Race Recap: MSU Gran Fondo 4
On Saturday, June 25, I participated in the MSU Gran Fondo, a cycling/fundraising event in downtown Grand Rapids. The money raised from this event goes to skin cancer awareness, prevention, and research. I feel fortunate that I don’t have a compelling story to share for why I’m raising money for skin cancer. But, I know that my fair skin and love of the great outdoors in the summer is a dangerous combination. I hope that I (or my loved ones) never need a cure. Still, I’m honored for the chance to play a very small part in the efforts towards finding one.
I opted for the 12 mile route this year after riding 25 miles the last two years. Originally, I registered for 40 miles, but the days passed by too quickly and I felt completely unprepared. The forecast was shaping up for a hot day and I wanted to simply have fun. Not that 25 miles isn’t fun, because I had a blast in years past, but short and sweet sounded ideal! So, the week of the event, I dropped down to the shortest of the four routes (12, 25, 40, and 80).
Pasta dinner with Bob Roll.
The night before, I attended the pasta dinner where the keynote speaker was Bob Roll. Riders who had raised at least $250 were invited to the event.
Bob is a big name in the cycling world and shared his stories of riding in the Tour de France. He is a gifted public speaker. We lived vicariously through his hilarious retelling of the adventures and mishaps through the hills and towns of France.
The big ride.
By the time I arrived downtown the next morning, the 40 and 80 mile riders were already on the road, and the remaining riders were lining up at the start. I said hello to some friends before settling in at the front of the 12 mile group. The first couple miles are a bit challenging between the large number of other riders and a lot of potholes, which can be a much bigger cause for concern on a road bike! I did hit one pothole, but my bike and I make it through unscathed.
Soon enough the crowd started to thin out. At that point, I could breathe a little easier. My biggest fear in those early miles is hitting a pothole and take down dozens of other cyclists as I fall. It hasn’t happened yet, but I still find group rides terrifying for that reason alone. I knew that my course would veer off from the 25 mile group at some point, but I wasn’t quite sure when. The signage at the split caught me by surprise and I made a sharp left turn, just in the nick of time. Thankfully, there was nobody there or I certainly would have hit a poor, innocent soul.
Suddenly, I was the lone rider on the course! There were no other cyclists in sight ahead of or behind me. I did start to panic that I had messed up and was no longer on the course. I knew where I was in proximity to downtown, so at the very least, I knew how to get back. The familiarity with the area would serve me while a few miles down the road.
I did eventually see a couple other riders, one that I passed and another who passed me. Whew! It was a fun feeling because I knew at that point that I was one of the lead riders. The event is a fun ride, not a race, but I can’t stop my competitive streak from taking over!
There’s a rest stop in the latter half of the course with water and snacks. I hadn’t planned to stop, but my right hamstring was feeling really tight, so I took advantage of a reason to stop and walk it out for a minute. Also, delicious cookies are always an incentive. It was only a couple of minutes before I was back on the road, that competitive side itching for a strong finish. Shortly after the rest stop, there was a three-way split in the trail with no marker on which way to go. Another rider had the course map, but we still managed to pick the wrong turn! We quickly realized the error of our ways, but rather than backtracking, simply opted to forge ahead as we knew the way to the finish line.
Due to that mishap, the 12 mile ride ended up being about 10.5 instead. It made the fact I came in seventh feel a bit undeserved. Still, I know I still would have done really well even with the full route.
The finish line festival.
In addition to food stops on each of the routes, there is a great finish line party! All riders receive five tickets, each good for a beer or a trip to one of the food tents. I spent several hours connecting with friends, enjoying the great food, and sipping on a couple cold beers. It was the epitome of a perfect summer day, complete with a bright blue sky.