This post was written last week in anticipation for the Lifetime Gran Fondo Due to poor planning by yours truly, it is being posted today. Be sure to check back soon for Mike’s recap of his Gran Fondo ride.
In January, when I first started writing this column, I mentioned that I had begun training for the Lifetime Fitness Gran Fondo. At the time, the available distances were in miles: 100, 60, and 40. I signed up for the sixty-mile distance reasoning that since I had never done a 100, a “century,” it would probably be wise for me to commit myself to a distance that would pose a challenge but be something I could handle.
The Lifetime Fitness Gran Fondo is now a week away. I have attended countless spinning classes and ridden over 900 miles since I signed up eight months ago. Curiously, I feel both more prepared and less prepared for this event than I thought I would by this time.
Two months ago, I participated in my first group ride and covered 51 miles—the last 25 of which in a sort of no man’s land far behind the peloton. As taxing as that ride was, it gave me confidence that, perhaps, a sixty-mile journey was not out of my reach.
I have cycled many hundreds of miles since. A month ago, I pedaled 57 miles from Longfellow to Afton and back. I felt incredibly strong, and the prospect of propelling myself for sixty miles now seemed easily within reach.
In January, I imagined traveling the Gran Fondo course on my aluminum Fuji, “Basho,” and now I have a carbon-frame Look named “Jolie.” When I registered, I had gone on solo rides almost exclusively and had never participated in a group ride, and now I rarely ride solo.
Last Saturday, then, I decided it was time for me to pre-ride a portion of the Gran Fondo route. I downloaded the course from Map My Ride and petitioned my cycling club companions to see if any of them wanted to join me. Duane, new to cycling this summer but who has already acquitted himself as a strong rider, agreed.
We met at Crown College, a point that I incorrectly inferred from the map as the course start. Duane had ridden twenty miles from Eden Prairie just to meet me there, so he was well lathered by the time we rolled out.
I had originally planned to ride 35, maybe 40, miles of the 64-mile (100 kilometer) route. However, I was thinking that I might ride the entire course if I was feeling well since I had no pressing engagements for the day.
The ride proved to be hilly, hot, and windy, so I happily revised my original proclamation that we ride 64-miles, and we truncated our course by lopping off a couple of scenic loops.
There were incidents. Like the gang of three we spied ahead of us up the road who were lolling along the shoulder at a conversational pace. Duane was pulling at the time, and I felt him lift the tempo. He shouted over his shoulder, “We have to catch those bastards!” I shrugged, latched on to his wheel for a while, and, as we sped past these three wise men, we exchanged greetings and forged on ahead.
Soon, there was a guy on a Cervelo Time Trial bike scorching past me to catch Duane. One of his comrades leisurely rode up alongside me as I was “hammering” and said, “How far are you guys riding today?”
“Forty, maybe fifty, miles,” I wheezed. “You?”
“I’m going 100 miles today,” he said coolly, “and then I’m running for ten. It’s my last long day before the Ironman Triathlon.” Then, just like that, he knifed through the air and sped on up the road with his two companions.
We had taken a number of wrong turns. Somehow, though, we ended up at the roundabout in Watertown. We misread the map yet again in our efforts to find the right road back to St. Bonifacius, but finally, we found it.
On one of our last climbs, Duane looked over at me and asked, “Is it me or are we always going uphill?”
I agreed that our path had been inordinately hilly, and then, just like that, we were on our last hill with the St. Bonifacius water tower rising in the distance.
As soon as we crested the hill, we could see the pedestrian bridge that we’d pedaled under shortly after we lit out some two hours before. There was also a bar, “Sherm’s,” near the top of the hill. We decided to stop for a post-ride beer and, when I stepped into the bar wearing my helmet, my wrap around sunglasses, my cycling jersey, my lycra-spandex shorts, and my cycling shoes, the locals craned their necks and looked at me as though an astronaut had just stepped out of a lunar module and into their midst.
“Is it okay if we bring our bikes onto the patio?” I asked the bartender. “Yeah,” she said, “just bring ‘em through the bar and go through that door,” and she pointed to a non-descript gray door along the far wall.
The locals, in their turn, came out to the patio to smoke cigarettes and eyeball our bikes. They seemed more curious about our bikes than they did about us. Who could blame them? I thought much the same way about men in spandex not that long ago.
One local couldn’t quite wrap his mind around why we would prefer to cycle the rolling roads instead of the flat trail path that goes through town. And, hot and sweaty as we were from our exertions, I have to admit that his assessment of our choice seemed reasonable.
I left “Sherm’s” with no illusions about how well I would perform in the Gran Fondo next week. But I know one thing: I sure am glad that I signed up for this event last winter. Otherwise, I might have never met the local who observed: “That Bruce Armstrong guy probably rides a bike like yours.”