In the middle of any difficult race or event I think to myself: this seemed like * such * a great idea when I signed up a year ago.
When I signed up for Levi Leipheimer's King Ridge Gran Fondo a year ago I had lofty ambitions of training, hill repeats and logging thousands of miles in preparation. Reality: not so much.
In one of the magazines we got at the race I read the following written by Chris Coursey: “a cyclist capable of riding the king ridge, the remote and spectacularly rugged road that is the centerpriece of Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge granfondo is not the kind of rider who dusts off his machine every other weekend or so for a spin on the local bike trail. No, to ride the King Ridge a cyclist needs to be fit; the kind of fitness that comes only with riding at least a few thousand miles a year.”
You hear me say this every now and then: it was neither as difficult nor as easy as I thought.
As far as training I’ve put in about 1,200+ miles this year. It sounds like a lot but I will admit that I don’t train hard and my pace is casual. My thought was that I just needed to log the miles for the sake of building leg strength and mental confidence and that I wasn’t trying to break any personal records since it was my first time doing this ride. In the should of, could of, would have section: I should have attempted more difficult rides, I should have done hill repeats, I should use a heart rate monitor more to push myself on rides rather than coasting.
The Gran Fondo took me 10 hours and 38 minutes. Damn. Moving time was 9 hours and 20 minutes. For comparison the a-walk-in-the-park by comparison Marin Century took me 8 hours and 30 minutes…so at the same distance the Gran Fondo was 2 hours more difficult. Ouch. This was my first run at century rides. I went from my first century ride (Marin Century) a month ago to the Levi’d Gran Fondo. My goal in the future will be to train harder and ride those courses in advanced in order to chase after some personal records.
In short, the hills were massive. The crowds large. The descents were treacherous while wet. This course was meant to be respected.
While it sounds like an exaggeration the week of the race I tried to internalize the elevation profile. I tried to think about being tired at mile 30 and climbing, 46 and climbing and to add insult to injury climb a bit more at mile 72 because that’s just what you need at the end of a long day of riding.
Caption (above): SF tri jacket? Check. SF tri jersey? check. SF tri shorts. SF tri hat. SF tri socks. Damn, forgot my SF tri gloves. One thing I love about our club colors (even though I hate the actual color) is you can spot a fellow club member a mile away. Very useful for riding with friends.
Caption (above): Karen was kind enough to give me a ride up and I met up with Tona and some other SF tri folks.
Caption (above): The start had about 7,500 people. It took about 15 minutes to get everyone going. While it sounds like a lot of people I didn’t ever feel crowded. That may also have been because I was towards the back. It was a great group of people. Everyone I chatted with was friendly and passionate about cycling.
Caption (above): They did an amazing job of letting you know where the big climbs were and placing rest stops at the base of the climbs. At no point was I in need of an aid station since they had so many. Every aid station had a ton of waters, ERS electrolytes, fruit and food galore. In addition, every aid station had cheery mechanics that were willing and able to help you with any issues.
Caption (above): Despite all the people the fog gave the course an eerie feeling. While fog may suck for beach weather it is fantastic for a hard ride. Had it been over 70 degrees the difficulty of the ride would have multiplied (and it was already difficult as it was).
Caption (above): Even though they asked everyone to slow down it was still a ton of fun to go down the roads that weren’t slick. I would love to do this ride again without the rain.
Caption (above): I won’t lie: the rain was miserable. The descent into Jenner was easily one of the most beautiful rides I have ever seen. The road was smooth, windy and had amazing views of the Pacific Ocean.
Caption (above): I may have been slow as s**t but I didn’t walk my bike. So many people bailed or walked. I’m too proud for that. Apparently not proud enough for it to take my 10+ hours but definitely too proud to give up.
Caption (above): The course
Caption (above): The elevation profile. It’s no Death Ride but as far as Centuries go this one is up there in difficulty. The combo of the distance which takes a toll on your body and the climbs make this ride no joke.
My motto for this race was “slow and steady”. While the climbs were steep I tried to keep my heart rate down and just pedal and slowly and smoothly as I could.
Levi is everywhere at the race. He is hanging out, taking pictures with people. He IS the race. The reason the race has spirit is because he has input into how riders are treated. He partnered with Bike Monkey to put together a race that spared no expense.
While most races will have a lunch station that is an expanded aid station with fruit, cookies, potatoes and stuff the Gran Fondo had a working Deli where you could order sandwiches or take them to go if you were in a rush.
All the minor organizational details you can think of the Gran Fondo nailed. You want water? You don’t need to rely on volunteers to hand it to you. They had contraptions where you could refill.
YoYou want a jersey? They had gear galore and you could get it months in advanced through the mail.
You want to show up the day of to pick up your packet? Done. I hate races that force you to pick stuff up the day before. That may work for out of towners but people who live somewhat close don’t want to drive an hour to pick up a registration packet and come back at the crack of dawn the following day.
One of my favorite parts of the Gran Fondo was the food options after the race. It was like going to Off The Grid food truck events. You could walk around and pick from a dozen vendors and stuff your face. I chose Gerard’s Paella and they gave me a MASSIVE plate of paella. It was exactly what I needed after being on a bike for 10 hours.
I also love the marshals all over the course. I had never seen so many of them out for any course I’ve done. They were friendly and very helpful. Two of them rode with me for the last 20 miles. I was tired and it was late but they offered me to ride on their wheel to make my life a bit easier as I wrapped up the race.
I had a great time at Gran Fondo. Santa Rosa and Sonoma county are beautiful and I could really feel Levi’s passion for the race in the details. I would recommend this to anyone who wants a challenging race. Can’t wait to do it in 2012!