Sometimes, things go according to the plan. That being said, usually the plan is the “best case scenario” where nothing goes wrong. In cycling this means that the sun is shining all day, the wind is at your back, the roads were freshly tarred only a few weeks back, and everything else that could go wrong doesn’t. With a few minor exceptions, that is the perfect description for what happened during the Niagara Falls Gran Fondo.
Unlike the other Gran Fondos I have done, this one had favorable weather. It was cool in the morning, about 45 degrees, but warmed up significantly to a balmy 65 during the day. The skies were blue all day, and the wind was fairly mild. I was able to demo the Cervelo S5 for the ride, and now I have a new love affair. The woman running the demos from the Cervelo tent had to almost wrestle it from me. More on that later.
The start line was fairly chilly, but not too bad, and we self-seeded in the 5+ hour completion pen and we set off around 7AM. The views were fantastic. The roads were completely closed to car traffic, and many of them were freshly paved. At one point we were riding on the QEW (highway) which was as smooth as glass, and then riding through the Thorold Tunnel. In the tunnel as we whizzed past as 25 mph, there was a guy on the sidewalk playing the accordion. The effect was fantastic and surreal.
After several more miles of scenic views, we reached the KOM climb. At first it seemed like it wasn’t going to be too bad. Honestly, we had already climbed worse earlier in the day. Then we crested a rise and saw why it is called “The Wall”. A section of road at close to 18% grade rose in the distance at an angle that seemed to be an illusion. Like many hills that seem larger from a distance, I expected this one to become “more realistic” once we found its base. At the base, I threw away realism and just dropped to the lowest gear I had. It wasn’t long before my heart rate was maxed at 177bpm and I was struggling to stay moving forward, standing on the pedals at a whopping 3mph. I knew I could reach the top, but my efforts of determination were being thwarted by the masses of people who were dismounting and walking up the hill. In my brain I was wrestling with the idea that the hill was going to beat me because look at what it did to all of these other people! I wrestled my super light and twitchy S5 up the hill and rode over the top with beaming pride. I wasn’t the fastest. In fact my buddy beat me my almost 40 seconds out of my 8.5 minute KOM result, but I made it.
The remainder of the ride was almost done at Time Trial pace to keep our time under 4:30:00, but we did stop to have a sip of champagne at one of the more popular rest stops. (honestly, who gets to ride on the highway, closed to traffic, through tunnels that go under water, drink champagne and ride a flagship bike?) The whole event is like a dream come true.
I guess hard work DOES pay off!