This weekend, I attended the Orange County Gran Fondo based out of Irvine, CA. I am a fairly recent addition to the Felt team and California, so the route looked promising. In one trip, I would be able to knock off two of the biggest Orange County cycling milestones: 1) ride on the Pacific Coast Highway and 2) ride Santiago Canyon Rd. While the route was only briefly on PCH, and the climbing on Santiago Canyon was fairly mild in comparison to some of the other local climbs, I was excited nonetheless. There were several route options, and I chose the 63 mile trip over the 100 mile trip in part because I wanted to head home a bit earlier and in part because I didn’t make it there in time for the 100 miler start.
When I got to the start area, I was greeted by Felt’s Demo Truck Manager/Master Mechanic Q. Some of you may remember Q from the Interbike photos. Q hooked me up with a Felt F2 demo bike for the ride. Equipped with Di2 and weighing in at around 16lbs with bottle cage and my ancient MTB pedals, I couldn’t help being a little giddy over the ride. After getting signed in, getting my bike in order, and chatting with the guys from Bike Religion, the whistle blew at 8:00 signaling our start. I quickly grabbed the route cue sheet and headed off a bit behind the main group.
For those of you unfamiliar with Gran Fondos, the purpose of the ride isn’t to race; it is kind of like a supported group ride with food stops along the way. The point is to ride, socialize, and generally enjoy yourself for a day. It is also a chance for fairly new riders to experience riding in a group setting. The weather was beautiful, the The ride was a blast, and before I knew it, I was riding along PCH. From there we m ade a turn onto the Santa Ana River Trail and hit the first Sag Station.
The Sag Station was nice, featuring sandwiches, fruit, energy bars, cookies, brownies, and many other tasty items. After taking some pictures and talking with several riders, I set off for the second leg of the journey. Up until Sag Station #1, I wasn’t really putting much effort into the bike. I was mainly in groups of riders or cruising by myself at moderate pace. The second leg had more climbing (for my route, there was nearly 2000ft of elevation gain), and would really be the place where I could feel the bike’s characteristics.
Prior to the ride, I knew that there was a timed KOM section set up somewhere along Santiago Canyon. I wasn’t entered into the competition, but I still wanted to put in a decent effort for that stretch of road to test out the bike and get a feel for my own fitness. Unfortunately, about 2/3rds done with the timed section, I got a flat. Up until that point, I was really feeling good and the bike felt extremely efficient. I was able to change the tube and set off again, but my enthusiasm to go hard faded a bit, so I just sort of enjoyed the rest of the ride up.
Almost immediately after the KOM segment, the second Sag Station appeared. Again, this was loaded up with delicious mid-ride treats. The volunteers were amazing, snagging water bottles and filling them so that riders could socialize and rest a bit. While taking pictures, I noticed how arid the climate was up in the hills. It was quite a contrast to start the day in the verdant Irvine area, make it down to the ocean, and then be in a mountainous sandy location all on the same ride.
Descending back into Irvine, I was pretty much on my own for the first time since I had started the climb. The only problem was that I am not very familiar with the area and needed to look at my cue sheet. Unknown to me at the time, the cue sheet for the 63 mile ride was printed on the back side of the 100 mile ride. I just unfolded the cue sheet, saw Santiago Canyon, and began to follow that route. Inevitably, I would stop and look for the next road and would unintentionally alternate between the 63 and 100 mile cue sheet. The result was that I was very lost, and ended up stumbling across some riders who directed me in the correct direction. Back on track, I actually passed right by Felt’s corporate headquarters in Irvine! Within a mile or so of the finish, the Bike Religion riders and a few guys that I had ridden with on the trail joined me, and I was able to finish the ride with some familiar faces.
Waiting for the riders at the end was all you can eat spaghetti, which was heavenly. It was also a great place to talk to other riders in the area who participated in the event. All in all, it was a pretty fun day, and a great way to experience Orange County. I can’t wait to see what route they do next year!