When it comes to a big goal event to aim for during the year, you can’t do much better than a gran fondo. A term imported from Europe, gran fondos are big organized rides in scenic locations, that feature a few timed sections, usually climbs, thrown in to keep things interesting. Luckily for us, one of the toughest, and most beautiful, gran fondos in the US is just a few hours north from our home office, up in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The Alpine Loop Gran Fondo was founded by multiple-time mountain bike champion Jeremiah Bishop to raise money for a great cause and highlight some of his favorite training roads in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains. We’ve ridden this challenging route before – it’s definitely a ride you won’t soon forget! So before the big ride, on September 20, 2015, we thought that we’d check in with Jeremiah and see what’s up with his year, and what changes are in store for the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo.
1. This has been a big year for you professionally – a new team, new challenges, and new races. What’s been the highlight, or highlights, of your year?
Dude; this year was awesome! Racing for the number one ultra endurance team in the World, Team Topeak Ergon Racing, has been a blast. It is an honor to ride on a team full of super stars and has had me working very, very hard in training. Topeak Ergon is also just a great bunch of people, we ride hard but were all chill off the bike so the chemistry was really good. The Highlight of the year had to be the Leadville Trail 100 MTB Race – check out my blog on the World Record breaking ride. It was the team effort that made me smile – without working together we would have been 8-10 minutes slower.
2. For those that don’t know about your ride, what inspired you to start the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo?
The route came from my favorite road and dirt road training ride, one of the toughest that I would do to get ready for big races. Every time I nailed that route I would come back with a huge smile on my face or with a grimace of pain that eventually made for great stories. To share that journey of personal triumph challenge and taking on something tough is why the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo has become such a hit.
3. What’s your favorite part of the Gran Fondo, both in terms of the course and
of the event itself? And what’s new with the event this year?
My favorite part of the course has to be the Dark side of Reddish Knob climb. 14 miles of nasty climbing dirt road with occasional embedded rocks and gravel challenge the best riders. New for 2015 are the Mt Solon metric Century and the Shenandoah Mountain Century – both are 99% paved but have the challenge without needing special gear or skills. I am also pumped because our finish line festival has so much going on it’s worth checking out even if you don’t ride! Our live music line up features awesome regional bands; The Judy Chops and Shenandoah Alley. We’re also very excited to have Brothers Craft Brewing on site pouring riders some of their exquisite locally made craft beers this year. It’s a great party!
4. Having ridden the Gran Fondo before, we know that the route offers up quite the challenge – so what’s your ideal bike setup for the ride?
Most people opt for a regular road bike, though a gravel grinder touring bike would be best since they absorb shock and have stable geometry for sand and gravel. The key for me is gearing and tires. I run 28c flat resistant Continental Gatorskins – they are awesome because they are still fast on the pavement but with 80 psi they have a lot of drive traction and absorb the bumps. Compact is great for most people but I can get by with a 32 t easiest gear in the back.
5. What’s the best training tip that you can offer for someone who is thinking about participating in your ride, or one like it?
Ride 2 rides a week,with a group, that has at least 2 good 20 minute climbs just below max pace OR do big gear blocks for 20-30 minutes at 90% of what you could hold at lower cadence. This mimics the torque of climbing. Lastly do one long ride a week that you ride at a steady brisk tempo the whole time, and finish with some efforts like short hill sprints of 1 minute in a big gear. I finish these up with some body weight squat jumps and lunges to really test the legs!
6. Finally – with the World Championships happening just short drive away from
you, give us the inside scoop on the top places to ride between Harrisonburg and Richmond (other than the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo, of course)?
East of the ‘burg is Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway is also a hit – I often ride there from Harrisonburg. You can also Park at the Afton visitor center and ride north or south. Richmond might be where the Worlds is but for the “Worlds Best Road Ride” check out the Bicycle Capital of Virginia – Harrisonburg!