By Joe Jacobs

The weekend started with a birthday party, a glorious event in honor of my wife, Lisa. Everything started out fine, beers and grilling on the deck as the sun slowly made its way to the west. Then the storm hit, lightening, rain going sideways and the party quickly moved inside where those in attendance celebrated for a few short hours before calling it quits for the evening because nearly everyone in attendance needed to be up early the next morning for the Little Rock Gran Fondo.

Lisa and I signed up for the full 70 mile route, but we were less than energetic after the previous evening's celebrations and weren't looking forward to the chance of rain. As we made our way to the start, heads full of the evening's cheer, we started to wonder if we should drop to the Medio distance of about 35 miles.

Out on the rollers. Credit: Little Rock Gran Fondo
As we entered the staging area for the ride, we soon forgot about the jellyfish in our heads and started greeting friends, checking out bikes and generally getting sucked into the party where organizers for the event cordoned off the block of Main Street between President Clinton Avenue and Second Street, between the Capital Hotel and Spokes Bike Shop.

The rain seemed to be holding off as we made our way to the middle-back of the pack. The energy of seeing everyone ready to roll made us decide to start with the Fondo and decide at the 12 mile point if the Medio might be a better idea. Soon enough we were headed south on Main Street.

Little Rock's finest were out manning the intersections all the way out of town giving us a nice clear start for the day. Riding down much of the newly revitalized Main Street is a wonderful experience for those of us who remember its decay. Now old buildings are being restored and repurposed, streets being repaved to include bike lanes and pedestrian friendly walkways.

As we left town we started into the rolling hills to the south. Very light traffic on a Saturday morning along with smooth roads makes the route a pleasant riding experience. This was the first point that we saw the Mavic neutral support cars on the road, following along, checking on the riders. We were feeling pro.

Support was provided by Mavic. Credit: Arkansas Outside
Lisa and I got into a good easy pace at about 18 mph, people joined us and moved on or stayed for a while and dropped off. We saw several friends along the way and even knew a few of the drivers out there as they honked and waved. Then came the split. Our thought process went something like this:

  1. That was a great party last night.
  2. At this pace we will be late to the after party if we do the full Fondo.
  3. If we push the pace we'll be too tired to stay at the after party very long.
  4. If we do the Medio, we can be at the finish before it gets crowded.
  5. I don't think I've got 70 in me today.

And that was that. We were on our first Medio Fondo. Lisa and I did much of this ride alone, enjoying the countryside as the terrain slowly changed from the rolling hills to the flat stretches closer to the Arkansas River. The wind had been our friend for most of the ride and that continued. We were soon at the first and only aid station of the Medio.

Our first aid station, and the second for the Fondo folks, was as wonderful as we've come to expect from Little Rock Gran Fondo. As we pulled into the parking lot, we were greeted with cold, wet towels. We were a little early so we set our bikes in the grass while volunteers were setting up the bike racks. We dined on Nutella and strawberry stuffed pancakes, Leiva's iced coffee and of course there was some of the typical aid station food too, bananas, oranges and cookies.

Then we noticed local chef, Donnie Ferneau, with a barrel grill making wonderful grilled free range chicken from local Crystal Lake Farms and grilled sausage bits for us carnivores to enjoy. Picnic tables were set up and many riders coming in stayed a while to enjoy the live acoustic music performed by a local musician. There were no port-a-potties, clean facilities were available in the local community center. It was all very civilized.

Music at the second aid station. Credit: Arkansas Outside
It was soon time to get back on the bikes. I knew an upcoming section that travels east was my bonking point during the Fondo last year and I was not looking forward to the chip seal and wind that I remembered. I let Lisa pull for a while and got my legs ready. Of course the shorter distance, lack of wind and me not pulling a 21 mph train for the last 30 miles made me wonder why I was so worried about it. We cruised along, enjoying the ride and the easy pace, even stopping for photos at one point.

Just as we were about to turn north my phone rang, a work intrusion into this beautiful day, but within the next few miles all work emergencies were handled and we were on track. Then we turned west and it hit us square in the face; the wind had found us.

I had just taken the lead position when the turn came up, our pace dropped, I heard calls from behind to dial the speed back, no problem. We fought our way to the next turn, one we missed last year, this year the wind convinced us to look for a way off this trajectory as soon as possible and turn away from this headwind. As we turned I saw another couple ahead who missed the turn. A loud shout brought them back around. We were soon rounding the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport and Dassault Falcon Jet. As we rode by Recycle Bikes for Kids, Heifer Project and into downtown we realized we were almost done and of course began to question our decision to shorten our ride. The rain never arrived and the post party jelly fish heads were solved by Chef Ferneau's meat and Leiva's coffee.

As we rode under the finish arch, water bottles were being handed up and I grabbed one, but immediately someone walked up with a Lost Forty Beer from the local brewery and the water found its way to my extra bottle cage. After taking advantage of the complementary bike storage we started exploring the array of food offerings.

Waiting for the off. Credit: Little Rock Gran Fondo
The Little Rock Gran Fondo is known for bringing some of the best chefs in the area to serve the riders during and after the race. This year was no exception. Representatives from The Pantry, Vesuvio Bistro, The Capital Bar and Grill, South on Main, ZaZa's Pizza, and Loblolly Creamery kept our bellies full. Music was provided by Bonnie Montgomery and her band all afternoon except for a break to give away some sweet Mavic wheels and a Cannondale frame.

As friends came in from the full Fondo, the party kicked into high gear as riders drifted from table to table, telling stories of the ride, sharing their favorite foods and beer and just having a great time.

Joe Jacobs the author. Credit: Little Rock Gran Fondo
For added entertainment, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola took a seat in the dunking booth to help raise money for Recycle Bikes for Kids, an organization that refurbishes used bicycles then returns them to individuals and communities that need them for recreation and transportation. As the party slowly wound down Lisa and I finally decided to head home to take a rest from the weekend's festivities.

At home we found the great swag that was part of the event including bottle openers, tech shirts, a bottle cage tool/food holder and more. Thank you Arvest Bank, The Capital Hotel, Ben E. Keith and Spokes Little Rock. We will be back Little Rock Gran Fondo, we will be back.

Joe Jacobs is a lifelong cyclist and outdoor fun promoter. Joe is the co-owner of with his wife Lisa where the motto is, "If you're not dirty and sweaty, you're not playing hard enough".