San Diego Gran Fondo 2012 – Episode III “Will the Three-peat be Sweet?”

The Kansas cyclists returned to their

homes in Overland Park.

Committed to riding another Gran Fondo,

they turned their focus to recruiting a legendary

Jedi cyclist from the far-east burg of Scottsville, NY

to join their team.

Little does the team know that

STAR EVENTS has secretly

begun  a takeover of their favored

Gran Fondo event.

Uncertain as to the specifics of the 2012 ride

the team went on with a winter of training

hoping the details would come together

and allow for a return to San Diego….

The ride log for 2011 ended with a total of 3,623.85 miles and early indications suggested it would be a mild winter allowing for continuation of our regular weekend rides.  In spite of the decent temperatures and lack of early snow, the shorter daylight hours still required a shift to indoor training in place of our usual evening rides.  2012 continued the “winter that never was” as we saw less than 3 inches of snow for the entire season.  The precipitation that did fall was considerate enough to do so in the middle of the week allowing for dry roads on the weekends. See “Res ipsa loquitur” post.

Mike and Megan (see “San Diego Gran Fondo 2010) married in Kansas City in October 2011.  The guest list included the Yust’s from Scottsville, NY, family friends of the bride and her family.  Bill Yust was Dan’s riding partner when he lived in New York.  I had heard tales from Dan about Bill, their rides around the Finger Lakes, the surrounding hills, Bill’s dedication to the bike, and yoga expertise.  Bill had been kept up to date by Dan on our cycling exploits including the 2010 and 2011 San Diego Gran Fondos.  At the wedding reception, it didn’t take long for us to plant the seed in Bill’s mind for our proposed return to San Diego for the 2012 and his inaugural Gran Fondo.

However, frequent checking of the Gran Fondo website failed to give any sign that plans were under way for continuation of the ride in 2012.  We started to explore other options but none held the appeal of San Diego.  Now familiar with the area and loyal fans of its culinary offerings, we held out hope for news that ride details would be forthcoming.  Finally, we were lightly rewarded with a report that Star Events, a company that specialized in organizing high quality sports events but primarily triathlons, had purchased Gran Fondo USA.  In its place, Star Events created Gran Fondo World with plans to host high quality cycling events around the world with a new title sponsor, Cannondale.  First up would be San Diego but the relatively late announcement and limited April date options due to the way Easter fell on the calendar were starting to cause us some concern.  I scoured the internet for updates and contact information.  With some success, I was able to piece together assurances that the event would take place.  We waited impatiently for a few weeks and when the formal announcement came out with registration details, we jumped on firming up travel plans.

Kansas City to San Diego would be a simple Southwest flight for me and Dan.  Bill’s itinerary from Scottsville, NY would rival the plot from “Planes, Trains & Automobiles”.  Dan and I would also benefit from being able to economically fly our bikes with us and our non-stop flight minimized the odds of getting to San Diego without a bike to ride.  Bill entrusted delivery of his bike to a company specializing in shipping bikes to events.  The three of us and our Scott, LeMond, and Serrota bikes all arrived safely in San Diego on Thursday, April 12th.  After getting situated at the Embassy Suites, we headed out for dinner.

I had recently become a fan of the Food Network show “Diners, Drive-ins & Dives” and had seen an episode featuring what looked like a great place in Gilbert, AZ which my wife, father-in-law, and I ate at during a March trip to Phoenix (http://joesfarmgrill.com/).  So, with the San Diego trip coming up, I checked the show’s website and found there were several featured restaurants in San Diego.  Dan was already familiar with one place, Hodad’s (http://hodadies.com/home/).  With a place just a mile from where we were staying, it was a must-do and did not disappoint.

Having checked another place off the Triple D bucket list, I would have been content to head back to the hotel but I see Dan firing off text messages after which he reports he has secured access for us to a “secret bar”.  OK, Bill and I were game.  Let’s check it out.  Via text directions, we were steered a few blocks and found ourselves standing in front of an otherwise innocuous looking bar & grill.  Dan checks inside and comes back out to retrieve us.  We stroll in and see what looks like a pretty nice place with patrons dining at tables and a few at the well-placed bar.  We keep walking past everyone until we’re in a back hallway that looks like it has only two destinations, the restrooms or the kitchen.  At the end of the hall, kegs were stacked from the floor to the ceiling.  Clearly a dead-end until, when pushed, the wall of kegs swings in revealing a hostess ready to take jackets and direct us inside to the “Noble Experiment.”

