Posted by: Tina | July 23, 2012

Penticton Granfondo 2012 (Mediofondo) – Race Report

What I haven’t mentioned anywhere on this blog is that, with my triathlon schedule completely upended by injury, my main event for the 2012 season became the Axel Merckx Penticton Granfondo (medio distance), which took place on Sunday, July 8.

My verdict: incredible!

I wasn’t excited leading up to the ride because I’ve been pretty bummed over the last few months about the fact that I am not able to swim or run. I also wasn’t excited because I didn’t know anybody who I could ride with (most people I knew who were doing the ride were entered in the full 160 km granfondo distance). I’ve been solo training so much that I’ve been finding it hard to get excited about going on long rides at all, including this event. It’s not often that I’m charged up about going for a 3+ hour bike ride by myself.

Because I wasn’t excited, I also wasn’t nervous. So I didn’t have the usual restlessness and sleeplessness that I get before most of my triathlon events. I was up by 5:15 a.m., muscled down most of a bagel with peanut butter and banana and headed into Penticton. I did a few warm-up laps, asked a volunteer to affix my number to my shirt, and grabbed a shot of espresso from a coffee shop. While killing time in the area just ahead of the 25 km/hr corral, I chatted with a guy who had driven 23 hours from northern Alberta to do the race on his own. It made me feel better being by myself, knowing I wasn’t the only one.

As it started, it took a couple of minutes to walk/coast to the start, but as soon as we were over the line, the crowd opened up pretty quickly. The first section was a short steep climb up Vancouver Hill, probably chosen by design to spread out the riders. The road looked amazing, curving up into the benchland filled completely with people on bikes. The descent, ripping down through the orchards and back into town, was so fun. It felt like a real race, and that’s when I realized I was about to enjoy myself immensely.

As we headed out on the flat highway out to Summerland, I started hopping on the wheels of other riders. This is where I was glad I was on my own because I could just jump on and off as I pleased. I was also pushing myself to keep up with fast groups, which undoubtedly helped me ride faster.

The last third of the 92 km was the toughest, partly because I was getting tired, having gone out fairly hard in all the racing excitement. I knew it would be a slog to climb out of Okanagan Falls so I was prepared for it, but I thought Highway 97 would be all downhill after the Highway 3 turnoff. It is not. This was mentally challenging because I was convinced it would be an easy cruise into town. There are descents but it flattens out often, which is when I could feel the north wind slowing me down more. And the final grind through Penticton! Something I wasn’t prepared for is the teeny tiny uphill grade along Main Street almost to the finish.

I cramped up as I arrived into Penticton, and the two guys I had been trading places with for most of the stretch from Okanagan Falls passed me. I cycled easy for a few minutes until the spasms passed and found myself able to push ahead again. I passed the two guys on the grind back into town, and ended up pulling them into the finish.

My final time for the 92km was 3:06:53, with an average speed of 29.1 km/hr. This is slightly faster than the finish time my coach had set for me, which I had thought was an outlandish prediction. I’ve mostly been riding on my own, so I had forgotten what riding in a group can do for speed. My time was definitely helped by the fact that I was drafting, plus the excitement of riding in a big group on a beautiful day.

I am sold on the concept of the granfondo. It was so fun and friendly, and made me feel like I was part of a peloton. I like the quiet of climbing hills as a group, with just the sounds of breathing, the clicking of gears, and the whirring of bike wheels, followed by the exhilaration of careening down the hills in unison. The course was great, with just the right amount of climbing followed by super fun descents, and then flat sections where I could fly with a group.

I predict more fondos in my future! Not this year though – now I rest, heal, and enjoy life.

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