Axel Merckx Granfondo - Penticton, Canada
This race all began back in March when my new Canadian friend, Dave Heisler, had just retired and bought a house in San Luis Obispo. He invited a bunch of his friends from home to visit SLO and do a cycling camp in March. I joined them and made friends with many of the riders. There had been talk of me coming up to visit during July to both visit Canada for the first time in my life as well as compete in this race.
Fast forward to July and I’m helping to set up a station alongside the road of in Penticton to grab bottles from - a sort of makeshift soigneur. This was my first clue that this “gran fondo” was going to be much more serious and challenging than the two others I had done in my life. Yes, there are 5 aid stations along the way with tasty food and refreshing drinks, however, I would not have the luxury of visiting any of those as this was a full on race and there’s no stopping in a race.
The course: 100 miles, 4,700 ft of elevation.
I am near the front of the start line the morning of the race not exactly sure what to expect, but hoping to stay with the front group the entire course. I knew the speed would be high when I heard that joining us were 2018 US National Road Champion, Jonny Brown and recently crowned 2019 US National TT Champion, Ian Garrison. As soon as the gun sounded we were off onto a steep 0.5 mile climb. The group stuck together until the next climb at mile 14 which was a steep 1.5 mile climb. I went up really quickly to stay with the front group, but ran out of gas after we crested the top as there were 2 more small bumps that I didn’t gauge my effort for. I managed to link up with 8 others and we had a really smooth paceline. We worked super hard for the next 15 miles until we finally caught the front group, which was 40 people large. We eased up a bit and then a set of rollers broke up the field again. This is where I started to see team support staff on the side of the road supporting their riders by passing out bottles to their riders. This is when I fully realized the nature of this granfondo was definitely a full-on race. I continued riding at my threshold until another group picked me up.
At this point, we were 45 miles into the race and I was out of water. We had placed our bottles at mile 65 and it was heating up to 80 degrees. I was beginning to suffer due to a lack of water, but I knew water was coming soon.
I arrived to my station where I swapped out my bottles on the go and quickly drank an entire bottle and knew I would likely need more than the one I had remaining. Shortly after my station, there was another team’s support staff passing out bottles to a rider ahead of me. I asked for a bottle too and he kindly supplied me with one. I was grateful as I knew I needed all the fluids I could take on in order to finish the race strong. I lost the group during my water fiasko and the next group on the road picked me up. I ended up riding strong all the way to the finish line where I could finally relax and refuel my body. I actually felt pretty good for just having completed the fastest 100 miles of my life in a total time of 4 hours 30 minutes at an average speed of 22 mph.
It was super fun to race with hundreds of other riders and dozens of super strong ones (including national champions). I accomplished a goal of not bonking and riding the whole race within my limits and finishing strong. Now that I know the course and field of riders better, I think I could pace myself better, bring someone to pass out bottles sooner in the race. I had a blast and hope to return! -Keith Schwanemann