to the fullest. When a guy with Jeremiah’s record tells you that a ride is going to be hard, you tend to believe him.

The next day we were up early to get to the start in downtown Harrisonburg, VA. Greeting us was a crowd of almost 300 like-minded riders, ready to enjoy a slightly overcast day out on the road. Here we are kitted out in our Scattante Team jerseys and Forza bib shorts. We had updated our respective Scattante and Fuji road bikes with brand new Kenda Kriterium Endurance 700x25c tires, built to handle rugged roads with their puncture-resistant Iron Cloak protection (inflated to 95 psi, per Jeremiah’s advice).

alpine_loop_2011_1 With the blowing of an alpine horn, we rolled out of town to start our long day in the saddle. Everyone started their respective route on the same road, in one big peloton (there were also shorter Medio and Piccolo route options). Jeremiah circulated throughout the pack, making sure that everyone was having a good time.

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Photo by Jay Moglia http://www.rawtalentranch.com/

But after a convivial few miles at an easy pace, Jeremiah moved to the front and put the pedal down right before the first King of the Mountain climb (award jerseys were determined by your time on 2 pre-selected climbs, not on your overall time).  The field quickly strung out over the 4 miles to the top of the Shenandoah, and we settled in to a pace we could maintain for the 70 miles we still had to ride. Of course the long climb up meant that a fantastic descent awaited us on the other side. We flew down the mountain to rural West Virginia roads, where the first rest stop awaited us. Fully stocked with tasty treats and friendly volunteers, you really could get used to this treatment! But we’re here to talk about the ride, so we’ll move along – to the dreaded first dirt road climb!

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Photos can’t do this monster justice – it was super steep and just slick enough that you couldn’t stand up without your rear tire spinning out. Sometimes it felt like you were about to topple over backwards, and we saw more than one person walking with their bike. It made us think of what the earliest Tour de France riders must have faced, such as Octave Lapize in his assault on the dirt roads of the Tourmalet in 1910 (thankfully we had more than 2 gears)! Once over the top, it was time for the equally challenging dirt road descent to the valley below.

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After this road, the ride was more of a blur, but in a good way. Our legs were toast, but the riding was fantastic – we rode through valleys, down deserted country roads, and through small West Virginia towns. Take a look at the picture below – it could just as easily be a photo from France or Switzerland as the Virginia/West Virginia countryside (and since we just rode in the Alps in July, this comparison was fresh in our minds).

alpine_loop_2011_5Onward we rolled, sometimes joining up with other riders in a small pack, and sometimes just sailing along by ourselves. The course was so well-marked that there was never a chance of getting lost, so we just found a rhythm and kept on pedaling. Eventually we made it to the final KOM climb of the day, a 6 mile ascent to Reddish Knob, up another dirt road, of course. We just kept telling ourselves, Jeremiah really rides this as a training ride!

alpine_loop_2011_6Once over the Shenandoah again, it was all downhill to the finish in Harrisonburg.  No, scratch that, it was sort of downhill to the finish. The last 20 or so miles wound their way through the rolling farm fields outside of town, with barely any flat road in sight. Our route was expertly mapped to bypass the main roads into town, opting for the purely pastoral path, with plenty of friendly locals waving hello as we rode by (we even passed an Amish horse and buggy).

alpine_loop_2011_7Finally we rolled into town and made it to the finish line festivities – with nary a flat tire between us all day thanks to our rugged Kenda tires. Food and finisher’s medals were waiting for us as soon as we crossed the finish line – the helpful volunteers even had moist towels ready so we could clean off a day’s worth of hard-earned grime. And it was indeed hard-earned, as we could see when we downloaded the data from our Garmin Edge 800 GPS bike computers. We rode over 90 miles in total, with almost 11,000 feet of climbing (and just as much descending). Once we got cleaned up, we caught up with Jeremiah to see what he thought about putting on his very first Gran Fondo, and also about his preparation for the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race (mixed with some ride highlights we captured with our Contour GPS helmet cam):

So would we ride it again? Absolutely (although maybe give us a week to recover)! If you judge by the results page, you’ll see that we didn’t exactly light up the record books, but that’s only part of what a Gran Fondo is all about. It’s really about challenging yourself, experiencing something new, and just having fun. Jeremiah and his team of volunteers (led by his wife Erin) made sure that all of those boxes were checked for the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo. Definitely make plans to give it a try next year, because now that Jeremiah has let everyone in on his secret training ride, this event is only going to get bigger and better. Just bring a positive attitude and your climbing legs and you’ll have a great time.

alpine_loop_2011_8To see all of our pictures from the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo, check out our photo album on Facebook.

