It has been a crazy fire season once again and that is always a concern at a late season event in the mountains such as Gran Fondo Winthrop. To the best of my knowledge the only fire in the area is the Diamond Creek fire located well north of the course. After a moto preview on Sept 10 I was relieved to find clear blue skies with just the faintest hint of smoke for a brief moment on the far side of Freeze out pass. While I would still not make any promises yet as a lot can happen in two weeks, at this moment I have no reason to believe there would be any reroutes or cancellations. All that leaves you to worry about is the 11,000′ of climbing and the jagged gnar that the Forest Service refers to as “roads.”
By Brig Seidl
Gran Fondo Ellensburg is sort of the new kid on the block in Vicious Cycle’s quiver of gravel grinders with this being the 3rd rendition of what is already established as a tough classic. One of its identifying features is the long ride on asphalt off the start before the real beat down begins. But this ride on Highway 10 from Ellensburg to Cle Elum is no picnic in itself. Besides the fact that it contains significant inclines there will be 2 other invariables at play: a robust headwind and some Audi guy trying to solo off the front and get away. Incredibly he has been successful in this endeavor the previous 2 years but the headwind was stronger this year thus thwarting his repeated attempts. But props to you brave sir for trying to animate things early.
I wasn’t trying to animate things. I had done the NW Epic Series 60 mile mountain bike race at Echo Ridge the previous day and wasn’t feeling especially chipper. The wind and the hills and the fluctuating tempo were all conspiring to keep me from settling into a natural rhythm. It was necessary to keep one’s hands constantly on the brake levers and be very attentive to the ebbs and flows of the peloton.
Eventually my legs came around somewhat and I started to feel better so shortly before we reached the busy Highway 97 crossing on the outskirts of Cle Elum I eased up towards the front to be vigilant of any small selection getting across before the main pack. Gotta keep an eye on those crafty Audi guys! But decorum prevailed and we all stopped and crossed as one big blob. I started taking longer pulls at the front and sort of became the de facto leader through the stops and starts of downtown Cle Elum. But already a time bomb was building in my bladder and I was furtively scouting potential detour sites, aware that I was going to have to exit the peloton soon, real soon. But then just as we were entering South Cle Elum and some good brushy roadside opportunities started to appear the fates threw me a bone; a train passed directly in front of us halting the entire peloton for the 4 or so minutes I need to take care of business these days on rides. Man, and to think my personal plumbing used to turn on and off like a German faucet.
Once we got underway again I felt much better and was generally near the front for the next few miles until the pavement ended at the base of Mt Armageddon. At this juncture Evan Plews immediately went to the front and started pulling away while turning a huge single speed gear out of the saddle. Mimmo Futia went by me and then pulled over for a pee break (not sure why he didn’t take advantage of the train delay 15 minutes earlier for this like about 3 dozen of us) and then went by me again shortly thereafter on his way to taking the KOM. This climb seemed more onerous than in previous years for some reason. I recalled 1 to 3 really steep rough pitches but this year there were like 7 or 8 of them! It would be folly to think that Jake somehow sneaks up there in winter with a bulldozer to add several more vertical pitches but I don’t really have another explanation for it. In fact I started to lose my normally unflappable demeanor after about the 11th tough steep section and was just about to dismount and walk when I heard Jake approaching on his motorcycle from behind. I didn’t want him to see that he’d gotten my goat and forced me to walk less than 30 miles into his fun little GF so I dug deep and soldiered on but it was a near thing.
And as is typical in these Vicious Cycle Gran Fondos there would be multiple false summits before the real deal was reached. But I was wise to these from previous years and didn’t take the bait of sighing in relief too soon. At the high elevation aid station I was a little behind David Hendry but he managed to pull in and fill a bottle or two and then pull out before I was able to catch up even though I could see him the whole time! I seemed to be riding through deep sand or something.
I took the descent sort of gingerly because the rocks are sharp in this section causing me a very time-consuming flat last year. And I particularly wanted to avoid that this year because I had, err, no pump with me. I had very boneheadedly left it on my mountain bike from the previous day’s race. A small detail I noticed when unloading my ‘cross bike in the pits that morning. Sure, if I raced for a big budget outfit like Audi or Taco Time I’d probably have a designated team issue pump for each bike but I ride for Ridge Cyclesport where we eschew materialism for esprit de corps. Still a pump would have been nice. And just like the previous day in Echo there was a big ominous looking dark cloud hovering above us and it was decidedly cold with even small pockets of snow still on the side of the road. Those are some of the worst conditions for changing flats in my opinion.
But all was well and I got down no problem. In fact I didn’t suffer any mechanical issues all day long besides the obligatory ejection of my water bottle an hour later shortly after passing Thomas Baron and David Hendry on the descent into the main aid station. I stopped there to fuel up and empty the ole bladder once again. That was the most urgent thing so I attended to that first but immediately got to thinking how inefficient it was. A thoroughly analytical guy like David Hendry would never waste precious minutes by just peeing. He would be eating or lubing his chain at the same time. But I had already started when this occurred to me and could not, in good conscience, ask for Jake or Maddie to pass me a handful of potato chips.
