After several days of reflection, Welcome to the official RAM Cycling review of our most recent ride: Hincapie Gran Fondo in Traveler’s Rest, SC, just north of pro cycling legend George Hincapie’s hometown of Greenville. Well let’s get right to it. I’ve got some good news, bad news, and indifferent news to report, so what’ll it be first? Okay, as always the case …
The Bad News
We showed up at Greenville on the Hincapie Sportswear property on Friday around 3:30 pm to pick up our pre-registration packets, and found a pretty lengthy line formed, so like everyone else, we got in place and waited. And waited. And waited … at one point, in talking to others in line around us, we wondered if the line was actually moving or if we were just bunching up closer together. Finally, after over an hour in line, upon making it up to the table, we learned that one guy was checking in everyone, one at a time and filling their packet on the spot. Felt sorry for the folks just arriving to get in the line that had more than doubled as we walked off with packets in hand. I hope for their sake, it got smoother.
The parking for the event was about three miles from the ride start point and finish festival at La Bastide, a French country inn and vineyard that is nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I understand as a road cyclist, it is my responsibility to be seen by vehicles, however, with a designated start time of 8am, I had only brought my flashing tail light with me and the commute along Highway 11 in the pitch dark was a little scary to say the least. I nearly ran over another cyclist that didn’t have any light on his bike or person at all. If you expect close to a thousand cyclists to commute 3 miles in the dark to the start point, I wish the road would have been closed to vehicles. We were very fortunate that there were no pre-ride incidents on the road.
Upon arriving at La Bastide, there was little direction or assistance on what to do, where to drop off our bags or back packs for after the ride, where to line up, etc. In fact, I was initially told by one volunteer to head one way for the start, when actually the start ended up being in the exact opposite direction. Eventually, someone finally manned the PA system and began to give instructions aloud. This gesture lead to the end of the bad news.
The Good News
At around 8:25 AM the ride began to roll, and the unorganized chaos that had been the introduction to this event was now gone forever because this was the most organized group ride I have ever been on. Starting temps were in the upper 6os and would climb to a warm mid 70s with gentle breezes on parts of the route. I rode the “Gran” (80 mile route), while Tim, aka the Renaissance Man, rode the “Medio” (50 miler).
Every turn was marked with a by sign with arrow as you approached the intersection, then there were color coded arrows placed on the road at the actual point of turn. There was also a traffic marshal, or uniform police officer at every major intersection or turn. SAG (support and gear) vehicles, along with route marshals on motorcycle were ever present performing regular roaming. If anyone missed a turn or got lost, do yourself a favor, don’t tell anyone about it, because there was no reasonable reason for it.
The scenery was explicit! The roads were winding, passing several lakes, rivers, or streams. The views were breathtaking as autumn colors were in full force. Also taking our breath were the numerous climbs. My route boasted a 4.5 miles climb at an average of 8.7% grade around mile 22, followed by a very tough 11.4% average grade climb over 1.4 miles at around mile 35, then another starting on mile 63 for 2.5 miles at 7.5%, while finishing with one last climb up to the finish line. Tim’s route offered some leg burners too with the first climb at 4 miles on average grade of 5.2% around mile 24, then a short but very steep 27.2% quarter mile at mile 29, then later a 7% climb for about a mile at the 41 mile mark, while finishing with the same ending climb into La Bastide! Needless to say, the legs are getting some much needed R & R.
For the competitive cyclist there was an actual race with prizes awarded to top male and top female finishers, as well as an official “King Of The Mountain” contest that awarded top 3 prizes. This segment took place on my first mountain climb. The event advertised some top name celebrity pro road cyclist, and they delivered. 2012 Tour de France “Young Rider Winner” Tejay VanGarderen, 2011 Tour de France “Overall Winner” Cadel Evans, Chris Carmichael, and others joined the ride host, newly retired George Hincapie. At one point on the Medio Course, Renaissance Man said a moto-marshal flew by him and he noticed a lot of riders starting to pull off to the side of the road, so he followed suit. Upon stopping, he says he could feel something coming that sounded similar to a train with no horn. He turned back to find the lead group that consisted of all the pros lead by Cadel and surrounded by a motorcade of security vehicles. Don’t see that on your average group ride.
The Indifferent News
For the first time in my cycling life, I had to stop on a climb. I even had to walk a short portion up to get in a spot where I could safely re-mount and continue climbing. This was very disappointing for me, but after summiting the first climb, a category 1 just miles prior, the grade on the second mountain was too much for my lower back and the legs just couldn’t do it alone. Oh well. As Renaissance says “welcome to the club!”
This was my first ever mass start for a ride of this size, and I must say, it’s a little tricky. Luckily for me, I was not competing for time, so I started in about the middle of an estimated 1300 rider field, and rode very cautiously for the first five miles until it sorted out a bit, then I settled in with a nice group about my same pace (around 15-16 mph overall).
The ride was followed with a finish festival in which numerous of George’s friends and family joined in his retirement celebration. The festival offered a live band, lots of food, snacks, drinks, wine & beer, children’s games, and more! I didn’t get a chance to interview anyone directly after the ride like I try to do usually, but the few comments I got most were: “Very tough and challenging course,” “Very beautiful scenery and awesome weather for late October,” “Toughest non century ride I’ve ever competed!”
Tim and I came up with a wild calculation that there was probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $3.3 million in bicycles that attended the event. Give or take a little, that’s insane. I’m sure George raised a decent amount to donate to the “Meals On Wheels” program, and that’s pretty cool. The custom cycling jersey that came standard with the Gran route registration is awesome, maybe the most comfortable cycling jersey I’ve ever worn. It is made by Hincapie Sportswear, of coarse.
In closing, I do have to recommend this ride to you. Anytime you can get a ride in late October in the 70 degree temps and not have to travel to Florida, it’s a bonus. The mountain top overlooks were absolutely worth the trip up them, even if it meant a little walking. The colors of the trees and leaves rival what you expect to find on an expensive painting. The route security and marking was top notch. Unfortunately the pre-ride chaos was about a D, but the ride and post ride was definitely an A+. Therefore, I will give this overall ride event a B! And I plan to return next year.
For more information regarding this ride or to view info for next year’s Hincapie Gran Fondo, please visit:
Thanks for reading my Review!
*KP the Masher