Monday, May 09, 2011

New York Gran Fondo Wows (c)

Pro rider George Hincapie was at the start and rode at least to Piermont,
NY (other sightings have been reported)
May 9, 2011
All Photos, Benepe (c)
Yesterday's long anticipated Gran Fondo New York made even the fittest riders exhausted, and brought surprising results in all fields.

For one, the race format, which has its roots in Italy, brought many Italians to start line, most of them exceptionally fit,  ready for their American adventure and perhaps one could say, much more experienced in the art of Gran Fondoism.
Clayton Barrows in his Rite Aid days

Riders from 54 other countries were also represented at the Gran (103 miles) and Medio (65 miles) Fondos, the first of their kind to come to the New York area.

But it was an American who won the 103-mile distance's timed climbs: Clayton Barrows, a 28-year-old and ex-pro rider from the Rite Aid team who now competes with a local club.

"We didn't ride very hard between the climbs, but when we got to them I just went as hard as I could," said Barrows. "A race like the Gran Fondo is really great because it gives us a chance to be exposed to riders outside of the race community," he added.

Barrows who is studying for his PhD in energy engineering at Pennsylvania State University came in with a time of 24:53:97 over four challenging hills, including Perkin's Drive in Harriman State Park, and Buckberg Mountain Road in Tomkins Cove.

His New York-based amateur team, Stan's No Tubes/ AXA Equitable, affiliated with the Century Road Club Association, also clinched the team title with a combined climb time of 1:43:47:65.
Capt. Mahon riding to the race from Fort Lee, NJ on an empty highway--wheeee!
Known more for his prowess at criteriums, Barrows won last year's Grant's Tomb Crit which draws mostly local riders. He came in 12th at last year's Tour of the Battenkill in upstate New York, a 60-mile race with similarly challenging climbs to the New York Gran Fondo.

Marti Shea, 48, was the first place finisher for the women, completing the climbs in 29:17:66, only five minutes more than Barrows who is 20 years younger.

A previous Olympic trial runner, Shea said yesterday's race was relaxing in between the climbs: "I took advantage of the whole day and had fun," she said, stopping at all the rest stops and talking to fellow riders. Nevertheless don't be fooled by Shea's casual comments: she won the Hill Climb Series, a hill climbing race over several northeastern mountains for 2010 and 2009, as well as several other hill climbing events over the past six years.

Shea was also 28th overall in the combined men's and women's fields.  Shea's husband, Joe Tonan, 46, was second in his age group, and both will now qualify in the top ten percent finishers to attend the UCI World Championships in Belgium this fall.
The first riders coming across the bridge--what a rush!
Shea confounded the race timers at the finish who thought a mistake had been made when they read her age. Owner of Select Fitness, a training company in Marblehead, MA., Shea said she completes 10 to 15 bike races a year but this was the first Gran Fondo she had ever done.
The first climb of the day on Henry Hudson Drive
Yesterday's Gran Fondo event included more than 1,100 finishers in the 103-mile race, and over 200 finishers in the Medio Fondo. The longer race included four challenging mountain climbs, and the first for all racers was over Little Tor mountain on Central Highway that took riders from New City and dropped them down into West Haverstraw on the other side.

What mattered was not the overall time that took cyclists to complete the tour, but the time riders spent going up timed climbs, two for the medio fondo, four for the gran fondo.

Cynthia and Nikolaus Ware at the first timer
"It was great watching the first guy come up all by himself, then suddenly there was a whoosh and a wave of riders came up behind him," said Cynthia Ware who was noting times and numbers at the start of the first climb with her son Nikolaus and fiance Robert Youngz. Asked if she enjoyed working at the race for Super Race Systems, a race timing company, on Mother's Day, she said, "I love it, it's been huge fun." Her son Nikolaus agreed.

BBB also did the race just to see how challenging it was. There was no doubt that from the beginning to the end, the race organizers Lidia and Uli Fluhme were determined to surprise, delight, and yes, challenge the racers.

It started out inauspiciously, with a beautifully empty second level of the George Washington Bridge.

I rode to the race in the opposite direction with Captain Bob Mahon of the Clarkstown Police, entering the course from Fort Lee, and coming to the front of the start line inside the bridge (that was a cool trick that I bet a bunch of you will try next time.)

At the start line was a surprise visit from BMC-team pro racer George Hincapie who showed up all smiles but apparently may have left the course before the finish (his whereabouts at the finish or his total time have not been confirmed yet by the organizers.)
The first rest stop in Piermont, NY where riders had bagels, drinks, bananas and other snacks
Hincapie's time was not reported in the final results, but it's not unusual for race promoters to bring in big names for a race, and for those riders to take off before the event is finished.  Nevertheless, Hincapie's presence, combined with the first-ever closed bridge cycling event offered a stimulating start to the cool 55-degree weather.

And these organizers would not disappoint.

