The 2016 Gran Fondo Hincapie is now history. I survived. The mountains alone would have been enough to make an old man cry but no……….with temperatures in the mid 40’s and 20 mph wind gust…….well………..it was a triple whammy for me. More than once my logical brain was rejecting the whole idea of completing the ride. Even before I arrived in Greenville S.C. I knew I was in trouble. Yes the route data was somewhat intimidating but when I looked at the 7 day weather forecast I knew I was headed for a real big time sufferfest. It was. Thank You Heavenly Father for the limbic brain system. That primitive part of the brain that reacts, gets angry, doesn’t know how to quit. I can hear myself saying don’t let the bastard win over and over as I’m struggling up all 3 of the major climbs. I never once put my foot down and that was no small feat. Along the way the 50M route splits off and I could have opted for that but it was frowned upon. My timing chip was for the Gran Fondo and taking the shorter route would have screwed up the standings. BUT………… further along they did offer an escape route before the last big climb for Fondo Riders like me who had had enough already, BUT NOOO…….my lizard brain was in control. It wasn’t pretty but I finished.
What a beautiful spot on the planet for cycling! What a sensational ride! We shoved off at nine AM with me about half way back in the corral and taking all of 10 minutes to actually start pedaling. 2300 + riders beaming with optimism about what lies ahead. They must have had the roads blocked off or something because it was hours before I saw a car on the route. The locals turned out in force to cheer us on and monitor every major turn and route change. There were signs and law enforcement everywhere but the presence of volunteers was exceptional. Whistles and cow bells, shouting encouragement, waving at you to slow down for the really nasty turns throughout the descents. I’ve been to some super great rides but these folks got it together. Three of the sag stops had live music! The 1st one at Tyron N.C., M20, was serving ham biscuits from a local restaurant. It was like showing up at the local carnival. The locals are genuinely friendly. I really do need to spend more time in these mountains.
The ride starts at the Hotel Domestique in Travelers Rest S.C. just outside of Greenville but the brunt of it is in North Carolina. At about M20 is the Skyuka Mountain climb, all 4 miles,1800 feet, 9% average grade of it. The sign outside the Baptist Church read Pray More Worry Less and I’m hopin’ it’s not too late for that and while I may not know a lot of prayers I do recall David reaching in his bag and taking out a stone, slinging it hitting the Philistine in the head and knocking him to the ground. Remembering this will have to do.( 1 Samual 17:49 Had to look it up).
Shortly thereafter you run smak dab into Howard Gap, a short 1.4 mile climb, 800 feet elevation gain with an average grade of 11.4 %. I instantly find myself tacking, riding side to side. The proximity of the 2 summits, Skyuka and Howard, is approx.10 miles, making it just physically bruising and mentally crushing. I’m emotionally bankrupt……..BUT…….. I haven’t seen Auto Pause on the Garmin yet and so it’s onward and upward. The descents off both these mountains is like jumping off a cliff.
Green River Cove, 2.4 miles up, 1000 feet of climb with an average grade of 8%, 17 switchbacks, lies 25 blissful less stressful miles ahead. It’ll be a piece of cake gittin up it right! NOT. It’s a struggle big time. Everyone knows how to do this though. Stay on the high banked outside of the corners especially where the grade is 12%. I manage to get up it because the brain is believing it’s all down hill from the summit. Well compared to where I’ve already been today it almost is.
I’m left with about 10 miles of descent only having to hold on and roll. I cross the finish line, I’ve done it. The bastard didn’t beat me. Cross it of the bucket list. When I look at my time and place in the results I’m disappointed but it’s based on elapsed time. I rationalize that I shouldn’t have stopped so much. Bottom line………..I’m not strong enough to do better than I did. My AHR was 153 or my zone 4 and there were a few 180+ spikes. Checking Strava I’m showing up as riding with 40 or so others and I click on a few and notice that there are a bunch who cut it short and everyones times are very close. Maybe that’s something anyway. (Trying hard not to sound petty, human).
The Giant TCR is a great bike for the mountains. It’s light, stiff, has a short wheelbase and with the Shimano Dura Ace C24 wheel set all you’ll need to make the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs is the right motor. With my compact crank my low gear combo is 34/28. Looking around I’m seeing lot’s of people riding 32’s or maybe 34’s on the rear making their low gear 1 to 1 or close to it. I’ve been told that I would need to change the rear derailleur (longer) to accommodate a bigger cassette. Also told that I wouldn’t. Only one way to know for sure. Next time maybe. When I switch from my standard to my compact crank I also shorten the chain a bit but not too short. Too short and the thing will jam. If you leave it long it just sags if for some reason you go little little but why would you do that anyway. (Bike nerd speak). It is also recommended that you lower the front derailleur when running the compact but I didn’t. Moving the chain from the small ring to the big probably would have been smoother if I had, but it worked. One of the route Marshalls went by me like it was nothing riding a CX bike with big tires and so the real way to ride better in the mountains is to have a steady diet of it, or possably having a triple…………just sayin’.
In my mind those who climb well, end up wearing the polka dots, are the true superstars of the sport. Not wanting to take anything away from the work horses, the Domestiques, guys like George Hincapie who was Lance’s Domestique for every Tour he won, the guy who can do it all but relegates himself to lead out , pull for and protect the team’s sprinter, but the KOM is special. More often than not they find themselves on an island just grinding it out and holding off all challengers on there own and somehow find something more deep down inside to summit ahead of the rest. An amazing feat of strength.
It’s not logical to want to climb mountains on a bicycle yet we do. Well….. crazy guys and girls do. What possesses humankind to do these things? It’s one thing to be in shape and to be tough but it takes the junk yard dog within to summit. That primitive human instinct that is stowed away somewhere deep inside that we have been taught to control, not reveal in polite and politically correct society. We have been programmed to suppress the beast but thankfully not entirely. Thankfully it can be called upon to save us when good sense and logic tell us to quit. That’s right quit just because things get really tough and painful. What comes after suffering? Torture! In my sport the mountains are the judge of ones fitness and ability to endure hardship both mental and physical for long periods of time. You quickly learn the truth about yourself. Pass/Fail lies just up ahead. Put your foot down and you’re screwed, faced with trying to get back on and moving forward on a steep grade. Ouch! Walking the rest of the way up…………..can’t be easy. Luckily Hincapie provided a sweeper truck and for some reason it hung close to me from time to time, but it always kept moving away.
I wonder if there will be a next time. I’m sure of it. Maybe not extreme mountains but definatly finding perfect places to ride. For me it’s quality and not so much about quantity. I ride about 200 miles a week anyway, some of it training but a lot of it group rides all of it is quality time on the bike. Why not take it on the road more often. I don’t see myself riding something like Ragbrau or riding coast to coast though. I mean how much of Kansas, for example, do I need to see. Not meaning to pick on Kansas. I could say the same thing about Florida. Spending the morning on the Pacific Coast Highway somewhere near Big Sur is a re-occurring daydream or how about Taos N.M or The Natchez Trace in Mississippi and Tennessee. You get my meaning. ANYWAY…………
IN CONCLUSION: I take back every mean thing I ever said about South Carolina roads and while it took me forever I finally get to cross North Carolina off the list of states that I’ve ridden in. It was a quality ride all the way.
PLEASE NOTE: The cassette and chain linked to above are for a 10 speed drive train. This post contains affiliate links where I am paid a pittance to fray the cost of maintaining this website. If you make a purchase using these links, I am forever grateful.