When I first heard about this event, I thought, hmmm, that’s a weird name. Alleghany Gran Fondo. I knew what Alleghany meant but who the heck is Fondo? Over the next few months I called it everything from Gran Frodo, Frito, Tito. The website said there were 88(gran fondo), 62 (medio fondo) and 30(piccolo fondo) mile options. The first two clearly delineated as *MOUNTAINOUS*. I figured I’d do the 62 miler as part of my preparation for The Timberman Half in August.
The ride was situated in and around two small towns in Alleghany county VA, Clifton Forge (start) and Covington (finish). This area is known as the Alleghany Highlands and is located at the opposite end of the Virginia section of I64 bordering West Virginia. Four and a half hours from Virginia Beach. Not as far as Mountains of Misery or Blood Sweat and Gears. The plan was to drive out on Friday night, do the ride on Saturday morning, and then return home Saturday afternoon so as to be ready and able to run long on Sunday morning. Also, a part of the plan was to park at the finish, the morning of the race and bike over to the start. A distance of 12 miles. There was some other vague option where you could stage your bike near the start and then, the morning of the ride, park at the finish and ride a shuttle bus to the start. I was never quite clear on how all that was supposed to work. Our plan changed slightly on ride morning. Since our hotel was between the start and the finish we’d leave the cars at the hotel, bike the 9 miles to the start, do the ride and then bike the 3 miles back to the cars, after the race. No problem right? Wrong! On the ride to the start our little group(Kevin Burns, Steve and Missy Patterson and myself) took a wrong turn somewhere and found ourselves climbing the steepest hill of the day, which went on for about 1/3 of a mile. As soon as we got to the top we realized our mistake and turned around. Point being that we’d already ridden 11 miles when we got to the start. Nice little warm up, if anybody needed that.
After a few delays, with the organizers giving instructions and a few thanks we were all headed down main street, as all 3 fondos started together and split off at various points. I have to admit that at the start I was a bit concerned about how well the course was marked. Didn’t want to end up doing the 88 miler. I hadn’t prepared mentally for that. The first few miles I was in with a little group, trying to decide if I wanted to paceline it or just do all the work myself. One guy was talking the whole time, to noone in particular he was giving directions, nice but seemed strange at the time. At about mile 15 we encounter our first big climb which goes on for about 3 or 4 miles and got pretty steep in some places. I rolled over this cat 3 climb pretty easily and started thinking that maybe I’ve been wasting my time with all this swimming and running. Maybe my real talent is in climbing... Of course climbing means descending and there was a really fun and long downhill after this climb that seemed to carry us all the way to a very nice little aid station at about mile 28. The downhill also came to a point where the 88 miler split off from the 62 miler and if you were not paying close attention it was easy to make the wrong turn. Leaving the aid station I got in with another group and we rolled on until around mile 33 where the road starts going unrelentingly uphill. Sure enough this is the start of the cat 1 climb. I was pretty confident, planning to just keep moving all the way to the top. Things were going well until at about 35 the road gets very bumpy... that’s what I initially thought, I realize quickly that it’s not the road it’s a flat rear tire. I jump off and fix the tire quickly as a few folks pass by offering assistance. None needed and after maybe 5 minutes it’s back to climbing. I pass almost everyone who passed me while I was fixing the flat and then it’s just me and the road uphill, which seems to go on forever. Every switchback has me thinking the top is right around the bend, only to discover that it just keeps going up and up. Speedometer says I’m moving at between 4 and 6 mph, quads are screaming, lungs are screaming, back is hurting... so much for having a talent for climbing. At some point I’m walking, pushing the bike uphill. Yes I admit it. Not riding the bike, pushing the bike, uphill... in bike shoes. Try it sometime, it’s not easy. At one point I was pushing the bike looking down at the road, I look up and a bear, a large bear runs across the road and down into the woods in front of me... As I see this, I look to my right and see what looks like a fox(or was that a mountain lion?) also run down into the woods. I’m sure there is some cosmic significance to this which is so far completely lost on me. I finally made it to the top and I’m not ashamed to say that I walked part of it. I also note that noone passed me while I was walking. :-)
As I look to start what is sure to be a fast descent, I notice that my back tire is low again. To make a long story short I’ll just say that I decided to use the rest of the CO2 from the previous tire change to pump up the tire and see if I could make it in. So I press on trying to just be easy on the tire and not kill myself on the downhill. At about mile 50 I stop to check the tire and my right cleat breaks. So for the rest of the ride every time I start spinning hard my right foot slips off the pedal. A pretty miserable existence those last 12 miles. I guess I learned a couple of lessons from all this. 1) replace the tube a second(or third) time if you have to. If you run out of tubes or co2 somebody will give you one. This ride actually had a support vehicle. 2) carry a spare cleat. Especially during mountain rides in which you may do some walking.
Through it all I did enjoy this ride. The scenery was beautiful, people were very nice and friendly(mostly) and the ride was a good way to challenge myself. I really loved the long fast descents. That cat 1 climb rivals, and might be more difficult than the final MoMis climb. There was some sort of festival right near the finish and showers are available at the public pool, down the street. So it’s possible to relax a while before driving back home. Oh and I didn’t have to ride the 3 miles back from the finish to my car, I got a ride from the man in the Final Kick Jersey, Mike Borza. Still not sure if the bear and fox(??) were real or were just figments of my imagination.