Luke and Marty during the warm-up ride on Saturday. Below, the results from Sunday's event and below that, Dave's image and message and then Luke's thrilling description of the ride. Leaves you on the edge of your chair in anticipation of the end.
At the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo, Ohioans Taylor Kruse, Marty Sedluk and Luke Russell swept to the top 3 spots. Note too that Lori Neduscu finished 3rd.in the female division while inhibited by a crash (she's ok). Others doing well are Dave Chesrown, (3rd in the short Alpine Loop route), Gus Cook, Philippe, Bob Swoga, Steve Fields and Rick Miller.
Dave Chesrown on the wheel of Team Sky's Joe Dombrowski. Dave says, "He later burned me off near the top of the climb. His pace was social and I should have been able to hang on but just don't have the fitness with the lack of rides this year. I did catch up on the decent and rode with them until 2 miles from the finish, slowed up by cramps. It was an epic weekend and a highly suggested bucket list adventure for any avid cyclist".
It was a big ride, with around 600 participants for all routes, nearly 400 in the Gran Fondo. A star-studded peloton (including pro riders Joe Dumbrowski, Jeremiah Bishop, and Ben King) set off at an easy pace for the first 20 miles to the base of the first KOM climb. Taylor shot off ahead and flew up the first part of the climb, while I rode with Team Sky's Joe Dumbrowski for a while, side by side. Pretty soon, I saw that Marty, who was riding near the back of the peloton, has zipped through the crowds to pull up alongside me. We decided to ditch Joe and hold a steady pace up the rest of the climb, pretty soon we were passing people left and right, and near the top, had Taylor back in our sights.
We caught Taylor on the descent and the 3 of us made our way up to the big pros like Ben King (first up the climb) and a small group of others. Everyone stopped at the first rest station at 30 miles, and Taylor, Marty and I decided not to linger, and headed out to the second climb (1400 feet of gravel road at 9% average grade). Taylor, having incredible MTB skills, flew up the climb no problemo, as Bob Sowga and I rode up together. At aid station #2 (40 miles), Taylor and I paused together and saw Steve Fields, who hadn't stopped at aid #1, but not seeing Marty, decided again not to linger too long, and set off to the next set of climbs. This 20 mile stretch was perhaps the most beautiful bike riding I have ever done, through country roads with no traffic, up scenic climbs past farms, river valleys, and Shenandoah mountains. Taylor and I held a fast pace that no one else could match, and arrived together at the 60-mile aid station where we were told that we were currently 1 and 2, with no sight of anyone behind.
We fueled heavily on bananas and water because the second KOM climb was coming up soon. As we were getting ready to leave the aid station, a group of 3 arrived. Curiously though, still no Marty. Taylor and I arrived at the base of the second KOM while the organizers were still setting up the timing equipment. This KOM was 3200 feet of gravel climbing and 1000 feet of gravel descending, all built into one tough KOM climb. Taylor and I played leap-frog with a truck carrying the timing equipment for the top of the KOM as they stopped to take photos and then dusted us heading back uphill. I lost contact with Taylor when I got a flat about 3 miles from the top and after a few minutes of playing Mr. Fix-It, was passed by one of the 3 chasers from the rest stop and... Marty!! He asked if I was ok as he sped by, determined to catch the guy ahead.
I fixed my flat and slowly moved along, now losing motivation as I was sitting at a paltry 4th place with miles of pot-holed gravel ahead of me. Eventually the gravel ended and the road crested on a stunning overlook of the Shenandoah. as I headed down the (thankfully) paved descent, the timing truck drove up next to me to say that there was a right turn ahead, and that he hadn't had time to mark the route yet. I passed where the final aid station was supposed to be, but I don't think they had set anything up yet. We were too fast for the event. With around 15-20 miles to go, I caught the guy who passed me on the gravel KOM. he told me he was the current world master's time trial champion after winning in Austria, and that he had no idea how far ahead Marty was, but FAR.
I put the pedal to the metal knowing I was now sitting comfortably in 3rd place and dropped the TT champion. a few miles down the road with some hard riding into the wind, I saw what looked like Marty's jersey up ahead. I kept gaining but it took me about 5 miles to actually chase Marty down, and we rode the remaining 10 miles together to the finish, just 2 minutes behind Taylor who took the cake at 6:33. Eventually, when the TT champion finished, he told me that he could not hold my pace on the flats, I was too fast for him to draft.