Seating only 32, the bartenders and waitresses provided individualized attention.  The drink menu listed only 8 drinks but with the “Dealer’s choice” the options were almost unlimited.  You had to only name your preferred alcohol and the bona fide mixologists would do their magic in creating a custom cocktail.  Very cool place and a fitting start to our Gran Fondo adventure.

Friday called for bike assembly and plans to take our bikes on the train north to the stop near La Jolla for a ride past Torrey Pines then on to Solano Beach for a mandatory stop at Pizza Port before catching the train back to San Diego.  There was a threat of rain but the radar showed it was dry up north.  So, we bought our tickets and did a short ride around the harbor and by the USS Midway before returning to the station to wait for our departure time.  We had no sooner boarded the train when it began to rain.  We checked the radar on our phones and it still looked dry around Solano Beach so we amended our plans to go on up to Solano.  Unfortunately, the rain followed.  Needing no more of an excuse to hole up in the Pizza Port, we headed across the street from the train station and ducked inside.  The rain made no effort to let up so we had “no choice” but to order a pizza and a couple of rounds of the local brew before returning on a southbound train.

Back in San Diego, it had stopped raining and the roads were dry.   Great!  We could salvage the day with a ride up and around Balboa Park!  Wrong.  After a few blocks of heading the opposite direction from the hotel, the sky opened up and the wind decided to blow.  Highly reminiscent of our 2010 Gran Fondo, we got soaked in a quick ride back to the hotel.  Left only to plan our next meal, we cleaned up and headed to another downtown San Diego favorite, Karl Strauss Brewing Company.  Have you detected the theme of this trip yet? (http://www.karlstrauss.com/PAGES/Eats/Downtown.html).  Karl Strauss’ was followed by a dessert stop at another favored destination, Cafe Zucherro (http://www.cafezucchero.com/Home.html), where you will find the most amazing dessert case filled with cheesecakes, tiramisu, cannolis, gelato, etc., etc.  It was just a good thing that the weekend would include lots of riding.

The weather had cleared up and Saturday morning produced windy but sunny conditions.  After checking in for packet pick-up and the bike expo, we headed to the Farmers’ Market in Little Italy for what was now another Gran Fondo tradition of samples, fresh juice, and grilled paninis.  If crowd watching didn’t prove entertaining enough, there was always Smilin’ Jack and his accordion.  If you were wondering and even if you weren’t, Jack would let you know he also performed at the only French restaurant in Little Italy.

Ride plans called for a final tune-up across the bay on Coronado Island.  The ferry ride put us squarely in a sailing race which offered some great photo ops.  Once on the other side, we pedaled our way over to Hotel del Coronado for a look around.  After parking the bikes and heading up to the hotel for a peak, I looked back to see a couple of Japanese tourists posing with my bike.  OK, whatever.  After returning to my bike, they wanted to have their picture taken with me and my bike.  Amused, I was happy to oblige but now wonder if I have been tagged on some Japanese Facebook page.  If I had been thinking, I would have asked that a picture also be taken with my camera.  Oh well.

Back on the bikes, we rode down Silver Strand Blvd to Imperial Beach and then back to the pier for the return trip across the bay.  Having misread the schedule, we found that we had an hour to kill before the next ferry.  Given the opportunity to further stimulate the local economy, we waited it out at the Coronado Brewing Company (http://www.coronadobrewingcompany.com/) where we managed to have time for a quick refreshment.

Gran Fondo roughly translates to “Big Ride” in Italian and any big ride mandates a good carb loading meal the night before.  Buon Appetito fit the bill as it had the year before and we loaded up on a great pasta dinner Saturday night before returning to the hotel for final ride preparations.  (http://www.buonappetito.signonsandiego.com/)  The bikes were ready, the gear was laid out, and the forecast was calling for abundant sunshine and light winds.  All was good.  We deemed ourselves “GFR”. . . Gran Fondo Ready.

Early Sunday morning and after a pre-ride breakfast, we made our way to the staging area in Little Italy.  Participation numbers appeared down from the last two years but the area quickly filled with bikes representing just about every manufacturer and riders from 20 different states and 7 different countries.  Being Gran Fondo veterans, Dan and I had seen this before.  Bill, at his first Gran Fondo, was taking it all in.