From the beginning not one hill was left undisturbed. Instead of taking the mostly flat Route 9W, the course took riders along what is casually called "River Road," and formally known as Henry Hudson Drive, a 7-mile, north-bound hilly route that starts in Fort Lee, NJ, and ends in a killer, one kilometer climb to the top of Alpine Drive in Alpine, NJ.
The Piermont Fire Dept. was there to assist too

And that was just the beginning.

After a relatively easy eight more miles to the first rest stop in Piermont, NY, a favorite destination for many local cyclists, the race began its climbing stages in earnest, first through Nyack, back up to Route 9W, over Hook Mountain, then over to South Mountain Road in New City, NY via Routes 9W and 23.

On Hook Mountain I took a few minutes to appreciate the fact that hand cyclist JohnTartaglio, 24, was doing the 103-mile course.

At Central Highway/ Little Tor, the wheat were separated from the chaff, including yours truly who used the excuse of having to stop and take photos to get off the bike. My legs felt like they were churning not butter but lead, and I kept looking at the road wondering where the steepness was coming from since it didn't look so bad.

The second timers of the climb were located at the top, but some riders were so exhausted they didn't care as they rolled their bikes casually over them---while walking.
John Tartaglio, hand cyclist cresting Hook Mountain
Anyone doing the 65-mile Medio Fondo had to descend another two miles into West Haverstraw, and then climb back up the other side of Central Highway/ Little Tor, and it suddenly occurred to me that maybe Uli and Lidia Fluhme belonged to the Secret Society of Unintentional Torturers.

Yes, it's a made up name, but I kept wondering what kind of personalities these two had, to take normal people up these roads. It became an internal back and forth dialogue of "You can do this, no you can't," accompanied by severe pain.

Cyclists at start of Little Tor
The joke was on us, but so were the benefits, since such a Gran Fondo could never live up to its name if it were anything other than Grand. And with finishing would surely come boasting rights. And I would be damned if I didn't finish.

On the way down the other side of Central Highway and on my way to the second rest stop in Haverstraw, I passed my colleague Captain Bob Mahon who was on his way back up the mountain already, and way too cheerily called out to me from the corner.

If I had had my druthers I would have skipped this part altogether, especially the climb back up from the town, where unbridled SUV drivers pushed me to the curb and dangerously into the open drains alongside the road, but no biggie I didn't go down. I just wish SUV drivers could exchange places with us for one day and see how obnoxious they can be.

I am not sure why, but after the turn up the mountain, a woman driving a car called out to me and asked if I needed help: I said, "Yes, could you drive me to the top," I said, but she probably thought I was joking and drove on.
Sign in Italian: should have read it first!
A nice touch were the signs marking the climbs with Italian names. This one said "Colle della Punta Rocciosa," average (grade) 8.4%, Max (grade) 14%, 280 feet."

I haven't forgotten that the average grade on Mont Ventoux, one of the steepest climbs in the Tour de France is less than the max on the Colle della Punta Rocciosa, and even Mont Ventoux felt easier than this.

Cyclist at West Haverstraw rest stop
After making the trip back along South Mountain Road, the route became much more direct, passing through New City, Blauvelt and Strawtown Road before turning left in West Nyack.

The roads along this portion were extremely beautiful, though also at times remarkably lonely. I remembered riding these routes before with my Colombian cycling friends and was grateful because I knew the way.

And though the route going up to Haverstraw was well marked, with numerous police and other volunteers holding traffic and showing us the way, the return was not as well marked and at one intersection the officer seemed to be daydreaming.

There I nearly got mowed down by crossing cars. However, almost all the towns reported that the race went off very well.

Cyclists should be mindful to never curse at or harbor negative thoughts for the police in any of these towns in the future (red light tickets and otherwise), because the officers did a terrific job guiding drivers and keeping the roads open for cyclists to pass safely and smoothly through intersections.

If anything, the Gran Fondo brought police and cyclists together in harmony.

One cyclist riding, the other walking up Central Highway/
Little Tor
Still, I kept checking to make sure I was on the right track, and occasionally I passed other riders wearing the now ubiquitous black Gran Fondo uniform that came with the entry fee, many of whom were dropping like flies along the roadside.

The return was an exercise in how not to quit: In Palisades, NY, with no food or water, and legs feeling like plaster, I almost called a friend for a ride home, but realized I hadn't eaten or drunk enough and stopped for a breather.

Despite the terrific organization of the route and the placement of the four rest stops, the last rest stop came too late and in a skippable location, at the valley of a hill right before the entrance to IBM in Palisades.

I am sure the organizers had had no choice but to put it there, but by then I had already been out of fluids and food for about 12 miles, and I could not imagine climbing another hill from a dead start. I opted to fly up the hill instead of stopping, and then take a break at the Market in Palisades, NY for ice and iced tea--with the emphasis on ice.

Antonio Spaggiare, 46, after finishing 103 miles
Another small blunder occurred at the turn back onto River Road at Alpine, NJ, where I missed the signs and saw no one directing traffic. A word to the wise: always read and memorize the race course before you leave home.
Franco Spaggiare, 77. After 65 miles he
rode to Central Park in Manhattan
There were many surprises to this race. For one, I did not think I could finish and I did. But there were so many other accomplishments much greater than my own.

