2013 Ottawa Granfondo
Last weekend I participated in the second edition of the Ottawa Granfondo with four of the guys from Speed River Cycling Club… Rob, Andy, Colin and “Jimmy” (name changed to protect his identity) . There were four distance options… a 65 km Cortofondo, a 100 km Mediofondo, a 170 km Granfondo and a 220 km Suprfondo. We signed up for the Suprfondo which ended up being 235 km after a last minute route change. This was the longest bike ride I had ever done and I was glad to have some friends to share the challenge with.
After arriving in Ottawa on Friday night, we stopped at the event headquarters to pick up our packages. There was supposed to be timing chips because prizes were going to be awarded to the fastest riders on four timed sections on the route, however we were informed that they had not arrived and we should pick them up in the morning. So we went for a pasta dinner at Fratellis to carb-load before heading to our hotel.
We were back at the starting venue early on Saturday morning in time for a 7 am departure. During the night an email had been sent by the organizers stating that in the interests of safety, the timed sections had been cancelled due to debris on the roads from heavy storms the day before. This turned out to be a pretty lame excuse for poor organizing or false advertising. It was reported by some that no timing had ever been arranged. To be honest, I personally would end up being thankful that the timed sections were cancelled as I found the ride to be challenging enough without having to race through sections of the course! Anyway, we were all ready to ride at start time. There was a banner over the road, but the driveway was blocked and nobody official seemed to be available to start the ride. At least 10 minutes after the scheduled start time, we were getting restless and a couple of riders moved the barricades themselves and we were just going to set off on our own. Suddenly some random dude showed up and said something like “Hey! Who’s ready to ride?” … Obviously he wasn’t paying attention cuz we were all ready and waiting. Seemed like the organizers were the ones who weren’t ready. “Ok… Go!”
Really? That’s it? No megaphone. No air horn. Not even a whistle. I was thinking that the “Epic Granfondo” described on the web site was not going to be as epic as I anticipated. I’ve done charity rides that were more organized and created a bigger buzz.
As we rolled out the driveway of the parking lot I noticed that there was no lead vehicle or motorcycles. We were on our own. It was almost comical… “You kids be careful and have fun out there!”, however we had paid over $200 for this event and it had the feeling of a big group ride.
As we rode out of the city, I don’t think there was any traffic control. More than 100 riders unclipping at every stop sign and traffic light. This was definitely not like any mass-start event I had ever done before. Eventually we made it out of town and got into a rhythm. It was a nice area for riding, with hardly any traffic. A bunch of guys from Jet Fuel Coffee were setting a comfortable pace on the front and we averaged around 32 km/hr. The course markings were very poor and we got lost before finding the first feed zone about 73 km in. We pulled into a park where a table had been set up with bananas, bagels and a couple of water coolers for refilling bottles… one containing some kind of energy powder. A jar of jam and some plastic knives were provided for lubricating the dry bagels. I discovered that the banana was a nice addition to the bagel too. After about five minutes or so we got back on the road. The only problem was we had no idea where we were going. Luckily random dude number 2 shows up on a mountain bike and escorts us through town and gets us back on course … “Go that way” he says before turning back. It was pretty comical… The Ottawa Granfondo may not have a lead vehicle, but they have some guy in a sleeveless t-shirt on a Schwinn with an orange flag on the back!
Ok we were back on the road and hopefully going in the right direction. Some of us started to help out on the front as we rode to the next feed zone around the 130km mark. So far the roads were pretty flat, with some gentle rollers, but there was a strong wind to deal with. By the time we reached the second feed zone, the group had broken up and the numbers had dropped. This station was a little more organized with the bagels which were already cut with jam pre-applied, but the energy drink had not been properly diluted and was so strong you couldn’t drink it.
We started off again after about five minutes. Shortly after getting back on the road, one of the Jet Fuel guys flatted. Everyone stopped to wait but they told us to go on without them. I noticed that it was getting hillier. All of a sudden the pace went up considerably too! Some of the guys who went to the front were really strong and our group blew apart. I was hanging on now, and due to the decreasing numbers, ended up near the front. It wasn’t long before my turn came to take a pull. I think Aaron Fillion was the other guy with me, and he just about killed me with the pace! I got off and tried to recover from the effort. Rob and Colin had been dropped and our group was pretty small. By the time my next turn at the front came, we reached the biggest hill of the ride at approximately the 150 km point. I had another beast of a rider with me and I was not able to keep up. I blew up and got dropped. Andy and Jimmy rode on with a select group and I was left to wait for help. There was only one other guy in sight and I waited for him to catch up. After about 3 km we reached the top of the hill and started a fast descent before a right hand turn. At the bottom of the hill I was surprised to see Andy approaching from the opposite direction by himself. He had been off the front in a tuck on the downhill and missed the turn and had ridden along for a while before noticing that he was alone : )
He rode with us and before long we reached another rest stop where we found Jimmy waiting. We filled up our bottles and were soon joined by Rob and Colin. The field that had started the ride had been completely decimated by this stage. The five of us were back together again and resolved to ride together to the end. Three or four others joined us as we set off again for the final 80 km. It was downhill overall from this point but there was some nasty headwinds to contend with. I was fading at 202 km. Andy and Jimmy dropped us a couple of times but waited for us to catch up when they noticed. Eventually we made it back to the Brookstreet Hotel for the post ride event. There was no finish line (the start banner had been since taken down) and nobody acknowledged our return. No one greeted us or congratulated us on our accomplishment… 235 km in 6 hours 44 minutes… a pace of almost 35 km/hr (excluding stops)
It had been a tough ride and we were tired and looking forward to some food and our complimentary beer. A stage had been set up and some band was playing so loud we could hardly hear each other. The food was terrible. I really believe that you’re better off not serving food at all unless it’s at least half decent. You can’t really go wrong with sausage on a bun, unless of course the bun is hard and you cheap out and don’t provide mustard and ketchup. There was pasta with some watery canned tomatoes… not sauce… there was no seasoning or spices. It was bland and tasted so burnt that nobody could eat it. As an event, the Ottawa Granfondo turned out to be a major disappointment… easily the most poorly organized cycling event that I have ever attended, and the worst value for money. We had paid over $230 each for a bagel, two or three bananas, some water and powder, a beer and a sausage on a bun with no condiments. It was essentially a big group ride with water stops. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone unless they make some major improvements for the future. There are so many much better organized events available. Most cyclists don’t care about a band and an ugly jersey. I think they should focus on the ride… marking the course, traffic control etc… and some decent food afterwards. A sandwich. Jerseys should be optional to keep the cost down… many of us ride so many of these events each year that we do not need a jersey every time.
I do have to say thanks to the volunteers on the course. The support was needed and appreciated to get through such a long ride.
Recovery ride in Gatineau Park
On Sunday we went for a nice recovery ride in Gatineau Park. I thought I would be toast after such a long day on the bike the day before, but it wasn’t that bad. It was pretty cool riding through downtown Ottawa then over the bridge. We rode a loop through the park that had some nice steady climbs and fun descents. It was a great place to ride and the park was full of cyclists. We took it pretty easy and enjoyed the scenery and the wildlife. It was a nice end to our weekend in Ottawa before getting back on the highway for the long drive home.