The engines of our Ferrari escorts came to life with a throaty rumble signaling the start of the ride.  The familiar click, click, click of riders snapping into their pedals followed.  Unlike the past two years, we had a truly mass start as roughly 2,000 riders rolled out of Little Italy.  The route was comparable to 2011 with a few changes increasing the total mileage for the long route to nearly 108 miles.

Early and frequent railroad tracks caused an early rash of flat tires.  Bunching of riders, some of which probably weren’t acclimated to group riding, caused a couple of accidents with riders on the pavement clutching shoulders and probable broken collar bones.  The rest of us were able to negotiate the hazards and settle in for the ride to the Olympic Training Center where the rest stop preceded the timed KOM/QOM climb up Honey Springs Rd.  After one of the early CAT 2 climbs, Dan and I pulled over to regroup with Bill.  The day had started cool but was warming quickly.  Bill and Dan both had long sleeve high-vis, yellow jackets on.  Dan pulled his off while we watched down the hill for Bill.  Looking for the yellow, we were unaware Bill had stowed his jacket as well.  While waiting we heard the quote of the day, “Where’s the damn tow rope?”, from a rider sporting the blue, long route rider number on the front of his bike.  If he was looking for help already, he was in for a long day.

After waiting for a bit, I rode on to the training center while Dan backtracked down the hill.  With the early mechanical problems and accidents of others, he wanted to make sure Bill had not suffered some misfortune.  In the meantime, I get to the training center where Bill, cookie in hand, finds me.  With us looking for the wrong color, he had cruised right by us.  Dan arrived shortly and after stocking up on water & nutrition, we headed for the climb.

Of the 2,000 or so registered event riders, only 418 had accepted the challenge of the timed climb.  As described in posts for 2010 and 2011, the climb is a 6.55 mile affair with 1,736′ of elevation change.  The average grade is 5% but there are two particular stretches with a 9% grade.  We all settled into our own comfort zones and soon became separated.  I met Dan at the top and after a short break, we headed out for a much-needed “lunch” stop where we expected to find some nutrition.  In 2011, the stop was at one of the entrances to the Cleveland National Forest.  Anticipating the stop would be there again, we found an empty parking lot.  A few miles farther down the road near Alpine, we found the rest stop but no food.  Given that the registration required a declaration of which route we intended to ride giving the organizers a rough head count, the rest stop was woefully under-supplied.  Apologetic volunteers offered to fill water bottles but we were needing something more substantial as fuel to get us to the next rest stop.  Fortunately, we had brought Clif bars, gels, and Shot Bloks to get us through.  It wasn’t long before Bill joined us and encouraged Dan and I to again head out.

The route shifted to downhill mode and we enjoyed -6% grades while cruising at 40-45 mph.  I had the odd experience of having to brake behind a slower moving car that had slowed for a less aggressive rider.  We were both soon able to pass and I didn’t have to touch the brakes for nearly 5 miles.

Dan and I are not sure how or when but, as we approached the next major rest stop we come rolling up on Bill who, again, had slipped ahead of us.  I’m convinced he used some ancient Jedi/yoga master mind trick on us.  It happened one more time before we put an end to that and kept each other in sight until near the finish where we grouped up and rolled under the Gran Fondo Cannondale arch.  Including riding to and from the hotel, total mileage for the day topped out at 110.44 miles for Bill and me.  Dan, with his re-do of the first 2 mile climb was awarded an extra 4 miles.

Although the ride was done, sampling San Diego restaurants was not.  Right around the corner from our hotel was Kansas City Barbeque (http://www.kcbbq.net/).  Why, you ask, would a couple of guys from Kansas City want to have BBQ in San Diego when they can get it at home?  Well, in spite of the fact that there is never a bad time to have BBQ, Kansas City Barbeque also served as the bar in the 1986 movie “Top Gun”.  The place had to shut down for a day for filming various scenes but, in the end, paid off in spades as being a pretty good marketing decision.

A final meal with good friends in a great location after an epic ride made for a nearly perfect trip.  So, in reply to the title inquiry. . .

Yes.

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One Response to San Diego Gran Fondo 2012 – Episode III “Will the Three-peat be Sweet?”

  1. Bill Yust says:

    The blog is great, Randy. You captured all aspects of the trip, a truly wonderful time with good people!

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