and all the reports from last year’s Fondo made it sound fantastic. The morning started out brisk, it was the coldest morning
yet for the season. I am guessing that it was probably 34F at the start and it was clear and sunny. It quickly warmed up and probably hit the low 60’s by afternoon.
Hincapie invites some of his pro cyclist friends to add to the celebrity atmosphere. They had remote controlled helicopters
with cameras at the start and plenty of news people. The ride started around 9am and for some reason the cold start did not seem to bother anyone. A peloton formed that included the celebrity riders and maybe 150 or more fondo racers. There would be prizes handed out for the fastest chip time up Skyuka Mountain (largest climb of the day at about 1,800 ft) and the overall finish. The pace for the first 20+ miles before Skyuka Mountain was not as much of a problem as the curves in the road. We saw numerous riders overcooking turns and I had my wheels slip a little on some of the turns.
The peloton was largely intact at 22+ miles when we hit the base of Skyuka Mountain. The climb is a little over 4 miles long and has an average grade of 9%. It seemed much longer when riding it. There were 7 riders that individually broke off the front of the peloton soon after we hit the climb. The peloton slowly became smaller and the pace was set by the celebrity riders (I think there were 6) and George Hincapie himself. After a mile the pace had thinned the peloton and I was riding shoulder to shoulder with George Hincapie. Michael Schär was in front of me, Christian Vande Velde was to his side, Taylor Phinney was in front of him, Steve Bauer was in the mix. The celebrity riders were setting a hard pace up this climb but they would stick together for the rest of the ride and were not racing. The remaining riders in the peloton were there to win the prizes which included a top of the line BMC road bike for first male and first female finishers. There was some commotion in the peloton about half way up the climb when we were joined by Tom Danielson who had a flat tire and who was pulled up the hill by the Mavic motorcycle which was carrying spare wheels just for this purpose. Tommy D. took the spot in front of me at the front of the peloton. I noticed that he was riding a Cervelo that had a very similar paint job and I wished that I was wearing my favorite Garmin Jersey. The celebrity riders were joking around and talking about someone’s contract, then George did a fake attack. He rode off to the side and gapped the group while glancing back repeatedly. Everyone laughed and he fell back into the group. Two more celebrity riders played the same
game and more laughs. After a while, around 3 miles into the climb the road flattened just a little and the pace stayed about the same. I stayed in the saddle and just slowly rode ahead of the group. The group may have had as few as 20 riders in it by now and a long stream of riders behind them. As the road steepened again, I was off in front of the group and I tried to pick up the pace. Not long after, there were two riders out of their saddles passing me on the left. I was working hard and just kept my same pace. The first of the two kept going but the super skinny second rider stalled and I soon passed him. I asked him, how are things going, as I passed him. He was not amused, he gave me a dirty look and just fell back to the group. The other guy stalled after a short time and he would not look at me as I passed him.
As I passed through the chip timer near the top, I was told that I was the 8th guy up Skyuka Mountain. Jon Morgan had already told me that he looked at last year’s results and the majority of the guys who finished first up Skyuka Mountain did not end up doing well in the overall finish. I was a little worried myself but quickly passed most of the guys who crested the mountain first. I was not really sure how many of the 7 guys that I had passed. I was solo on the difficult hairpin turns on the decent. They had caution signs for some of the difficult turns and volunteers waving flags on the more deadly hairpin off camber turns. Billy Campbell had scared us pretty good with decent stories the night before at dinner and it was probably a good thing.
At the bottom of Skyuka Mountain a dark Ford police car pulled out in front of me and lead the way. It had lots of red and blue
flashing lights all over the car but no lights on top. He stayed about 25 yards in front of me and I was feeling good. I now took all my arm warmers, vest and extra gloves and put them in my jersey pockets. Somehow while transferring everything from the vest pockets to the jersey pockets I seemed to be missing some snacks. At this point in the ride I had about 50 miles until the finish. They had police at every intersection, and volunteers helping them. I could see them talking on radios and calling out split times. After riding really hard for what seemed like 15 miles, I was at the top of Howards Gap and I finally asked a volunteer how many guys were in front of me. He told me that there was only one guy in front of me and that he could see at least a mile behind me and could not see the peloton. I later learned that I had put 5 minutes on the peloton around this time. The Skyuka Mountain climb had broken up the riders and it was not until they regrouped and started working together would they start closing the gap.
It was very windy and I was having some trouble judging my pace. I have a good idea what my maximum pace is for the last 40 miles of rollers. A friend that was familiar with the area had told me to expect a course with mostly rollers. I figured that I would ride my max 40 mile roller pace and I would just have to keep it up for 50 miles. I was not expecting a 78 mile course with 8,700 ft of difficult climbing and brutal winds.
Somehow that did not really matter at the time. I was more focused on just trying to catch the police car. Sometimes he would
shoot up a hill and slow at the top and wait for me. I did not want to keep him waiting and would motivate myself to race up another hill. I also was a little confused by the attention I would get when passing through small towns with the police escort. They would clear all of the cars out of the way and people would cheer me on, I assume they saw the police car and thought that something important was going on. The guys with radios would be yelling split times like they expected me to catch the guy in front of me,
everyone would look at these guys with radios yelling and then look at me, more cheering. As I started to tire, I turned up my music and just rode harder. I stayed focused on the cool air, eating my snacks and taking sips from my bottles. But it was chasing the police car that was my main motivation.
Then police car pulled over to the far side of the road and stopped. I was not sure what to think. I wondered if he knew that the peloton would soon catch me and was giving up on me. Soon after that I started another big shady climb, one that had signs on each switchback and I was at switchback 16 out of 17. That did not make much sense for two reasons, first, this did not look like the rollers that I was promised. Second, why would they count the switchbacks in reverse order. All that I knew was that I needed to ride as fast as I could and that is what I did. I now knew why the police car had stopped, no one would want to drive a car up this
hillside. It was only one lane wide and two cars would not be able to pass if someone was coming down.
After this 17 switchback climb, the rest of the course was mostly rollers, flat or slightly descending with wind being the main
obstacle. I just pedaled as fast as I could and I finished second place with the peloton slowly breaking up along the way and working itself down to something like 6 guys. They were able to work together and close the gap to about 1.5 minutes and they sprinted for the remain podium spot.