At least 4 riders went past while I was lollygagging here including both Thomas and David and another few arrived whilst I was occupied with meticulously sticking 6 fresh Shot Blocks to my top tube and just generally behaving as if the clock had been paused. But it was a good pit stop and I felt strong as I pulled away and pretty quickly re-passed 2 guys on the rough, washboarded climb that followed. From this point on I would be alone and never encounter another rider all the way to the finish. Oddly it’s been like that every year for me at this event, I’ve always ridden the long road back from Cle Elum to Ellensburg alone. And I was sure I was catching someone on the final dirt / gravel road descent because the dust in the air kept getting thicker and thicker. I assumed it was either David or Thomas but when I eventually caught up I discovered to my dismay that it was just some random guy on a motorcycle, boo! I dropped him and then had a big white Suburban fly up the road past me at about 55 mph spraying gravel and kicking up more dust. Then 2 more motorcycles, a car, and finally 2 cyclists….but not GF competitors; just a dad and his son out for a ride, and the kid damn near ran me off the road by edging further and further left oblivious to the fact that there was someone fast coming up on him from behind.
It’s always a bit of a relief to reach the pavement because that generally means the likelihood of a flat is significantly diminished. And it is a pretty ride on a nice surface but, like the ride out, it contains some semi-significant inclines. Usually there is a good tailwind but on this occasion it was notably absent. Probably figured it had worked hard enough in the morning blowing against us that it could afford to take the afternoon off. I felt good, not great, for the ride to the finish and resisted the urge to peek behind me until reaching the first concrete bridge on the John Wayne Trail about 2 miles from the finish. I thought I saw a speck in the distance but couldn’t be certain and unless it was Fabian Cancellara he wasn’t going to catch me anyway. I had been straining my eyes forward however and mistaking every mailbox and roadside shrub for a tiring Thomas Baron or an exhausted David Hendry but to no avail. Alas, on this day they were the hammer and I was the nail.
By Brig Seidl
The uber-prestigious Vicious Cycling Gran Fondo series hit its midway point of the season with the popular Leavenworth round on May 21st which was, coincidentally, the first genuinely hot day in what seems like an eternity. In fact I tried Googling “last blue sky day above 75 degrees + Washington” to find out when exactly we’d last seen the sun and felt its warming rays but got a “Search Failed! Out of Memory Error”. Continue reading “Inside GFL”
That’s what we’ve got in store for us as the Clement Gravel Fondo Series Presented by Sage Bicycles goes for a little ride in the hills of Leavenworth this Sunday. As of two weeks ago there was numerous patches of snow across the road in the trees at the top for the first climb. Some were rideable on the edges, some not, but none of them where very long. We feel that there is a pretty good chance there will still be some white stuff come Sunday, hopefully not too much. Although with a forecast of 80+ degrees and sunshine a little snow may not be a bad thing! Bring on the adventure!
We’ve pretty much given up on spring and are now waiting for summer (so we can complain how hot it is). Last weekend at the Squilchuck Chainsmoker mtb race we had what some would call a classic pnw “spring” day -if you don’t like the weather just wait for a few minutes, it will change -rain, snow, sleet, sun, more sleet, then finally we finished with some more sun. The trail system up there is so rad, hats off to Matt Rose, Dave Dunnel, and the whole Evergreen Central chapter for the outstanding work. As nasty as the weather was the trails held up great. Already looking forward to the next opportunity to get back up there!
As mentioned earlier it has been one heck of a winter, for better or worse. In the case of Gran Fondo Ephrata Continue reading “GFE Recap”
It has been one heck of a winter. We’ve been snowed out/frozen out of all of our gravel faves for months now. All things considered the county has been doing a good job keeping the “important” roads open. Unfortunately there is a 1 mile section at the top of Baird Springs that has been deemed unimportant. Time for VC to get creative! Continue reading “The Winter That Won’t Quit and GFE”
By Brig Seidl:
After an extended hiatus in which the quiver of bikes in my garage were becoming more of a nuisance than a boon requiring the laborious re-arrangement of tools & toys every time I needed to use the table saw Vicious Cycle finally re-surfaced again with the season ending GF Winthrop. And while none of Jake’s races could be labeled as “easy” – I would definitely caution against that – the GF Winthrop is a prime candidate for the title of “hardest”. Ninety miles is just never going to be a stroll in the park. Factor in 11,000 feet of climbing/descending and the difficulty goes up exponentially. And then, for the most part, ban the guy who invented asphalt surfaces and you have a pretty epic ride on your hands. Continue reading “GFW With Brig”
By Brig Seidl
The Ellensburg Gran Fondo is the most recent addition to Vicious Cycle’s quiver of gravel classics with just its 2nd addition taking place this past Sunday. Each arrow in this quiver has its own distinctive personality which contributes to the dynamic of how the race unfolds. I mean ride, how the ride unfolds. It’s not a race remember we’re all out there just lollygagging around after all. GF Ellensburg’s particular feature is the long undulating road section off the start before anything serious happens. The first big obstacle, the climb out of Cle Elum, is over an hour into it whereas in GFs Ephrata, Leavenworth, and Winthrop you get clobbered like a baby seal with something onerous that blows the group apart within minutes after the start. Continue reading “GFEburg ride report by Brig”
By Brig Seidl:
Last year’s GF Leavenworth was the debut outing for my new Norco Threshold and my first crack at going tubeless which ended badly when both tires blew out in a shower of sealant before the race even began. Back in went tubes. But this year I was again convinced to try tubeless for Leavenworth and shelled out some pretty serious coin to get professionally set up with some Schwalbe G-One tires. They looked pretty sweet – my main criteria for judging just about any bicycle or accessory – so I eagerly took it out for a short test ride and naturally punctured immediately and the sealant proceeded to work about as much as Frank Benish and Joe Martin combined, ie not at all, despite repeated inflations. Grrrr. As usual what functions flawlessly for everyone else doesn’t seem to apply to me. The night before the race Evan stuck a plug in it and I wheeled to the start line the next morning holding my breath with zero confidence in my tires and 2 tubes in my pocket for insurance. Continue reading “Riding with Brig at GFL”