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
Wow, it’s hard to believe it’s already a new year, 2013! Time truly flies, it seems like only yesterday we were finishing with George at the “Gran Fondo Hincapie.” I went into this off-season with a head of steam from that great final group ride event, and have begun to train for the upcoming season that will be upon us before we know it. It is awesome to think that we have already passed the winter solstice and already the days will slowly begin to gradually shed more and more daylight. It is also a little scary to think about how soon the first century ride of the new season will be here, followed by what I hope to be my most challenging month ever in May.
What I Learned In 2012
End the season with a great group ride event as late as possible! It definitely helped keep me motivated to work hard going into the off-season, rather than just hang the bike up and get lazy for a couple of months. I came home from a very tough ride in the Blue Ridge foothills craving more, and it has translated to putting in work for this next season. I definitely plan to find another tough ride to tackle near late October, early November.
I’m putting GABRAKY back on the schedule. That is one ride I truly missed last year, that I have done frequently in the past. I wouldn’t dare trade the fall vacation I had with my wife from last year, because it was spot-on, but I will make my plans around that ride this year. I know averaging around 60 miles per day doesn’t sound like a whole lot towards the end of the season, but when you do it for 4 consecutive days over the rural bluegrass landscape of Kentucky’s back roads, it is challenging enough to give you a real sense of accomplishment and I’m always ready for that finish line. Not to mention the cycling camaraderie that is felt by the passionate cyclists I have met on GABRAKY. See you in the fall!
Maybe the most important lesson I learned from last year is to make plans for June and July. As I reflect on my riding from 2012, I notice a big fall off in rides and miles in the middle of the summer. This year I will find rides in those months to keep my cycling stamina strong throughout. I will also utilize a great cycling tip for the busy dad that came to me from my good friend Chris “Schmidty” Schmidt (a.k.a. the Big Dog): when my children play games on the weekends, I should ride my bike to the county where they play and then meet up with the family; and if parents have to go separate directions with children, just simply take your bike with you and ride in between games. Great tip, Schmidty, now I can be a multi-tasker like my wonderful wife. No more excuses.
On The Slate For 2013:
Slate is a great term for my proposed ride schedule for 2013, it should also be somewhat colorful and tough just like the rock. I definitely plan to continue what I started in ’12 by riding with my local club (Bluegrass Cycling Club) out of the Georgetown location on Tuesday nights, along with some of our varying local group rides on the weekends. As far as organized events, here’s what I am thinking for now, of coarse, always subject to change, but I’m confident that I will complete the century routes at these great venues:
1. Redbud Ride in London, KY on April 13
2. 3 State-3 Mountain Challenge in Chatanooga, TN on May 4
3. Assault On Mt. Mitchell in Spartanburg, NC on May 20
4. Horsey Hundred in Georgetown, KY on May 26
5. Preservation Pedal in Frankfort, KY on June 22
6. Old Kentucky Home Tour in Louisville, KY on September 7
7. GABRAKY across the state of Kentucky in early-mid October
I also plan to get some good rides in down in the south central heart of the bluegrass with Schmidty and some of the Lindsey Wilson College crew. There is an outside shot that I may tackle the RAIN Ride (Ride Across Indiana), but it will depend on summer vacation and my summer work schedule before I will commit. I would love to do another ride or two or more in other states as well, but it will have to depend on timing and investment, I do this as a recreational hobby. Please feel free to send us your favorite ride and I will attempt to get there and ride in it, then publish my official review!
You can also send us your thoughts or comments about various rides via Twitter, and consider following our journey: @RAMCycling
Cheers to a safe, happy, and healthy new year with plenty of cycling in 2013!
Last year Renaissance And Masher closed out a grand cycling season with a “gran fondo,” or big ride! We took on the challenge of the Blue Ridge foothills at United States pro cycling legend George Hincapie’s retirement ride. The Hincapie Gran Fondo in South Carolina was a great way to bring the good weather, busy part of the cycling season to a final downhill, but not before we climbed a few uphills at this venue. There were a few negatives, but mostly positives. All in all, we highly recommend putting this ride on your 2013 schedule if possible. Scroll down the page a little to read our official review from last season, and definitely check out the cool video posted by Renaissance Man.
This year the event boasts some new features including early registration discounts, VIP packages, and a cross country 5K run. Sign up before March 1 and save $$$ on fees. The Gran Ride (longest route) includes a very nice cycling jersey. The VIP packages are limited, and not for us, but I’ll guess they will sell out. For more info, please visit the official site & tell them RAM Cycling sent you:
Earlier this year, I completed what some call “the toughest ride in the southeast’ when I rode Assault On Mt. Mitchell. I was first inspired to attempt it by friend Jim Simes who has ridden it multiple times and told me what a challenge it was, then I made the decision to do it after a trip to the Blue Ridge foothills last October to ride in Gran Fondo Hincapie. That ride had epic climbs and world class descents. Sounds crazy but I enjoyed the climbing much more than the descending, and have since, found my new passion in cycling: endurance climbs.
