REVIEW: 2014 Hincapie Gran Fondo

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The 3rd annual Gran Fondo was my 2nd.  The question I kept asking myself (during the ride) was how did I forget how hard those climbs were?  You could blame it on old(er) age but I’m sticking with the angle that my body…especially my legs…just wanted to forget.  Oh well…

One thing I DO remember from last year was how butt-neck’ed-cold it was, 28 degrees to be exact.  This year?  Heat wave by comparison at 48 degrees at the start.  But, by the time I hit the 1st rest stop, I shed my arm and leg warmers and the rest of the day was fantastic; Thanks George for great weather.

George Hincapie and his bride Melanie came to my annual charity ride (Jackson County Brevet) in June this year, in northeast Atlanta.  At the VIP private dinner, he invited all the VIP’s to a complimentary entry to his ride and I came to Travelers Rest with a crowd.  It was everyone’s first time attending but I think they are coming back again, just like me.  While waiting for the staging to begin for the Gran Fondo start, I saw Melanie in the crowd.  I almost didn’t recognize her because the last time I saw her, she was wearing a dress and high heels.  This time, she was dressed in a Hincapie kit and ready to ride.  We had a great chat and she told me she is bringing her bike to my charity ride next year and riding; how cool is that?  A bit earlier, I got the chance to say hi to George before he entered Hotel Domestique, the venue for his ride.  He, also, said he had a great time at my ride and was looking forward to coming back next year.

You could tell the Hincapie organization is good at planning, especially cycling events.  They thought of great conveniences for us like bag drop off’s so we could change into real clothes after the ride, a bike corral so that we didn’t have to feel like we had to keep up with our bike when we were done and as I already mentioned, they had apparel collections at rest stops so you could peel off the winter layers and not have to stuff them in our jerseys for the rest of the ride.  Once we finished the ride, all these conveniences were all together in one area.  Nice.  Yep, I could recognize my warmers pretty easily, as the yellow stood out pretty well among all the bags laid out on the ground.

The ride?  Well, I did the Gran Fondo (80 miler) that had Skyuka, Howard Gap and Green River Cove climbs.  They are epic, requires you to dig deep to the top but each of them gives you its unique mental hurtle and euphoria.  With climbs, come descents…which I love a tad bit more than climbing; the more technical the better (hey, it’s my motorcycle road racing talking here).  Skyuka descent is the most dangerous and there were volunteers along the way down letting you know of an upcoming super sharp switchback.  They are manageable, as long as you ride conservatively.  Oh, I was riding beside one guy later in the ride who was sharing his story of completely ruining his brand new carbon wheel set, with the braking surface melting down.  Thank goodness Mavic neutral support was there to lend him a wheel set to finish out the ride.   I rode my Zipp carbon 404 clinchers and had no problem, as did my riding buddy Dillon, so it can be done.  By the way, the liability waivers mentioned that carbon wheels were not allowed, for good reason, but this was not on their website.

Sure is nice having volunteers at intersections blocking traffic for us.  That was throughout the ride.  At the rest stops, they were just as helpful and I lot count how many asked me if they could hold my bike while I re-fueled.  Bike racks were staged there too so you had a choice.

I was at the venue early enough, so that when the staging of the start was open, I was right up front.  Only ones in front of me were VIP’s and the long list of pro cyclists who came out to support their fellow comrade George Hincapie.  When the ride started, it got fast pretty quick.  I was part of the front group for the first 10’ish with George and his buddies.  Once I realized my riding buddy was not in the same group, I pulled off at the next turn to wait up.  It was hard to let that group go but I knew I was going to get dropped anyway.  This way, I didn’t burn all my matches before the first major climb.  There’s a lesson here for some of you.

After the ride, we had the cool fortune to run into Christian Vande Velde on the lawn.  Really cool guy and he was as easy to talk to as George.  Couldn’t ride fast enough to see him on the bike so it was nice to catch him in real clothes.

All in all, this is certainly a ride you need to put on your to-do list…and properly train for.  Being back at Hotel Domestique is always a treat and such a really cool place to be.  Make sure you are there October 2015.  I will….

Coach Robert…

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