Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Little Rock Gran Fondo Report

The first Little Rock Gran Fondo is in the books and by all it was a good one. The organization was very well done, the weather miraculously cooperated, and the post-event party, Pop On Main, had a very good vibe as confirmed by the many smiling faces that stuck around in spite of a few showers until the food was gone and the beer had run out and been replenished a time or two.
The Start
The weather was on everyone's mind as Saturday approached. A wet, stormy week and a forecast for more of the same had us resigned to riding in rain, at best. The ride was sold out and almost everyone who had a number showed up to ride.

We were all a little wary of the weather, but everyone was determined to ride. 

Joe Jacobs and Lisa Mullis of Arkansas Outside, obviously cranky about the foul weather. Joe's quote o' the day was, "This doesn't suck." He even shared a beer with me.
We gathered in the drizzle, fog, and rain showers awaiting the 8:00 o'clock start; however, after all of the housekeeping announcements were made by ride official Steve Shepherd, we were held for another 15 minutes for the sake of live TV coverage of the roll out. There were a few grumbles, but at least the word was out and we knew what was going on.

We had a champagne toast for 250.
 And then we waited.

Some of my ride crew. Phillip and Michelle in event jerseys, Jill looking as patient as she can, and Sam, well, I'm not sure how to describe the expression.
 Chomping at the bit.
I did have several folks mention that they saw the start on TV and they were impressed by the coverage of a cycling event. That had value it in terms of letting the noncycling community know about the Little Rock Gran Fondo--and the appearance of Lance Armstrong assured some media buzz.
The Ride
We finally got released about 8:15 with police motorcycles controlling the pace in a neutral start for a few miles.The sound of a mass of riders clipping in always brings a smile.There was not a big rush to the front as riders were not really concerned about their finishing time. The route crossed several active rail lines, so Shepherd had cautioned everyone to observe all crossing signals "in the unlikely event that we should encounter a train." 

"In the unlikely event...."
At the first crossing, a train was parked on the tracks. It pulled forward after a few moments and a police officer manually raised the crossing arm to allow us through and we were finally headed for the open roads.

Light traffic, rolling hills, a few token country dogs, and wet roads marked the early miles.
The course is an interesting one, and not a route that sees a lot of riders. The first 30 miles was rolling terrain that includes about 2200 feet of climbing. There are no big climbs like Wye Mountain, but a steady diet of rollers will take its toll on the ill-prepared! The scenery was rural and a lot of the roads were chip and seal, though I hardly noticed the rough surface. Such is the wonder of a ti bike!
The rest stops were well above par, with some tasty offerings. The promise of good food at the rest stops was appealing, but most of us don't really savor much more than the usual ride food until we are done, and then it's "game on".
The Finish
Pop On Main delivered up fare by some of  Little Rock's finest chefs and Diamond Bear beer to satisfy the hunger and thirst of the riders. 
Some of the SimplexQ-LeBorne crew enjoyed the posh seating at Pop On Main
Yes, it was!
The first has got to be the hardest!
I've got to commend the organizers of this first Little Rock Gran Fondo. While a lot of people worked to make it successful, the ringleaders were Michael Chaffin of the Capital Hotel, Tony Karlins of Orbea, and Jason Warren of title sponsor Arvest Bank. To manage and event that takes 250 people over 70 miles of road is a huge undertaking, and doing it for the first time means that you have to deal with, well, everything. Next year should be a little easier, but the guys have made notes of their lessons and are already planning to for an even better Second Annual Little Rock Gran Fondo.
Chaffin, Karklins, and Warren handing out awards and prizes.
The Little Rock Gran Fondo was very different from the larger BDB and Carti Tour de Rock, and had many more amenities. There were the small things like the fact that both of the rest stops had access to restrooms instead of port-o-potties, hot coffee, latte, and some gourmet snacks were offered alongside the usual bananas, oranges, and electrolyte drinks. Wet cool towels were on offer to take off the road film and Pop On Main was simply a good party. I was also pleased that I saw no crashes in spite of the wet road conditions, though I heard there were a couple. All in all, the ride met my expectations, which were pretty high. I'm looking forward to next year to see what the boys can do to top the first Little Rock Gran Fondo.  
Mandatory Lance Armstrong commentary:
I didn't see Lance Armstrong, but he rode, as evidenced by the Facebook blowup of "selfies with Lance" among my friends. He came at the invitation of the organizers, but went on line, paid his money and registered like the rest of us. This was not a "celebrity appearance", but more like a guy who just wanted to ride his bike with a bunch in relative peace. By all accounts, he was friendly, talkative, and engaging. He signed autographs and sought out the kids at the rest stops. I'm not sure if he let Kris French win a sprint, but he rode with the locals like one of the boys. I cheered Lance in spite of the fact that I had long assumed that he and the rest of the peloton were doping, so I can't be pissed off that he finally confessed. He's still got a bunch of challenges in front of him, and I hope things work out well for him. He lied. He cheated. He survived cancer. He brought cycling to the forefront of the American conversation. He sold a shitload of Trek bikes and Shimano group sets, Nike gear, and Mich Ultra (the most shameful thing in my book). He raised hopes and spirits and a ton of money for cancer survivors. He was an asshole. He's got charm and talent. He's a bully. He's a hero. He's some dude from Texas that could race a bike. He is probably not that different from other folks that you know, but his circumstances and his talent made his story and his life remarkable. Long before he fessed up, I wondered about the burden of carrying around such an all encompassing lie. Unless he's a complete sociopath, confession had to be a huge weight lifted. I don't blame the haters for hatin', but I don't have the energy to join them.
Lance, glad you could join us for the Gran Fondo and hope you had a good time. Next time you're up, drop on by the house. We have a front porch and some good beer. I'm sure you've got some good stories.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

what a fab reporting job. great photos too.