Gran Fondo Season Is Upon Us

By Dan Norton

Emde Sports Nitty Gritty Dirt Fondo showcased the rolling back roads around Spokane. Photo courtesy of Emde Sports / Drew Schleider Photo courtesy of Emde Sports / Drew Schleider

Emde Sports Nitty Gritty Dirt Fondo showcased the rolling back roads around Spokane.

The season for gravel adventure and fun is here and so far the 2015 gran fondos have been well attended in the Northwest. Washington hosted three gravel events to date and riders have had some memorable experiences.

The term “epic” is floated around about an occasional bike ride and the term has many implications. Was the ride so outstanding that it is a landmark in your life? Was the event so beautiful that the memory will last a very long time? Or, was it so memorable because Mother Nature decided to throw the kitchen sink at you?

The Northwest has hosted a few kitchen sink-like events in the past. Who can forget the 1987 Bremerton Cyclocross Championships and the infamous mud bog? Or the 1994 North Sea-Tac Cyclocross Championships, which had so much rain that signs were put out warning racers about the need for life vests. Gravel fondo riders now have an event for their tails of woe.

Vicious Cycle’s Grand Fondo Ephrata, presented on March 15, met all the “epic” benchmarks. With heavy rain from beginning to end, cold temperatures and roads with thick mud and running water, it had the largest DNF percentage, 25%, in Ride Vicious promotion’s history. This attests to the difficulty of the day. While most riders were in instant survival mode, several entrants had their competitive spirits flowing.

Riders faced miserable conditions in Ephrata on 
March 15, 2015. Photo courtesy of Vicious Cycle / Chance Flanigan Photo courtesy of Vicious Cycle / Chance Flanigan

Riders faced miserable conditions in Ephrata on March 15, 2015.

Giann Dalle, who won all of the King of the Mountain (KOM) sprints, and Brian Ecker, who claimed the final two-up sprint, had the energy, equipment and spirit to push all day and finished in a time of 4 hours 27 minutes. ‘Cross bikes were in the majority, and most were equipped with file tread or Hutchinson Sector 28 tires. Post-event, the Ephrata Lion’s Club served a lasagna dinner and the abused cyclists gratefully finished the entire meal.

On April 12, the Grand Fondo Goldendale was held, and after Ephrata, promoters and riders were not sure what to expect. 

On race day the rain held off and temperatures were perfect for riding; a good day was enjoyed by all. The course was more road than gravel, however, the unpaved sections featured large chunky pieces that were challenging at speed.

Goldendale had one very defining route feature — the Horseshoe Bend climb — or as promoter Jake Maedke describes it, “the trail of tears.” Every course needs a good memory-maker and at the Goldendale Granges’ spaghetti feed, Horseshoe was that lasting memory. ‘Cross bikes again were prominent and with faster tire treads. Tim Wood and Tim Smith finished in the lead at 4 hours 45 minutes. RideVicious.com’s website has a good review of both events from the promoters standpoint.

Finally, on May 9, Emde Sports promoted the Nitty Gritty Dirt Fondo. This was their first attempt at a gravel event, and it was done perfectly. The area of eastern Washington, north of Spokane, has beautiful rolling farmlands that look like waves on the open ocean.

The Gran Fondo Ephrata might have had the kitchen sink thrown at riders, but Emde Sports made the right donation to the church of the big ring and Mother Nature responded with a glorious day for cycling. Marla, Mike and their crew laid out a challenging, beautiful and creative 65-mile gravel loop. The course was well-marked, the support was extremely good, and the post-event barbecue was enjoyed by all. Tire choices for the ride consisted of a fair number of Hutchinson 28s, Specialized 2Bliss tubeless, and a few true ‘cross tires; in fact, most everyone was riding a ‘cross bike. Tim Hines and Jake Maedke were the pace setters and completed the ride in a very fast 3 hours 22 minutes. The bulk of participants came in after 4 hours and the die-hard last three ladies finished in a little more than 7 hours.

This event should be on your gravel radar screen for next year. It’s definitely worth the trip.

Goldendale’s course — the faster you went, the harder it got. Photo courtesy of Vicious Cycle / Chance Flanigan Photo courtesy of Vicious Cycle / Chance Flanigan

Goldendale’s course — the faster you went, the harder it got.

The inaugural Nitty Gritty left a lasting impression on all participants. Photo courtesy of Emde Sports / Drew Schleider Photo courtesy of Emde Sports / Drew Schleider

The inaugural Nitty Gritty left a lasting impression on all participants.

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