Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How I Won the Fly Gran Fondo

Short Answer: I won it by riding it.

A Little Longer Answer: Anybody riding this course, with these people, and then chowing down on bodacious cajun food and drinking extraordinary local brew afterwards would obviously be a winner. So I won.

And now the long answer ... maybe so long that you won't read it. So you should stop now.


I mean it.

Oh, all right. If you insist ...

First, I've got to tell you how sick I was last week. I spent far too many hours cramped up in a shiny metal tube, breathing in what 200 other unhealthy people were breathing out (or worse), and caught a cold. Then, I rode my bike in to work on Wednesday, trying to flush the cold out. It didn't work, and Thursday I stayed home, feeling like the crusty part on the edge of the crud that grows on very, very old garbage.

If not for the fact that I was kind of the organizer of this team (I hesitate to call myself "captain," since that involves a level of responsibility with which I am more than slightly uncomfortable), I would have bailed. But we had just found our fifth team member, and we had to have at least five riders, so I merely reconciled myself to the fact that -- thanks in no small part to me -- we would suck.

Friday I felt a little better, and Saturday I was no longer ill. All that remained of my bout was about 3.5 gallons of phlegm, split evenly between the sinus cavities in my stopped-up head and the alveoli of my consumptive lungs. As long as I did not need to breath and/or oxygenate blood, I would be fine.

RandoGirl and I rode down to Fly with one of my team-mates, the erstwhile Jeff Bauer. It was still a little chilly as we unloaded and gathered our teammates: Lisa Starmer, Larry Lewis, and John Burrell.

For some reason, we had all decided to wear the same jersey, so everyone got back in their cars and went home to change. Just kidding (I kill me)! Actually, we just decided to race under the Gran Fondo Fixies name because we had enough jerseys. None of us was actually foolish enough to ride this race on fixed-gear bikes.

Vida Greer, who had done an incredible job organizing the race, soon lined us all up and gave us instructions.

We were to be the third team out, with one minute between each. There would be four checkpoints on the course, and all team members had to sign in at each. We would then get the time of the last team member across the finish line. Standing at the starting line, the instructions seemed perfectly clear to me, even through my Mucinex/Sudafed haze. Basically, we would bike along the course, stop when we were told, and sign things. Between these intervals, my team would wait for me ... a lot. Ultimately, we could then limp in at nightfall, amid derisive laughter.

Somehow, however, when we started, we managed to go fast. We cruised along the first flat section of Leiper's Creek Road, and then zipped up the first climb up Steam Mill Hollow. We caught a rider from one of the first teams as we hit Leatherwood Road, and were looking good as we started the parts of this road that are dirt.

Somehow, the dirt sections slowed down the earlier teams, and they quickly came into view. Since this was my route, however, I knew where the few trouble spots were, and before we were back on pavement my team was actually in the lead.

Then, we had a flat.

Actually, John had the flat, and the smart thing for us to have done here would have been for the whole team to stop and help him fix it. Unfortunately, we were tired. John had been so strong during the first few miles of the race, taking very long and fast pulls, that I kind of welcomed the flat as a chance to soft-pedal a bit and recover. So, only Larry stayed back with John to help him fix the flat, and Jeff, Lisa, and I rolled on.

And on. And on.

The teams we had passed on Leatherwood passed us. Then the Gran Fondo team. Then another team, and a pack of the fast individual riders. When a couple of tandems passed us, we turned around and started back. We went less than a mile before John and Larry finally came along. Apparently, the tire did not want to be changed, and they had been forced to become insistent.

We decided at this point that our race was pretty much over. We still rode fairly hard, of course, but we took our time as we came to the first sign-in station on Kettle Mills Road. On the descent down Love Branch, we hammered for a few miles, but then eased off again as we went through Hampshire and back up to Ridgetop. We even stopped at the entrance to Amber Falls and took a few team pictures.

First, Lisa took one. Then, I took one with Lisa in it. One of the solo riders came by, so we got him to take a picture of all of us.

Obviously, we were not in a hurry at this point.

We moved quickly along Cathey's Creek ... but not so fast that we couldn't appreciate what a beautiful road it was that day.

I was starting to feel my lack of lung capacity on Greenfield Bend Road, and a long fast stretch on Snow Creek forced me to fall in behind Jeff with a raspy, nasty cough. We took our time going up the harsh climb of Pigg Schoolhouse Road, so I felt better as we went through Santa Fe. This didn't last, however, and the team was forced to slow for me again for the last couple of miles, as we limped in to Fly.

Where we discovered, much to our amazement, that we were the third place team.

Apparently, some teams had lost a few members on the route. Since we stuck together (translation: My fast teammates slowed down to drag me along), we managed to salvage a podium spot. Along with certificates suitable for framing, we all got a nifty bag, bracelets, and a very nice pair of merino wool socks. Of course, we also got to eat jambalaya from Papa Boudreaux's and drink Yazoo Brewery beer afterwards.

All that, on top of a great time riding a fantastic course, would make anybody a winner.

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