Trying Out a Gran Fondo

7:18 PM

So I met up with some teammates this morning (6:10 am - whew, early!) to head out to Minnetrista, Minnesota for the Lifetime Gran Fondo.  Fondos have been gaining in popularity around here for the last couple of years, but I had never done one.  In fact, I really didn't know what they were all about - I just knew they weren't a road race on the Minnesota Cycling Federation calendar.

While it wasn't quite a road race, it wasn't a tour-type ride, either.  I think each Fondo is different, but this one was a 110 kilometer mass-start ride.  There was no overall time kept, but there were three timed challenges out on the course to get your competitive juices flowing:

- The hill challenge consisted of a quarter-mile killer hill (right around 9.5% grade).  It was even more challenging because you really couldn't see the finish while you were struggling up the hill (and trying to ignore the possible heart attack you may have been having...).

- The sprint challenge was the longest one at around one mile, and was held on an open, flat stretch of road about half way through the route.

- The descent challenge was right before the finish, and was really just another sprint challenge that happened to be held on a downhill section of road.  The descent was not particularly steep, so we pretty much pedaled through the finish.

I have to say that I enjoyed this strange mix of a road race and easy tour.  It was great to socialize with my teammates, and it was also cool to kick it into another gear when one of the challenges came along.  The five of us road the sprint in TTT fashion, and I love that feeling of being a part of a well-oiled machine as we passed other individual riders on the course.  It was also nice to complete a 68-mile ride with support provided - peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (along with several other food choices) at the aid stations, and enough port-a-potties to keep even the most nervous bladder calm.

We really do have the best kits...
It was also great to see all of these other road riders out on the course - it would be awesome if some of them would show up at the actual road races.  Many of the other athletes were clearly triathletes, and while they steamed ahead in the early miles on their aero bars, we started picking them off again as we ticked over the 50 mile mark and the rolling hills started to take their toll.  Since we were riding as a team, we picked up a train of other riders when we hit the head-wind.  I was ok with them trailing off the back of our pace line - I had seen enough bad riding as we overtook riders, so better to have them behind than in front!

We finished with great fanfare and got to enjoy some beer and a picnic under the shade.  The only downside to the Fondo?  The price.  At $80 there was no way I was going to recoup the cost in burgers, chips, granola bars, and salted nut rolls - though I did give it the old college try...

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