Wordless Wednesday

Getting Ready for the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo

We here at the Performance Bicycle Blog have decided that it’s time to see, in person, what’s up with the growing popularity of the Gran Fondo (literally “big ride” in Italian). Gran Fondos, or cyclosportives, as they are also known, are organized and timed mass-participation road rides, usually with an extra degree of difficulty not usually found in the typical charity ride (but still with rest stops!) Participants aren’t necessarily competing against each other, but they are racing against the clock, since you normally have to beat a pre-determined cutoff time to finish. Ultimately it’s this personal challenge that attracts riders to a Gran Fondo – the chance to test yourself on an epic route with other like-minded cyclists along for company (and ok, maybe a little competition).

But that’s not all that Gran Fondos have to offer, as they often act as a fundraiser for deserving charities and groups, plus you often get the chance to meet and ride with the famous cyclists who are hosting or participating in the ride. Famous Gran Fondos around the world include the Maratona dles Dolomites in Italy, l’Etape du Tour in France, or the popular Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge Gran Fondo in California.

For our foray into the Gran Fondo world, we’ve decided to check off all of the above by registering for Jeremiah Bishop’s Alpine Loop Gran Fondo in Harrisonburg, Virginia (on Saturday, September 24th). In case you didn’t know, Jeremiah Bishop is one of America’s most accomplished mountain bikers in recent years, with multiple national championship titles and many other prestigious wins to his credit. Lately his focus has been on marathon events and stage races, but he’s also been mixing it up at a few World Cup cross-country events this year too. So when you hear that Jeremiah Bishop has set up a Gran Fondo, you get the feeling that you’ll be in for an epic ride.

Billed as “the most challenging and adventurous Gran Fondo in the United States”, the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo route (like most Gran Fondos, there are also shorter options) certainly sounds like it won’t disappoint! Covering 95 miles and with almost 11,000 feet in elevation gain, it adds to it’s “most challenging Gran Fondo in the US” credibility by including several miles of dirt road climbing, pitches of up to 15%, and some raging mountain road descents. This promo video shows what’s in store for the ride:

As a bonus, the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo is also a fundraiser for community charities, local schools and cycling infrastructure – all of the proceeds from the event get put to good use after we’ve finished suffering out on the road.

Chris and I (David), the same team that rode the Alps during the Performance Tour du Jour trip to the Tour de France this summer, are heading up from our headquarters for this Gran Fondo. There’s nothing like riding up Alpe d’Huez a few times to get your legs in shape for a challenging ride.  Well, that’s our theory, at least! To be honest, we really haven’t been packing on the road miles since we got back to the States, so we’ll see if there’s any fitness left over from our Euro riding when we get to Virginia next week!

Chris and David on top of Alpe d'Huez

We’ve actually met Jeremiah at the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race – he was even nice enough to pose for a picture with his comically oversized winner’s check.  Of course the only time we saw him was at the start of the race and then at the awards ceremony, since he usually finished in about half the time that it took us to ride the course (we were lucky to make it to the finish before they actually took down the finish line)!

Jeremiah Bishop and us

David, Jeremiah and Chris after the 2009 Pisgah Stage Race

We have a sneaking suspicion that the same timing will apply to this Gran Fondo, but lucky for us there’s a gala dinner the night before the ride where we’ll get to rub shoulders with the pros and other riders (without being in a oxygen-deprived state, as we likely will be on some of those climbs). But out on the road there will still be fun goals to aim for, like age-graded  king of the mountains jerseys, staffed rest areas, cowbell prizes for the last place finishers (this prize is definitely in reach), finish line festivities, and of course some beautiful scenery.

