Race Report – Gran Fondo New York (GFNY) 2018

I’ve been meaning to get this written up because I think it will be helpful to anyone out there who is thinking about signing up for this race. The Campagnolo Gran Fondo New York events are a series of races held around the world in which amateur cyclists are welcome to participate. The one that is actually held in New York (and bits of New Jersey) is designated the GFNY World Championship.

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All you need to do to ride in this event is to sign up, pay some money, and get yourself there. So even though it is designated the World Championship, anyone can show up. I have to say that I was a little intimidated by this race at first. But once I was out on the course, I realized that many cyclists were there to just complete the event, rather than make any speed records. The riders also seemed exceedingly happy and excited.

Packet Pick-Up

Like many long, all-day events, you needed to pick up your race packet ahead of time. GFNY had options for Friday or Saturday packet pick-up for the Sunday event. The pick-up was combined with an Expo in New York City. We took the train in from New Jersey in the middle of the day on Friday and found the building easily (literally across the street from NY Penn Station).

I don’t know if the Friday pick-up was more heavily attended than usual (rain was forecast all day for Saturday), but we had to wait in line for maybe 30 to 40 minutes. Once they let us in, we simply followed the line around the room to acquire everything we needed. You needed your bib number (look it up on the wall) and a photo ID. Then they’ll strap a wrist band on that will give you access to everything else.

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GFNY provides a ton of swag in your packet. The race requires that you wear the official jersey, which is part of that swag. This year, the rest of my haul included a coffee mug, bottle of wine, a water bottle, and a heavy printed guidebook. Other items were available if you wanted them, so I grabbed a key fob and some noise makers. The other critical pieces in your packet are your race bib and timing chip.

Race Hotel

We stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Fort Lee – George Washington Bridge, which was the only New Jersey official hotel for the event. Other options were available in New York City, but the New Jersey option was cheaper and just made more sense for us.

The main problem with the hotel was that it was off an exit ramp from Route 4, which essentially made it impossible to cycle back to. The entire area around it is full of busy roads which are not ideal for riding, so if you intend to make several practice rides out of your hotel, one of the NYC options may be better.

We ate dinner at the hotel restaurant, but the service there was extremely slow. I don’t know if they were short-staffed or something, but we literally waited 30 minutes just to get our check after we finished eating.

Weather, Equipment, and Gears

The weather forecast for race day was iffy all week. It was misty and wet in the morning, with a possibility of thunderstorms in the afternoon. I ride a Giant Avail Advanced that is about five years old, with DI2 shifting. I usually have clip-on tri bars, but had to remove them for this race (not allowed).

I had recently changed out my cassette for a 11-36 so that I had more options for climbing, and I think that was a good decision. I kept my Continental GP 4-Season tires on instead of my race tires because of the predicted wet conditions.

Everyone has to wear the official GFNY jersey, but you are allowed to bring anything else that you want. I wore arm warmers, and if I had owned a vest, would have worn that too. I carried a rain jacket, which was actually a light-weight camping raincoat attached to a race belt, but didn’t end up using it.

The temperature at the start was 66°F. The only time that I felt cold was when we were waiting on the George Washington Bridge to start. It didn’t feel particularly windy (which I had been told could be a problem) there, but I started whole-body shivering. I’m also someone who is always cold, and most of the riders looked comfortable.

Getting to the Start

Everyone was supposed to be on the GWB and ready for a 7 a.m. start. One of the perks of the Fort Lee hotel was that they advertised a 5:15 a.m. police escort to the GWB. We expected to take advantage of this, but when we exited the hotel doors, the escort was already leaving (5 minutes early). We weren’t the only cyclists left looking around for them, but it turns out that it was really easy to find our way to the bridge (just follow everyone in green).

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Once we found our way to the west side of the bridge, we had to cross over the pedestrian/bike access, descend from the bridge, take a lot of turns, ride back up toward the bridge, and then finally reach the start zone. There were a few port-a-potties here as well as some bike mechanical assistance.

So – it turns out that leaving the hotel at 5:15 a.m. just barely got us to the start area in time (6:15 or 6:30 a.m.), so definitely allow more time, if you have any doubts about reaching the start.

The Start!

I had thought that the riders would be grouped into corrals by age group, but when we got onto the bridge, everyone pretty much clumped together. There may have been corrals at the front, but we never saw them. It didn’t really matter – I was certainly in no competition for anything.

Once the race began, it was a mass start. We stood for maybe ten minutes before our section started to move. Be careful and watch out for other cyclists slowing and stopping. Also, a few of the more ambitious riders started to gain speed and zip around those of us who were taking our time.

