Well, it has taken a couple days for me to completely thaw out, but with my core temperature back in check and all of my digits capable of running at full speed again, I’d say it is time for the Gran Fondo SD post ride review.
First, a little background… Months ago, as summer transitioned into fall and the final century rides of 2009 were wrapping up, we began to plot out the 2010 season. Atop the list was Levi’s ride, because quite honestly, I’m convinced it can’t be beat. However, there was suddenly a new contender for most anticipated ride of the coming year, the Gran Fondo San Diego. For reasons that are only too obvious, us Nor-Cal riders were more than ready to mix it up with our So-Cal counterparts and start the season with a ride full of sun, ocean views, and authentic burritos directly following.
A Hint of Reality:
As start date drew near, anticipation began to build and we ran through our rider checklists. Nutrition was basic, the bikes were in tune, and the standard gear was packed. The only hiccup was with what the weatherman had to say. Apparently, there was going to be a storm system running through the area. Well, this didn’t seem terribly threatening. Honestly, we all had rain gear, sleeves, and leg warmers. How cold could a fluke San Diego rain storm be? And when was the last time the weather man was right about anything? After all, the previous year’s ride had topped out at 85 degrees. So with that in the back of our minds we hit the road.
Upon our arrival in SD, there were some signs that the weatherman had been paying attention, but we tried to rationalize our way through it, and perhaps we even thought that positive thinking might gift us the sunny ride we’d hoped for. That was clearly wishful.
The morning of the ride arrived and greeted us with grey skies and ominous clouds. There was no rain yet, but with an hour to go until start time it was pretty clear what we were in for. The sky officially waited to begin dumping on us until were pulling the bikes out of the car, but at least we knew its intentions. So with our only option being acceptance we pulled the straps on our boot covers, zipped up the rain jackets, headed toward the starting line. Thankfully there were about 3,000 people from 42 states and 7 countries there with the same crazy idea we had.
Ready to ride in the face of this storm, riders sat anxiously awaiting the start. In the final moments, announcer told us of the celebrities that we’d be riding with including Bill Walton, some riders from High Road, and Quick Step. Bill Murray quotes from Caddyshack were referenced over the loud speaker about how the worst of the storm had already come down (not true). As if on cue, the rain pounded away with even more fury. By the time we were ready to be led out by a team of impressive Ferraris and Ducattis, rain gear had become completely saturated and the water flooding the streets was running over the top of riders’ boots on its way downhill.
With ample buildup, the start was signaled and the riders, chilled to the bone, were let loose onto the streets of downtown San Diego by way of Little Italy. The starting call was extremely welcomed. Rolling down the packed streets, led by exotic vehicles, and being assisted by the SDPD melted away the apprehension of the ride and the mindset of the century began to set in. It took a few miles to get the muscles warm, but a little leg work was exactly what was needed to get circulation going and relax the shivering that had overtaken me while waiting for the start. The thump of my playlist and the company of determined riders surrounding me helped to set a cadence. It had become obvious that this was no longer the ride to savor that we’d once expected. It was now a ride to endure and the satisfaction of the finish line would be the reward rather than the scenic vistas.
Finding some riders that I matched well with, we made our way quickly to the bridge that would drop us into Coronado. Regularly closed to pedestrians, riding across was something I’d been really looking forward to. Pedaling in the lanes typically devoted to oncoming traffic, it was a quick climb to the top and a fast run down the other side. Peeking my head up occasionally, it was impressive to see the coastline and the resort areas from high above. To add to the experience, even in the downpour a few folks in Coronado made it out to cheer us on as our pelaton passed by.
A few quick bends around the country club area led us to hwy 75 where my new found pack pounded away at a healthy pace. At this point, I tricked myself into thinking that maybe the storm was isolated to the coastline. Accordingly, I was determined to shoot past Imperial Beach and find my way inland.
The ride along the San Diego Bay was a relatively quick one, especially without the distraction of a sun-kissed shoreline to look at. Aside from the occasional glance toward the rough sea and the sandbar along the road, my view was of the wheel in front of me. It was not the day to be drafting. The rooster tail flying off the wheel ahead of me gave me plenty to drink and chew on, but the benefit of the slipstream would be ridiculous to pass up on a day like this.
The ride inland began by cruising through some sketchy border town areas but the group soon found our way to the gentle, early climbs of some well manicured suburbs along the olympic parkway. At 30 miles, I took hopped off my bike to refuel and stretch my legs at the olympic training center. This is where the transition from city to countryside took place and despite the clouds and fog running along the hilltop, it was worth taking in.
The next leg of the ride broke into the countryside. I had been told that the course would take us into both mountains and desert, but all I saw was green soaked rolling hills leading up to our climb into the mountains. The signature of this section was tall, healthy grass, oak trees in the lower lands, and swollen streams rushing down the nooks and crannies of the hillside.
At 41 miles in, the climbing officially began. This is a section the ride that the organizers should definitely get some credit for. Each rider participating in the ride was provided a chip so they could take part in the timed climb for king/queen of the mountain prizes. knowing full well, that my hill training to-date hadn’t equipped me for a victory yet this season, I was content to choose a comfortable grinding pace and make my way toward the top. The duration of the climb was around 7 miles highlighted by three separate markers indicating distance traveled and what the next section would be graded at. This really added a challenging and fun element to what could have been just another piece to the puzzle.
Once at the top, a quick descent took riders to the 51 mile mark and the lunch destination. There was no break in the rain to be found. Glasses were fogged up leaving limited visibility and the cold rain on top of the hill stung near-frozen hands and faces as tired riders navigated toward the feed zone.
The lunch zone was tricky. Those who stopped for only a few moments too long while eating began to tremble as their muscles tightened up. The tents providing shelter from the rain were soaked and struggled to hold back the water pooling above. The ground was a series of puddles that threatened to submerge your boot if the wrong step was casually taken. Fortunately, the stop was well staffed. There was tons of food, great sandwiches, and even hot cups of coffee being dispensed. The running joke was that everyone just wanted to warm their feet with it, but no-one was foolish enough to follow that logic.
Anxious for the warmth of my hotel room, I found my way to my bike after quickly refueling. However, as I prepared to embark on the second half of my journey, I was just in time to overhear a group of locals explaining with alarming conviction that they were heading back the way they came. The route ahead was too washed out and descent would be too tricky in these conditions. Eavesdropping complete, I pushed passed a brief moment of hesitation and chose to continue on along the given course.
Fortunately, the riders were right about some things and wrong about others. The roads were completely flooded in places…but we’d rode through much like it all day. There were stretches where the land had washed out across…but this seemed par for the course at this point. So with some cautious descents, riders rolled across the mixed terrain toward home. Steep, curvy descents were well marked and followed by flooded bends in the road and short steep climbs to follow. Given the right conditions, this could have been some fun terrain.
The next 30 miles was a mixed bag of similar course conditions and familiar looking territory that would eventually complete a loop and drop riders off back at the olympic center. The remaining 20 miles was a series for rollers that navigated riders through more suburbs and toward the city. Eventually we were able to hop on the bike trail and follow the waterway toward the bay, and ultimately home.
Arriving back in SD was a tremendous relief and all of the riders that I rode in with began to glow with a sense of accomplishment as the tall buildings of downtown grew closer. With the wind finally at our backs, we rolled toward the finish line just in time to avoid the next onslaught of rain and that was sweet.