Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Dwaine Visits the GFE -- by Dwaine

Vicious Cycles promotes a number of Gran Fondo style events in Eastern Washington and I finally experienced the fun. 'Gran Fondo Ephrata' is the first Fondo of the five event series and is described as the 'easy' one. This year's event used a modifed course due to snow. This change lowered the climbing to just 3500 feet but extended the length to 84 miles. About 30 of those miles are on relatively smooth gravel roads. This was my first Vicious Cycles Fondo and I learned a bunch.

At the end of this post I've included a link to a short video that gives a racer's view of the event and the mixed surfaces we encountered.

For this event I brought my commuting/rain/rando Cannondale T700. This 90's aluminum touring bike has aluminum fenders, a front rack, and an eight speed downtube shifted drive train. It rolls on 35mm Pasela road tires with tubes and latex sealant. This tire setup is heavy and probably costs a bit in rolling resistance but has proven reliable and gravel worthy. Although not modern this bike has served me well and is well tested. It also stood out in a sea of modern Carbon bikes.

Ephrata was forecast for temps from 30 to 50 degress and overcast skies. The four mile neutral roll out did not help me warm up much. But I was thankful as the first couple miles were narrow with an irrigation ditch waiting for any rider who strayed off the two track path.

As soon as we were released the pace quickened yet I was able to stay in touch with the lead group. This 16 mile section was paved, flat, and featured a headwind. Perfect conditions to 'sit in' the protection of the group.

At mile 20 we started up the Overen Road reroute. This dirt road climb quickly strung the group out and I chose to ascend at a safe and steady pace. At the top of the 700 foot climb I burnt a match to close the 50 foot gap to the next rider. But it was for naught. I encountered no riders interested in descending Overen at Cyclocross pace.

When I hit the Baird Springs Rd junction I joined two other riders. I knew this road was a slight descent but did not realize it was unpaved. We worked together at a pretty hot pace. The pace was faster than I preferred and the loose gravel kept it interesting. The other two riders seemed keen on bridging to a group up the road. We caught the group of five at the tunnel and I hid in the back for the next few miles in an attempt to regain my strength.

Sitting in was a good plan executed too late. At the 30 mile mark we encountered a small climb on Stuhlmiller Rd. We could see what I believe was the lead group cresting the climb. But my legs were already hurting. After the Stulmiller climb we eventually regrouped but I was now clearly in a group that wanted a faster pace than I did. Yet I chose to stay in the group for the next ten miles until we reached the aid station at mile 42.

Instead of stopping at the aid station I leveraged my onboard resources. I brought enough food and water for the entire ride.

Just as I passed the aid station a small group exitted. Yeah! One of the riders indicated he needed to make a rolling water closet stop and I followed suit.

We then started working on closing the 100 yard gap and my body said 'No, uh-uh, sorry'. I yelled to the other rider 'I'm out' and sat up.

At this point I pondered my situation. I knew that the next 18 miles were up the nearly flat Palisades Rd. which often includes a head wind. I had been warned that this is the point in which a rider most wants to be sharing the work. Yet I was alone, tired, and watching the group ahead quickly shrink in the distance. So I slowed substantially and started consuming the food and water I had carried for the previous two hours. At my slow pace I knew my strength would return.

When the first group came to me I joined but was spit out the back with a minute or two. They were too fast for my tired body.

The experience with the second group to come by was similar except that I gave up more quickly.

The third group to come by was moving faster than I wanted but I managed to barely hang with them. I had a good suffer going but was at least moving faster than if alone. It was at this time that another rider in the group noticed my rear tire riding a little low. I chose to hope for the best and to keep pedalling until I was forced to make a repair.

As we moved up Palisades road the wind subsided a bit. When the road neared the end of this valley the road turned to smooth dirt and was sometimes in the shade of the steep cliffs. I don't know if the dirt slowed the group of the shade refreshed my soul, but I started to regain my composure. Of course, this didn't last long.

At about the 60 mile mark we left the shade of the canyon walls and started up the 'Three Devils'. The first is short and quite steep at 15% or so. I chose my lowest gear and entered survival mode. This was the low point of my day.

Dwaine showed off the Cyclopath jersey for GFE. This photo taken as the group is just seconds from starting up the first of the Devils.

Despite the difficulty of the first pitch by the time I summitted the last of the Devils I was in better shape than when I started. With no group to dictate my pace I chose a steady and sustainable pace that allowed me to get back into my comfort zone. I was now about 65 miles into the ride, nursing a cramp, and hanging onto another rider's wheel. He was in about the same shape and also fighting a cramp.

At mile 72 I was passed by three riders wearing Vicious Cycles kits who seemed open to having a fourth. I needed to pick up my pace to hang with them and my legs seemed to second my decision by stepping up to the task.

Over the next few miles of rollers we sometimes rode two by two on the short climbs. I was curious about the club and they shared their knowledge.

The course profile showed a fast descent from mile 75 to 80 with the course progressing to more or less flat for the finish. I offered that my legs were pretty much 'burnt slap up' and that they needn't worry about my sprinting potential. They laughed. Instead of a sprint, they suggested that, at most, I might observe 'only a slight increase in speed' at the finish.

The descent down Sheep Canyon was glorious. These riders knew the road, signaled where there might be gravel washed onto the pavement, and ushered me down in style. At times I was nearly spun out. As the grade lessened at about mile 80 we caught two riders. Caught, as in, closed the gap on. And caught, as in, offered some fast wheels to follow. Which they did.

Over the next four miles I watched as business started to get interesting. After making our final turn the pace started to quicken. The Vicious Cycles folks realized they had one rider who posed no threat. That was me. And two riders who did. I was not jockeying for position but the two other newcomers were. I was working pretty hard to hang on and did see 27 mph on my Garmin. My finish was uneventful. I followed the wheel in front of me while a few in the front scrambled for better position.

As soon as I stepped off the bike I realized my legs were about ready to seize. I walked a couple shaky laps around the parking lot until the muscles were eventually convinced the pedalling was done.

When it was all over I learned I finished 35th out of 200 at an average speed of 17.2 m.p.h. I was quite pleased with this performance.

As I loaded my bike I noticed that the chain was still on the 14 tooth cog from the fast finish. That made me smile. I also inspected the rear tire. It had lost about half of its pressure but the sealant had done its job well enough to keep me rolling to the finish.

Well after the event was over I realized how I might have ridden a better race. My three GFE lessons are listed below.

Packing enough food and water was a great plan. It allowed me to choose to stop at the aid station or not.

Working hard down Baird Springs was not wise. The chase to connect cost some matches. And the pace of the group we caught was a bit fast for me.

Failing to schedule a lower paced 'rest' segment before the aid station was also a poor choice. Looking back it seems reasonable that groups recently rested from the aid station would be running a 'little hot' compared to me given my lack of rest.

Next on my Fondo calendar is the Gran Fondo Leavenworth in May. It features a few more miles of length and one more mile of elevation gain. Giddy Up!

Link to short video of 2017 GFE racer's view: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnDB6qQtqUc

Link to a five minute 'quad copter' video of this year's GFE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxIwiFf_YIs

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