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The route took us down some major highways that had been closed to traffic, and then down onto Henry Hudson Drive. This was a beautiful section of road, but was also very hazardous at the beginning of the race. Access to it started with a steep turn on wet pavement. In several sections, the road narrowed and cyclists slowed abruptly. Off to the right, boulders marked the edge of the pavement before near-cliffs dropped to the Hudson River.

Several crashes occurred along this section, so be very wary of other cyclists, don’t go to fast, and be aware that wet roads will make your braking less effective. I lost Andrew in this section and thought he had crashed behind me (he hadn’t). I stopped and looked for him, and didn’t find him (but he had actually passed me). If you are trying to stay with a group through here, it may be tough. Have a plan to meet up at an aid station later.

Alpine climb

The first climb on the route was Alpine. All of the official climbs were marked with signs that indicated the elevation and distance. I didn’t think that Alpine was that bad and it was over soon.

After Alpine, the next section was pretty flat with some fast downhills. I skipped the first aid station, still trying to find Andrew, and met him at the second one.

Aid Stations

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I had brought plenty of nutrition with me for this ride, but the aid stations were well-stocked. Even though this was technically a race, a lot of people appeared to take their time at each stop. They offered water and and an electrolyte drink at each station, with cola at the last aid station. Snacks were fairly standard, with bananas, Clif Bars, pretzels, and cake. The last aid station also had pizza, but by the time I got there, it had been picked over.

Bear Mountain

One of the selling points (?) of this race is that you climb up Bear Mountain. This isn’t really that much of a mountain when compared to actual snow-capped ranges, but is one of the tougher climbs in the NY area. Before you reach Bear Mountain, there is a long-ish climb at mile 38 that I’m going to call False Bear Mountain. Think of it as a warm-up.

You’ll know when you reach Bear Mountain, because you make a left turn, start climbing immediately, and will pass through the GFNY signs. The climb is about 1000 feet over 4 miles, with an average grade of 5.1% and a maximum grade of 10%. I didn’t think that it was that bad, except that I was ready for it to be over about halfway up.

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Your reward for reaching the top is the race’s third aid station and some great views. GFNY actually offers a 50-mile race option, so if you selected that one, you’re done! Oh, and for everyone doing the full 100 miles, you get to rest as you fly back down the mountain.

Pinarello and Cheesecote Climbs

From here, the course traveled west along the edge of Harriman State Park. Two more featured climbs came up quickly, and this was the section of the race that I had been warned about.

The first climb was Pinarello (525 feet over 2 miles), followed by Cheesecote (262 feet over 1 mile). I started to bonk on Pinarello and had a rough time on this one. At the top I had to stop and guzzle some liquid nutrition. By the time I reached Cheesecote, I felt better (although the climb was still tough). Cheesecote featured the highest grade on the route, with a very short section of 18%. My rear tire slipped once as I pushed hard to make it up this section.

The Last Flat and Dyckman Hill

After the climbs, the next long section was enjoyable and mostly flat. This gave me a chance to get some more recovery in. The last aid station was along this part, and we stopped there for one final refueling.

Once you near the finish, there are two more notable climbs: Alpine (again) and Dyckman Hill. Alpine looked different from this direction even though this was the part where the inbound course converged with the outbound course. It certainly felt tougher at this point.

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The kicker on this course, and probably the toughest climb when taking exhaustion and mental fatigue into account, was Dyckman Hill. This lovely section spanned 328 feet over 1 mile, which a final section of 10% grade. All this fun started at mile 98.5. You can almost hear the finish line, but it’s at the top of the hill.

The Finish Line and Festivities

You have about a half mile to go once you reach the top of Dyckman Hill, and it’s flat and fast. The finish line is marked by large arches. Once you roll through, you’ll receive a medal, and can finally rest.

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They wanted you to park your bike in a large area off to one side that looks like a triathlon transition zone. At one side of the bike parking, you could pick up your labeled bag that you had dropped off at the start. I had flip-flops in there, and was happy to change out of my cycling shoes.

 

The finish area featured a pasta party, drinks (free water and soda, alcohol for purchase), lounge chairs, medal stage, and some fancy tents (not sure what was over there – massages maybe?). We ate some pasta (penne with meat sauce, yum!) and drank cola, took some photos, and then packed up to head home.

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There were showers available at the adjacent high school, but we didn’t use them. A shuttle to the Fort Lee hotel was picking cyclists up on the other side of the school, but the wait was long. We eventually made it home after a tough day.

See all my race reports here.


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