Among them was Antonio Spaggiare, 46, and his father Franco, 77, of Sant' Agostino, Italy.

Antonio who completed the longer course said he does on average 10 Gran Fondos a year, and this was one was "Really hard."

Group from  Italy loving the event at finish line represented co-sponsor Avis Faenza
The elder Spaggiare, appearing fresh as a daisy after riding 65 miles, asked me in Italian how he could get to Central Park to do more biking. A race-worker switched from English to almost perfect Italian to give him instructions on how to get there--another 6 miles from River Road, which would bring his total mileage to over 71 for one day.  Not to mention there was another steep climb leading out of the park before he reached the GWB.

With them was an entire entourage of Italian women representing a race co-sponsor.

Among the women who finished the race there was 67-year old Melinda Beige from Park City who finished the 103-mile course.

Michal Seidenman of Tenafly, NJ completed the 103-mile course, and said she tracked over 8,000 feet of climbing in the day, with a time of 0:50:37:69. Riding with her friends from the Bicycle Touring Club of North Jersey, Michal said, "It was a great event, I definitely will do it again next year!"

Both among men and women, the largest number of competitors were in the 44 to 49 age group.
Captain Robert Mahon who helped organize volunteers and police officers for the New City section also participated in the 65-mile distance.

He said after four hours he began to realize that maybe he needed new cycling shoes his feet hurt so much. "I've done 50 miles a number of times before, and this was the hardest cycling I have ever done," said Mahon who only stopped once to eat a cookie.

And although most of the race was pretty safe, only five accidents have been reported so far.

Descending the hill from State Line to Palisades, NY, a male rider was injured with a broken collarbone or wrist when he collided with three other unhurt riders.  Sonya Harum who was working inside the Market adjacent to the crash at the time said, "It was pretty terrifying," as she described a four-person crash, with cyclists skidding more than 20 feet. "We all kind of ran out to help," she said. The rider who was hurt has not been identified and was taken to Nyack Hospital, confirmed Sargeant Sullivan of the Orangetown Police Dept.
At the finish line in Palisades Park, Henry Hudson Drive 
Later, three cyclists went off the mountain on their descent south on Central Highway, one breaking his collarbone, the second hurting his back, and the third losing consciousness. Two of those riders were hospitalized, the third refused medical attention, according to Mahon.

A fifth, unidentified male rider sustained minor injuries in Piermont, NY and was taken to Nyack Hospital, according to Officer Gaynor of the Piermont Police Dept.

No word still on the 10 percent top finishers who will be qualifying for the UCI World Championships, but those results should be up shortly on the Gran Fondo site.


Andy B from Jersey said...

Nice write-up Jen! I'm looking to do at least the Marty's Gran Fondo in Morristown this year on Aug 28th and possibly the Philly two weeks before.

I banged out 50 miles all alone yesterday at a 16.6 average which included at least 500 feet of climbing. Not too bad for a guy that could still loose 30lbs! (I'm working on it)

Don't forget the Longest Day Ride coming up on June 11th. 208 miles from High Point, NJ to Cape May ... all downhill. Not for me again this year but I'm promising myself definitely for next.

Andy B from Jersey said...

Oh yeah! And congrats on doing the ride! Wasn't clear at first that you were doing it from the beginning.

And Mr. Spaggiare! Wow! He's ripped! Looks like he could take me out on any of the climbs. I can only hope to be in half that good of shape at his age.

Mister Radio said...

Nice report, great do you get the energy to write, ride and take pix!?

Anonymous said...

Hincapie rode the whole thing from what i could see ... i rode the last 5 miles to bear mountain with him and then saw him again near little tor southbound. He passed me later approaching Sparkill on the return trip. He certainly didn't take off early.

Martin said...

Great post Jenny. I did that ride once (last year) and it was grueling (and that didn't include the River Road climb -- yikes). I think the race planners were going for maximum challenge.

(I didn't know about the event, but happened to be out for a 66 mile ride late in the day and noticed all the Gran Fondo jerseys -- mostly on their return.)

Congratulations for finishing to you and all the other riders doing it.

jomo said...

Very nice job on the write-up,to add to your thoughts; the signs and the police were godsends as there were no street markings on the course. The cue sheet if you can actually call it that did not have directions, (left or right) nor did it have the SAG phone number, on the way back I stopped to help a fellow rider who was cramping badly and realized that the cue sheet did not have any contact info. I beleived he abandoned before the fourth climb.

The organizers need to provide more porto-potties at the rest stops if they don't want people peeing in the streets. I waited to use the faciities and regret it as it took upwards of what seemed like 15 minutes, there were 5 stalls avaialable for 3,000 riders?

All in all, a very good, very hard ride, with better organization, I hope to be back next year.

Anonymous said...


Pat said...

Amazing when people take on such physical activities. I still prefer jogging


Jeffrey Donenfeld said...

Hey! I just did the 2012 Gran Fondo, and it was great! Did you do it this year?

If you're interested, here's my blog post..