Golden, Colorado - home of Coors and the Giordana GFNCS Golden Gran Fondo. I grew up on Coors beer. As a kid I couldn't get enough. Not to drink, but to collect and sell the empty aluminum cans. As a freewheeling California eco-friendly earth child my father took me up in the mountains to pick up empty cans tossed aground by weekend party goers. It was easy money for a kid, plus it helped save the planet which seemed like a good thing. Besides imprinting the wonderful smell of day-old stale beer in my mind for life, Coors helped me save money to buy my first road bike.
Golden has a rich cycling history including the US Pro Challenge, Coors Classic and the movie American Flyers, but more importantly it's a place you actually want to visit - bring your spouse or family for the weekend. So while I play bike racer in a fun, safe and rider-friendly event my wife can sleep in, enjoy a nice cup of coffee, check out local shops and charge all kinds of things on my credit card that I won't know about for a month. That's priceless, and believe me a lot more appealing to her than sitting in a dusty field waiting for me to finish some obscure USAC geezer race.
So my race day strategy is simple too. Although the ride is 85 miles long, the race segments only cover a dozen miles over four timed climbs. So I'll ride each timed segment at threshold, ease up, socialize and enjoy the scenery till the next one.
I quickly abandon my simple plan like a sinking ship. I have no choice. It's obvious there will be no "easy" today. With a shark tooth profile and 10,000 total feet of climbing in alpine conditions all the miles will challenge an old wheel sucker like me. It will be fun - like pulling teeth.
Arriving at the third segment Chris catches me and rolls past in pursuit of glory on Tremont mountain. I'm just pursuing the finish line - in Golden. I try to stay with him on 12% grades by dancing on the pedals, but I've got two left feet now. At the end of the segment the route rolls downhill for a dozen miles on the Peak to Peak Highway. It's a fun 50mph descent on smooth asphalt with sharp hairpin turns.
After climbing out of Pineville we roll downhill to the fourth and final timed segment. It's a 1400ft climb over 4.7 miles, but due to road construction the timed portion is now just two miles long. Yea! That's great news, till I realize we still have to ride up the entire 1400ft climb. Chris is just up the road so I try to catch him, coming within a few bike lengths before he crosses the timing strips and starts his race against the clock. I hang my head in misery and climb in a painful style, painfully, with much pain.
Thankfully the last 10 miles is a downhill run into Golden and the finish in Parfet Park. Chris and I arrive together glad the Golden Gran Fondo is done and dusted. Food, drink and award festivities are already in progress for the shorter Medio and Piccolo Fondo riders. Grabbing some local handmade tamales plus a beer from Alpine Dog Brewing we relax while awaiting Gran Fondo results.
In the end Chris has a great day completing the four timed segments in 54:35 for 15th overall, while I ride a tortoise like 1:01:52 into 38th. To put it perspective local racer Kip Taylor puts in the fastest time at 44:06, winning all four timed segments. Since that perspective is too demoralizing for me I seek solace in the details, the timed segment data, looking for a golden nugget. With some creative post-ride data mining, slicing and dicing I discover I'm the fastest rider named "John" on the 1st timed segment. I'll chalk that up as a W - or should it be a J? One way or another everyone's a winner at GFNCS Golden.Gran Fondo grassroots racing proves that hard and competitive can coexist with safe and fun for everyone. At GFNCS races everyone is equal - no elitism. Everyone is scored - not just "those in the money." Everyone can race - even in a Pro Tour kit or cargo shorts with a sleeveless tee. In other words, it's inclusive rather than exclusive. That's innovation. That's the way to grow the sport. It's great to see promoters like Reuben Kline step up, innovate and make grassroots racing great again. Look for me at GFNCS in 2017. It's gonna be huge. Believe me.
John is a former faux pro racer enjoying life as a geriatric cyclist in search of great bucket list rides to keep him in shape and out of trouble - well, at least in shape.
He writes about his Bucket Rides in all their variety and glory for Granfondo.com. See his other pieces here