My first thoughts about riding up Black Mountain, the highest elevation in my home bluegrass state of Kentucky, came after another friend, Aaron West, told me about his quest to cycle to the highest point in each of the 48 continental states, and asked if I’d be interested in joining him in my state. I very vaguely remember visiting Black Mountain in rural southeastern “coal country” KY as a youngster when my family traveled to see my sister play a basketball tournament in Harlan, KY. All I could recall, was that the view at the top was in the clouds and stunningly beautiful. Those recollections proved accurate.
I recently became more serious about doing this ride myself when I made the decision with the current season winding down and I’ve already decided I’m going back to Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River, and attempting my second Assault in 2014. I want to be better prepared for such a grueling climb next time, and going up Black Mtn seemed like good training to me. I have invited numerous friends to join me at AOMM next year and I hope to offer them tips and help prep them for the toughest ride I’ve ever completed.
Initially, I thought I would first ride Black Mountain alone, as a recon mission, before taking my friends back on a training ride, but at the recommendation from my wife, I decided not to go it alone first time. Pretty smart idea actually, considering I would be 2-3 hours from home, maybe no phone service, and on roads I’ve never ridden. So I asked the first person that had mentioned interest in riding up Mt. Mitchell next year, my friend and local strava nemesis, Chuck Allran. It worked out good because we are pretty evenly matched in skill level and climbing ability. So we decided a Sunday would be our best chance of wasting a day on the bike and hoped there would be less traffic and no coal trucks to deal with. The weather could have been an issue, considering the mountain experienced it’s first snow of the season last Friday, but it proved not to be, other than becoming numb from the freezing cold descent after breaking a good sweat on the way up.
Our plan was to depart from Harlan towards Cumberland, then through the base town of Lynch on our way to the top. Upon reaching the summit, we hoped to ride a challenging road across the ridge and then back down into Harlan on a state highway. The road to Lynch was awesome! It was basically the old road that ran along side a railroad track, a river, and on the side of a hill, just above the newer, more busy highway. Lined along both sides about every five miles were freshly placed high visibility yellow “Share The Road” signs with bicycles. We instantly knew we weren’t the first crazies to have this idea. We were only passed on few occasions by vehicles, and when we were, they did so in a very safe manner, moving their vehicle completely to the other side of the double yellow line and never speeding or passing in a blind spot. Southern hospitality at it’s best!
We cruised through Cumberland, crossed the river twice, then rolled through the streets of Lynch, where we were greeted by a pleasant gentleman as the climbing began: “don’t get a speeding ticket,” he said laughing as he smoked a cigarette on his front porch. About two miles up, I was gaining some separation from Chuck when he called out he was getting hot. We both stopped for a moment to open our jackets and shed our head covers, to keep from overheating. Then we continued the grind. I felt strong at this point and quickly found myself in a good rhythm, as I would occasionally come out of the saddle briefly, and kept on mashing at a comfortable pace. The road wound around the side and turned back against itself sometimes, giving us that spectacular view of the portion we had already conquered. The colors of the reds, oranges, and tons of yellow maples out over the edge of the mountain were simply prettier than I could have imagined possible. I was passed only twice by vehicles going up and four times by drivers coming down. I continued to look over the edge and up the road, sitting and standing, feeling the challenge of the climb, but never a thought of stopping due to suffering. I noticed a large road sign up ahead that was pointed the wrong way and as I pulled up to it and looked back, it was a “Welcome To Kentucky” sign, and immediately I reached the summit crossing and pulled up along side the “Welcome To Virginia” sign and stopped to enjoy the view, and wait on Chuck. He arrived moments later and we took a few minutes to rest and snap some pictures.
The Black Mtn Ridge Rd. turned out to be a rugged path, mostly of broken pavement, dirt and gravel. After about a mile of slipping and sliding at a snail’s pace in anticipation of any form of solid pavement, we changed to plan from a loop to an out & back ride. Still holding moisture from the work we did to get to the top, we buttoned back up, and headed back down. Cautious of loose leaves and twigs, and losing feeling in our extremities and face, we barreled down the mountain, at speeds from 20 to 35 mph, navigating the twists and turns all the way to the bottom. It felt good to be able to spin freely again and attempt to regain some warmth in our frozen bodies as we headed back into Lynch and then Cumberland. Stopped briefly at a gas station, in hopes of a cup of coffee, but found none, so continued back down the road that brought us there.