Now that we think about it, maybe we do get what this Gran Fondo business is all about after all. A chance to test ourselves with a challenging ride in a great atmosphere, along with a few hundred new friends, all for a good cause.

Wordless Wednesday

Photo by John Bigelow

Spin Doctor Tech Tip: What to bring the day of a charity ride

Spin Doctor

We know that many folks out there have decided to ride in their first group charity ride this year. Whether the goal is to raise money, challenge yourself, or just have a good time on the bike, it takes some planning and preparation to make for a successful and stress-free day on the road. But all of your hard-earned training and planning can be for naught if you forget a few simple essentials the day of your ride. For advice on what to bring along with you the day of your big ride, we’ve turned to one of the resident Spin Doctors here at our headquarters (and veteran of many charity rides), Gene, to provide his insight into what you should bring to your next charity ride to make your day go as smoothly as possible.

Your bike – Check the condition of the tires, brakes, and drivetrain beforehand.  Lube the chain and cables.  Inflate the tires to the pressure marked on the tire’s sidewall.  Look for cracks and cuts in the tires and replace the tires if necessary.  Clean your bike.  Some think that a clean bike is faster than a dirty bike.  Whether or not this is true, while cleaning your bike, you may find a problem with the bike that was previously overlooked.

A helmet – Your helmet should fit snug without being uncomfortable.  The helmet straps should buckle below your chin without putting pressure on your chin.  Most charity rides require helmets be worn by all riders.

Water bottle / hydration – Almost as important as a helmet.  Dehydration could drastically effect your enjoyment of the ride.  You should drink about 28 ounces (a large capacity water bottle) of fluids every 30-45 minutes or whenever you are thirsty.  Electrolyte drink mixes will help replenish the minerals lost during cycling activity as well as aid in recovering after the ride.

The front wheel – Bikes transported on roof racks sometimes require that the front wheel be removed.  Nothing will ruin your day faster than realizing that you’ve left the wheel behind or misplaced the front wheel skewer.

Repair tools – Bring tools for flat tire repair and easy adjustments.  These tools include a frame pump and/or CO2, tire levers, spare tube, tube patch kit and bicycle multitool.

Floor pump – Makes pre-ride bike prep easier and may lead to new friendships when you help someone else inflate their tires!

Riding gear – Cycling jersey, cycling shorts, cycling socks, cycling shoes, cycling helmet, cycling gloves, sunglasses or eye protection and sun block.  None of these items are mandatory, except the helmet, but all of these items will make you more comfortable during and after the ride.

ID and an insurance card – Good to have at rider check-in and in emergency situations, especially if you have special medical needs.

Cell phone – Can contact ride control or a friend for assistance.

Money – Can be used as an extra donation to the charity being sponsored, for a bite to eat on the route, a tip for the mechanic (if you feel their service was exceptional), to purchase a replacement bike part, a dollar bill to “patch” a cut tire, and for post-ride activities.

First Aid kit – Nice to have at the car. Good for blisters, road rash, etc.

Knowledge of group riding – There are several sites with good articles about riding in a group, if you want to read up before trying your hand out on the road, available here, here, here and here. But the essentials of riding in a group are straightforward: be predictable, communicate with the group, stay alert, and be considerate of others.

An attainable goal – Ride a route that is suitable for you.  Typically, you can safely complete a charity ride route if you’ve been able to recently ride 2/3 of the route’s distance comfortably.  Don’t forget to take into account weather conditions and route elevation changes.

Foul weather gear – Be aware of the weather forecast.  If rain is forecast, bring rain gear.  If the temperature at the beginning of the ride is going to be much colder than later in the ride, layer your clothing so outer layers can be removed during the ride.

Nutrition – “Keeping the gas tank filled”.  Nutrition bars and gel packs are easy to use while cycling and provide additional fuel for your ride.  Experiment with new drink mixes and nutrition products well before the charity ride, not on the day of the event.

And finally, a friend or family member – Sharing the experience is much more enjoyable.  Conversation and support during the ride helps the miles go quicker!

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