This past Sunday I participated in my second Farm to Fork Fondo. Last year I chose the “Medio Fondo” route which was essentially 100k, but this year I stepped it up to the “Gran Fondo” which was billed as 140k (87 miles) and ~5800′ of elevation. This ride would be a first for me as I had never done that much elevation in a single ride before.
Just to get it out of the way, hands down, this was the most challenging ride I have ever done. I was good until about mile 75 when we hit a climb known as “The Wall”, but more on that later. My biggest issue was that my nutrition was off and I underestimated my needs for the day. I always tend to take too much food with me and never finish it all. This time I planned for exactly what my expected time to be and missed it by a bunch.
The idea behind this ride (and its sister rides) is about bringing awareness to and support our local farms along with the open green space they provide and the relationship between cyclists, the landscape and healthy living. There are three more rides in the series this summer if you are so inclined, just visit FarmForkFondo.com more more details.
As with the ride last year there was no shortage of pros and retired pros on hand to mingle and ride with. The Colavita | Bianchi women’s cycling team was there, Ian Boswell from Team Sky, retired pro Ted King, along with a few others who’s names escape me at the moment.
The ride started off at about 8:45am and we were off. I was about mid pack at the start which quickly got splintered at the first small climb and I then found myself in the second group. Lots of people seemed to go hard right off the bat only to fade a bit as I passed them later on. As the first few miles went on everyone got strung out and I eventually came across a small group of riders riding a double pace line. As I’m approaching the group I notice a familiar jersey on the lead rider. It was all black with a blue stripe… hmm, could it be… yes it was, Ian Boswell! I latched on to the back along with another rider and the group was now 8 strong and we were moving at a decent 20+mph pace on the “flats”. I put that in quotes because almost nothing along this route was ever truly flat. We rotated in and out and I made some small talk with one of the other riders in the pack as he had the same bike as me, just a year older. But seriously, how cool was this, I’m riding in a pace line with Ian Boswell. How often can you say that?
At the first rest stop we were just averaging under 18mph with 1000′ of elevation already in the bag. I ate one of my Bonk Breakers, finished my bottle and was on my way. I had hoped to pick up with another pace line back on the road but that was not to be. I never saw another organized group again. At best it was only 2 or maybe 3 people in a line and either they were going too slow for me or too fast for me to hang on and I didn’t want to work that hard. So essentially for the next 72 miles I was pretty much going to be doing this ride solo
A big feature of this ride is that all the rest stops/aid stations are at local farms and some of the goodies that are provided are made from the local farms bounty. Like apple turnovers at the orchard, ice cream at one dairy farm and fresh pizza at another. Unfortunately for me being lactose intolerant I can’t even eat any of that good stuff so I’m really stuck with what I brought myself. The stops also had a supply with some GU products and Clif stuff but I haven’t used a GU gel in a long time and Clif bars, as much as I love them, don’t do well with me on the bike so I stayed away from all that stuff. I really could of used more, or at least different food. This was the first time on the bike I actually felt hungry during the ride starting at about mile 60. I planned out 30-40g’s of carbs each hour, my usual intake, but obviously I should have planned for more due to the nature of this ride.
I remembered some of the roads from last year and among them was this one particular long, reasonably flat, section that went through some farms. All around it was farms as far as the eye could see and it should have been an great place to soft pedal and get some recovery, but instead on this day we were fighting a head wind and even pulling 16mph was hard! To make matters worse it wasn’t even a cool breeze, it was a hot wind like someone putting a hair dryer on you. It was not pleasant. I couldn’t wait to get back into the shade and on the hills, it was easier!
So now I come to the stop sign at mile 75, my Garmin is already reading 5800′ of ascent, I’m staring at a climb known as “The Wall”, I have a half of a bottle left of drink, no more Untapped Maple, my stomach is empty and I just at my last few Honey Stinger chews. I decide to rest for a few minutes (I wasn’t the only one with that idea), let my HR come down and off I went. I believe the official stats for the climb is 500′ over 7/10ths of a mile which means it averages 13.5%. The climb starts at that and I quickly saw my Garmin go up to over 20%, by the time it got close to 30% with no relief in sight, I got off the bike. I made it about a quarter of the way up. As I’m walking this hill I came across a few other riders that had stopped to sit under a tree. As I continued to walk up the hill 2 or 3 people were attempting it, making switchbacks across the road which was probably the best method but they still weren’t climbing to fast. Some continued to stop along the way. I hopped back on the bike after the steepest section where the grade quickly went from 15 down to 8-9%. It took me about 20 minutes to get up this damn hill, which really killed my average speed. Pro riders were doing this hill in a little over 5 minutes. Perhaps if this was at the beginning of the ride or I got my nutrition strategy right I would have had a better go at it. The reward at the top of this hill was ice cream which of course I couldn’t have. I sat down, drank the last of my Skratch, refilled with water and set off on the last 10 miles.
Those last 10 miles were some of the toughest 10 miles I have ever ridden mentally. I had to focus and just keep putting out the power which wasn’t easy since I was running on E. This was no easy 10 miles either, it had a few more rollers as well as one longer gradual climb to just put an exclamation point on the day. It was over this last stretch where I saw a lot of other rides sitting on the side of the road taking a break, I wasn’t the only one feeling depleted.
The end of the ride concluded with a long fast decent back down to the farm from where we started. It was get in the drops and put the hammer down type of decent. As I reached the bottom there was a flag man there waving me into the farm entrance, as I turned the corner I saw the finish line atop a small hill and I found that last extra burst of energy to hammer up that finishing chute and finish strong! Seriously, where was this new found energy before?
As I stand there, receiving my finishers medal (a mini cow bell!), a Maple Water and a cold towel, trying to collect my thoughts after a hard ride, I am approached by non other than Ted King! See, I had been wearing the “IAMNOTTEDKING” kit that I purchased to benefit the Krempels Center which is a non-profit organization helping those with traumatic brain injury. It is a organization that Ted is very passionate about due to his fathers stroke & recovery. Anyway, Ted came over to me, introduced himself, introduced his girlfriend, Laura, asked about my ride and thanked me for supporting the Krempels Center with the kit. I wish that I had been in a better state of mind to have a real conversation with him, congratulate him on his DK200 win, talk about his charity ride and just bond over our love of all things maple. I was probably a bumbling mess and I think just kept commiserating about “The Wall”. So, Ted if you ever read this, sorry I wasn’t more talkative, I really appreciated you stopping by and saying hi, it really made my day.
After the ride there was plenty of recovery from GU to go around and of course an unlimited supply of Maple Water, along with a BBQ for all the participants. After getting my goods, I packed the bike up in the truck and pointed it towards home. All in all it was a great day and I look forward to the next one.
Oh, at the end of the ride my Garmin was reporting 6880 feet of ascent, more than 1000 feet from what the ride was billed at (by Ride With GPS). It’s entirely possible I did some extra climbing that day, but the true elevation is probably somewhere in the middle. Either way, it was a whole lot of climbing!