Jeremiah Bishop’s Gran Fondo

     Among the many joys of being on a District Velocity is the off season.  It’s that time of year where the training mode gives way to riding mode.  Common folk usually fail to distinguish racers and riders, except in noticing the unusual wildness in a bike racer’s eyes–a fearsome psychic state akin in freakiness to a bull moose in rut–in full race mode.  It’s a temporary frenzy, though, and it can wear even the strongest of steel wills.  For most of us, it can’t be sustained more than several months.  For the past two years we at DVR have formally announced our transition to the off season with Jeremiah Bishop’s Gran Fondo.
     At first glance, a Fondo would seem to be the perfect transitional event from racing to riding season; it is both a ride and a race.  The first person across the finish line wins nothing, but there are portions of the ride–in this case, severe climbs–that are timed.  Riders wear chips that track times up two massive climbs, the two times are totalled, and those who ride the fastest are awarded KOM jerseys.  The only barrier to participation is a minimum speed of 11 mph–where average race speeds are more than double that, hardly a worry unless the course involves a climb to the moon.
     The climbs at the Fondo this year came close to reaching the moon.  Beefed up from last year’s brutal ride, the course covered 105 miles and 11,000 feet of climbing, most of which (in traditional Harrisonburg style) was on rough gravel.  The crowning ascent was a Cat 1, 12-mile stretch of steady ascent that ended with a 400 yard section of tarmac on top of Reddish Nob.  This tiny paved portion has the distinction of being Virginia’s highest paved road.  Preceding Reddish Nob were 60 miles of jagged riding–three Cat 2 climbs, along the Virginia-West Virginia border and along fire roads.

DVR at JB’s Gran Fondo

    As was the case last year, DVR fielded the largest number of riders:  15!  Not only we were large in numbers, some of us just felt plain large–most had not raced in months, and some had not even ridden in months.  Before the race we had the audicity to smile for the camera, despite what we faced.
     In bike racing, you get dropped and you have the luxury of stopping, but in Fondos, you can get dropped, but you don’t drop out.  You’re often on your own, and you always keep going.
     Tom Jawetz (far left in the photo) completed the Fondo last year, and knew it was no joke.  In 2011 Tom took time off from riding his bike to care for his newborn son, and had not been able to ride or train for several months. Still, he figured he could power through a normal 100-miler nonetheless.  And he probably could have, except his wheel bent and began rubbing his brake pads, and what should have been a six-hour sufferfest became a 7-hour death march.  Tom finished in a devastated state, dragging his wrecked bike alone, with a rubbing brake pad, through most of the ride.
     This year he returned, and although he remembered the difficulty of last year, the first climb still put him on the back foot.  “I was really struggling before the first KOM,” he recalled afterwards.”  My HR was through the roof, but then I settled in on the climb, passed some dudes, dragged some people along and felt pretty good.”  He later joined up with teammate Dan, who had not ridden or raced in quite some time, and the two of them paced each other through the climbs and all the way to the finish.

Tom Jawetz atop Reddish Knob

     Tom (above) even found the energy to allow half his face to smile at the top of Reddish Nob.
Up in the front of the race DVR riders with a bit more fitness were trying to keep pace wtih Jeremiah and Ben King.  Grayson Church stuck with a small group who by the base of Reddish Nob numbered a handful of pros and top local amateurs.  Included in the group was pro Ben King of Radioshack-Nissan, who is, needless to say, a fairly fit individual.  Ben set a steadily difficult pace for the group.  Grayson had suffered a severe accident earlier this Spring at Jefferson Cup, only returned to racing last month, but managed to stick with the leading group up the climbs, and for his efforts won the KOM jersey for his age group.

Grayson Atop the Podium

     David Muse, a Cat 5 in his first year of racing, also found success on the climbs, grabbing a podium spot in the KOM shot, right behind our magnificent host, Jeremiah Bishop.

Dave Stepping Onto the Podium

     Jeremiah owns the Strava KOMs for all the climbs, but hung back with the rest of us, encouraging us, joking, and reminding us to look around and enjoy ourselves.  He also flatted, which led to DVR’s Kevin Cross loudly proclaiming that he’d dropped the multiple Olympian and 11-time member of the U.S. national mountain biking team and attainer of the highest ever U.S. placing at the World Championship in 13 years.  Dropped him!  The dozen or so retirees who pummeled Kevin later on the climbs did little to dampen his earlier enthusiasm.
     Aside from being the most difficult and beautiful ride we’ve ever done, the Fondo offered a chance to meet bike riders from other communities and to enjoy a spectular day in what must be one of the most beautiful parts of the country.
     Many thanks to Jeremiah and Erin Bishop for hosting, and to the many volunteers and sponsors who made the day special, and particular thanks to the prostate cancer survivors who put such small feats of self-imposed suffering in their proper perspective.
     Now, let’s take it easy. What’s that you say?  Cyclocross has already started and as well known by now DVR’s Patrick Dolan has been lighting up the scene.

El Prez

     As DVR Tony Abate concluded, from his prone position on the ground following his finish, “The Fondo was everything I hoped and masochistically feared it would be. “

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