Gran Fondo New York is the biggest race that really isn’t a race, but sure felt like one. This year’s 100-mile GFNY was going to be the championship event for a dozen GFNY events run worldwide this past year so the competition would be stronger than ever.
Get yourself to the George Washington Bridge kitted up with your bike at 5:30am, and then stand and wait until it starts at 7am. The wait wasn’t that bad as it was a warm morning and chatting it up with all the NYC area riders was great for talking about course intel and how the tactics would play out. There are 6,000 riders in GFNY and I was able to get in to the 1st corral with my USAC license level. There was still a 200 rider corral in front of us with VIP/charity slots and of course the dozen or so top ranked riders in the event which was going to make for an interesting start.
We blasted out of the start faster than anybody thought and next thing I know I’m out of the saddle riding all out down the lower level of the GW bridge as the 200 riders in front of me are all doing the same. It was raining when we got outside and this ridiculous pace continued for the next few miles as we wound around dicey turns and down exit ramps all the while hammering and passing riders when I had the chance in hopes of getting up to the front of the group which I still couldn’t see. We continued blasting up the Henry Hudson drive which winds up the west shore of the Hudson river. On a typical day it’s likely a scenic ride, but on this wet and foggy morning it was all about dodging potholes and continuing to pass and move up the field. There was no shortage of shouting and hand signals in all kinds of different languages to add to the setting. The first key climb was at mile 10 and I was hoping to be in the front group of riders by then.
We got to the Alpine hill at mile 10 and I was around 20th so I could now see the front. There were already 2 Colombians off the front from earlier and you could see them up the hill motoring away. The field was watching regional stars like Mike Margarite, Gav Epstein, and Dan Chebanov – the poor guys who’d been singled out pre-race as the NYC’s hopes for bringing the GFNY title back home. I stayed with the group until the top of Alpine hill, worked the front a little on the flats and downhills as a sort-of-chasing, sort-of-not-chasing, waiting for the local studs to chase tactic was going on. Somewhere in the next few miles of winding local roads and dicey unpredictable turns Margarite and Epstein bridged up with a German and now there was a lead group of 5. Adios.
I was now in a field of about 40 riders after Alpine Hill had separated us from the rest and we now shifted into a more casual but consistent rotation knowing the next selection would happen on Bear Mountain – a 1200 foot climb at mile 40. We climbed up Bear Mountain at a consistent pace – it’s a lower grade climb than others on this course so it was easier to sit in and draft. Our group had splintered down to 13 riders by the time we reached the top – I knew the total since I was the 13th rider dangling on the back and had to catch back up on the descent back down. The first signs of leg cramps were showing up on this climb and with 50 miles to go I had to shift to the “don’t cramp” power output on climbs. A handful of other riders caught back on and we were back to a 20 rider group as we approached what insiders say is the toughest part of the course where you hit climb after climb until the last one at mile 63. If you make it to that climb you’re in good shape since there aren’t any more major climbs before the finish.
We split into different groups on these climbs and I got dropped on the last very steep Cheesecote climb as my leg cramping was too much. I rode alone for a while and finally caught a group of 5 some time later. At this point there was the lead group of 5 in a different area code by now, a group of 10 riders left from my Bear Mountain group, and then the 5 of us from what I could tell. It was immediately clear that I was the only English speaker in my group. If my initial jokes about catching back up to them being met with silence weren’t enough, the amount of time and hand gestures it took from them to ask me if I had extra water made it clear. I came prepared with 4 full bottles of sports drink on me since I knew I wouldn’t be stopping, and ended up rationing my last bottle between a couple of the guys to help with our international truce as we all took turns just riding as steady as we could the last 30 miles. It was 80 degrees and sunny now so everybody was dying of thirst. Two of the guys cramped and dropped back and that left me, a Frenchman, and an Italian to ride together to the finish. Kudos to those 2 guys for convincing casual cyclists we passed to give up an “extra” water bottle – language barrier and all! The international sign of pointing to a guys water bottle on his frame and making a hand gesture to your mouth will make any unsuspecting rider ‘hand it over’. I didn’t complain as one guy on a tri bike road with us long enough for us to down his bottle so he could take the empty bottle back and wish us luck.
2 miles from the finish there was a nasty climb from Hudson drive up to the finishing chute on 9W. I was worried they’d drop me here, but we all road steady – just under cramping level per usual recipe of the last couple hours. We did some quick handshakes and thanks before entering the finish chute where the Italian “self-proclaimed sprinter after the race” easily took us followed by me then the Frenchman. Great ride guys!
I finished 13th across the line, and was 3rd in my 40-44 age group. Joe was there at the finish to congratulate me and quickly figured out that I was the 1st American 40+ rider which sounded cooler than 14th so that’s the message that got sent home. It was such an awesome experience and race – wait it’s a Gran Fondo not a race – and I can’t help but plan to be there next year. Joe runs our new Fit Werx NY location just a few miles from the start, and with so many Fit Werx customers already in the field it’s a fantastic event to support. The talk of next year was immediately followed by the usual promise to lose weight and survive longer on those climbs!
Thanks for reading!