Nearly 70 miles and five hours after departing Harlan, in search of the highest peak in the state of Kentucky, we arrived back at our vehicle parked outside at Huff Park youth league baseball complex. The sun shone brightly as we transformed from our cycling gear and loaded up to head back home. All the way back, conversation was about how blown away we were by the beauty and bike friendliness of the area we had just visited, plans to bring others back with us again soon, more prep plans for AOMM 2014, and how we wished Black Mountain was a lot closer to home. It was a twelve hour trip, that was well worth the time!
Cheers & Safe Cycling! . . .
A few weeks ago, the Masher was able to enjoy a return visit to the Great Smoky Mountains, well part of his journey was enjoyable! The training ride we had planned for early spring turned out much more eventful than we had hoped, and it left us all yearning for another chance to conquer the climb to the highest elevation in Tennessee, after we had to stop at the summit due to inclimate winter weather setting in. There had been some recent discussion among RAM Cycling friends about planning another group ride from the Gatlinburg area up to the top and back down, but too many schedule challenges have prevented the group event. Maybe a spontaneous ride can happen, but not planned at this time.
Masher took advantage of a weekend get-away with his wife (one last break before school and fall sports crank up for the kiddos), and caught a break in the stormy weather long enough to make the trek back up to Clingmans! I departed my cabin in the mountain village of Cobbly Nob around 7:00am, about 15 miles east of Gatlinburg, and rode along Hwy 321 into and through downtown, in route to Hwy 441, which crosses the Smoky Mountains into Cherokee, NC.
The sky was pretty cloudy, and I had already decided that if I rode into rain, I would just turn back this time (to avoid another stuck atop the mountain adventure) and ride back to the cabin, not risking my safety or interrupting my wife’s get-away to rescue me. The local forecast predicted 60% chance for scattered thunderstorms, but I remained optimistic. It was more than humid, as I was sweating heavily only 5 miles into the climbing, and by the time I reached Newfound Gap, nearly seven miles below the summit, my entire kit was soaked, gloves and shorts included. While my solo ride was not a rapid pace pushing myself for speed, I had a strong ride making it all the way to the Clingmans parking lot from Gatlinburg without stopping a single time. I had planned to stop and rest at the Newfound Gap overlook and the traffic was a little congested at the time I rolled though, so I continued onto the Clingmans Dome access rode thinking I would pull off at the first pull out.
Into the clouds I rode, as the fog was very thick in this higher elevation. I guess the visibility was probably 20-40 yards, making me a little nervous about traffic, but the amount of vehicles on this road was much lower than on the main highway. The first pull out came and went, and I thought to myself “I just may make this complete climb without stopping … what an achievement that would be.” Well that’s all it took. Now my mind was set, there would be no stopping, although my legs and butt were very ready to get a break several times over the last seven mile climb. Especially after that one brief downhill/flat portion for about a mile and a half, with only about 3 miles to summit! Nevertheless, I pushed on, and rode strong into the parking lot with a smile on my face, as I reminisced about the first time I rode into this parking lot, thinking I may be suffering from hypothermia.
Immediately reaching the top, I was cooled down a little as I spun my road bike up the pedestrian trail to the sign located in front of the visitor’s center, and felt the stiff breeze pushing across the top of the mountains, as I enjoyed my first rest stop. I calmly ate a Cliff bar, while drinking a bottle of water and basked in the glory of my accomplishment cycling to the top of another mountain, and I relished the many compliments from passers by, as they walked up to the dome. What are the odds of running into someone I went to high school with at the summit? I have no idea about odds, but I bet they increase when you attend a different school every year … and yes indeed, I was greeted by Greg, whom I had graduated with twenty years ago. He and his wife (who also happen to be cyclists and runners, even coach cross country and track teams at schools in KY) were celebrating their wedding anniversary by driving up the mountain and hiking up to Clingmans Dome.
Not wanting to tighten up too much, I changed into a long sleeve dry jersey and saddled back up for the ride home. WOW! My first twenty mile mountain descent was awesome fun! The initial take-off from Clingmans parking lot was fast, and I was a little timid due to some stretches of the roadway still being damp. As I reached Hwy 441, there were a few technical curves rolling past the Newfound Gap and in the next few miles. After that, it is all out fun rolling down the mountain, weaving back and forth, through the short tunnels, and flat out flying. The clouds made it somewhat difficult to see some of the rough part of the pavement, but it didn’t slow me down as I got to the bottom pretty quickly. I would later learn that my top speed was just over 50 mph after I uploaded my ride to Strava. Fun, fun!
The descents I’ve ridden in the blue ridge foothills on the Hincapie Gran Fondo were too steep and too technical for me to enjoy. The Assault on Mt Mitchell I’ve ridden twice finishes at the summit of the highest elevation in North Carolina. The first time I rode up Clingmans Dome in the Smoky Mountains stopped at the top due to weather. After cycling back down this time, I’m convinced, the ride back down is now my favorite part of taking on these challenging mountain climb rides! And, as usual, it has left me yearning for more.