San Diego Gran Fondo 2011 – Episode II “Return of the Flatlanders”

Unrest remained on the cycling routes of Kansas.

Two local cyclist had covered thousands

of miles in preparation for another

Gran Fondo San Diego attempt.

The roads of eastern Kansas,

repeatedly traveled by these mysterious riders,

had long been conquered.

The limited number of challenging climbs locally

did little to prepare them for the hills of California.

Knowing they had done all they could do

in spite of the elevation limitations,

the riders returned to San Diego for

another assault on Honey Springs Road. . .

The ride log for 2010 ended with a total of 3,529.89 miles but a measly 4 rides covering 119.23 miles in December due to early arrival of heavy snows.  2011 didn’t start better with another 4 rides in January and 5 in February as the winter of 2010-2011 went down as the 2nd snowiest winter in the 123 year history of Kansas City observations.  Fortunately, Gran Fondo had moved the San Diego ride to April.  With 5 extra weeks to prepare, Dan and I pushed it hard in March for an extra 323 training miles and tacked on another 100 the first week of April.

A birthday/Christmas gift to myself had also resulted in a new bike for 2011.  Confidence high from the base miles we had managed to put in and armed with an upgrade in equipment, we headed back to San Diego for what we hoped would be the dream ride we had envisioned but failed to find in 2010.

The forecast was much more promising than the previous year. Fortunately, rain/cold weather gear, readily available if necessary, remained packed for the duration.  We arrived in San Diego the Thursday evening before the ride.  Dan’s daughter had moved back to the Kansas City area a few months earlier and we would not have her SUV to haul our bike boxes and luggage to the hotel.  Assured by the hotel that their shuttle would accommodate our bikes, we took everything to the curb and waited for the bus.  The driver hesitated for a minute but found a way to load everything up.

Dan’s daughter’s move back to the midwest complicated logistics; however, no longer having our local support crew hardly proved an inconvenience.  Checked back in at the Sheraton where we stayed last year, we lucked out with first floor,  breeze way accommodations that would allow us to wheel in and out in almost a door to door fashion.  We would just have to transition from suburban to urban cyclists for the weekend.

Friday started out with bike assembly and a quick breakfast before we rolled out for our first warm-up ride of the weekend.  This year’s Gran Fondo route wouldn’t take us over the Coronado Bridge or along Coronado Island so we elected to take the ferry over to Coronado to see what we had missed during the previous year’s foul weather ride.  We boarded the ferry to find bike racks lining the center of the lower deck.  Clearly, we had not had an original notion since the trek over to Coronado for a ride down Silver Strand Blvd. is pretty popular.  The ride over to Coronado took us right by the USS Midway.  The Midway was commissioned in September 1945 after the conclusion of World War II.  Following deployments all over the world over a period of 47 years, she now serves as a museum.  Although now outdated by comparison to today’s carriers, the contrast with the late 1800’s era schooner sailing by was even more amazing.

We rolled off the pier on the Coronado side of the bay and after a quick spin around Hotel del Coronado, we enjoyed a sun-splashed ride down Silver Strand Blvd. to Imperial Beach and back.  Back across the bay in time for a late lunch, we hit another of Little Italy’s mandatory stops, Mona Lisa’s Italian Restaurant and Deli.  I highly recommend a Mona Lisa deluxe to go.

Saturday’s itinerary mandated a return to the Little Italy Farmer’s Market.  After loading up on fresh juice, various samples, and a quick Panini courtesy of the Panini Guy, we caught Amtrak’s Pacific Coaster up to Solano Beach with our bikes.  We rode down to La Jolla for a little sight-seeing.  The drop down into La Jolla was speedy but in the back of my mind I was cursing the fact that we would have to climb back up to Solano Beach.  The timed climb coming up on Sunday and its elevation chart were still imprinted on my brain and my legs protested a little in anticipation of the Sunday climbs yet to come.  Once back to Solano Beach, the wait time til the return train was perfect for a repeat of the previous year’s visit to Pizza Port for a couple of slices of pie and custom brews.

The Pizza Port stop did not diminish our need for more pre-ride carb loading and we found everything we needed at Buon Appetito in Little Italy which served up the best pasta dinner in recent memory.  Primed for our Gran Fondo rematch, we turned in early.  The forecast called for clear skies and pleasant temps, so sleep came easier than the previous year when forecast for rain added to our Gran Fondo rookie anxiety.

The morning of the ride could not have been better.  Slightly cool but with the sun ready to rise high in the sky, the riders assembled in Little Italy for Gran Fondo 2011.

 

The route would not take us over the Coronado Bridge this time; however, it was a fair trade for the perfect conditions.  However, similar to the 2010 ride, the first several miles were frustrating for many due to a rash of flat tires.  The number of railroad tracks in the early part of the route probably contributed but, seriously, a set of new tires would have allowed several to keep rolling.  We gave our new treads the credit for keeping us on the road instead of performing repairs on the shoulder.

The ride to the Olympic Training Center went fast and, unlike 2010 when the approaching hills were hidden in the low clouds, we had a good view of what lay ahead.  Still enjoying the perfect day, we were all smiles for the camera as we cruised by Otay Lakes.

The timed climb was still ahead.  Determined to shave several minutes off our previous time and armed with an idea of what the climb required, we maintained a quicker pace than the year before.  Dan again took team honors as the fastest climber but I bested my previous time by 15 minutes.  The 2011 route again changed things up from 2010 and, although we knew we had to go down, I don’t think we were prepared for the long, thrilling, winding descents that had us cruising at nearly 40 mph without even trying.  If the event cameras had been on the descent and not just before the climb, they would have captured big, holding on for dear life, grins.

With a handful of Cat 5 climbs between us and the finish, we enjoyed coasting for a bit.  Having managed the big climb and recovering on the descents, the last 50 miles needed to only be managed and the 2011 Gran Fondo would be in the books.  Finishing strong, we rolled under the finishing arch and pedaled our way to the Sheraton.  Total mileage for the day:  109.88.

It was again an epic and challenging ride.  We had no sooner returned to Overland Park when the conversation turned to whether we would return in 2012 or look for another challenge.  Fortunately, we still had all of 2011 to look forward to with several local miles to chase before having to make that decision.

Spoiler alert:  COMING SOON TO A BLOG NEAR YOU:  SAN DIEGO GRAN FONDO 2012 – EPISODE III “Will the Three-peat be Sweet?”

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