Be sure to check out Part I of Mike’s story from earlier this week.
Walker and I never saw the others again. For the next 50 miles, Walker and I rode together. It was a good thing, too. He suffered a flat after about 18 miles, so I was near to lend him a spare tube and wait with him while he made his repair.
Although the Gran Fondo was not a race, there were races within the race. There were sprint and time trial sections as well as a couple of timed climbs. I rode conservatively. Over a shorter distance I might have attacked the hills or possibly even attempted a sprint or two, but since I was charting new territory for myself, I had no idea how my legs would fare. That said, I felt pretty good.
It was a lovely day, and the cool weather turned out to be a boon, for, other than the first few minutes or so, I never once felt cold throughout the duration of the ride. Of course, I never came close to overheating either.
The wind was not a factor for most of the course, and during the one stretch when there was wind Walker and I got in a line of about a dozen cyclists with a rider who put in an epic turn at the front. I was third in line and kept waiting for him to peel off and let the next rider take over, but he never did. He seemed to have pulled for about 15 minutes.
When we finally came to a stop, I coasted up alongside him and said, “Dude, that was an awesome pull,” and patted him on the back. “Glad to be of service,” he said affably.
After 50 miles my legs felt great and I was still spinning at 23 m.p.h. on the flats without much effort. Soon there was another incline, and the group that I had fallen in with fell behind me as I scampered up the hill.
I rode the final 14.5 miles alone.
The final three miles were the hardest, for what seemed a modest decline going down Hwy 7 three and a half hours before now seemed like Mont Ventoux. I chugged up the last hill at 13 m.p.h.
I didn’t know what to expect as I took a left onto King’s Point Road. I imagined cheering crowds pressed against the chicanes as I roared down the finishing straight.
There was almost no one in sight.
Except, far up the lane, I spied the tiny but unmistakable outlines of my wife and daughter along the left hand side. As I neared, my wife stepped out in front of me and snapped a few pictures before I pedaled on past. I crossed the finish line and rode a couple hundred feet before turning around.
There, running down the lane toward me, I saw my nine-year-old daughter screaming with excitement as though I had just won the Tour de France.
When the results were in, I was pleased with my performance. I averaged 18.1 m.p.h. for 64.75 miles, and I placed 13th out of 32 riders in my age group for the Hill Climb category. Duane, who had never even planned to ride the Fondo, finished with Loren about 19 minutes ahead of me and placed second in his age group in the sprint category. Brad, our club coordinator, finished 15th overall.
Last January, I could hardly imagine riding in the Lifetime Fitness Gran Fondo, and now I can hardly imagine not riding in it again.