This was not my first Gran Fondo, but this Gran Fondo was different. It proved to be what I think is a defining moment in my cycling evolution.

I have had forays into cycling both road and mountain through the years as a teen and then as a young adult, but nothing overly serious. Cycling this time around has been something different for me on multiple levels.

Years had passed since I had been on a bike, and that all changed with a major health scare, significant weight gain, and the pandemic. I started cycling again in July of 2020 and have pedaled my way back and into health.

Riding is a team sport.

Not many realize it, but even though only one person pushes the pedals, cycling is a team sport. I joined a cycle club (shout out to my Supra team), and became a Gulo Composites ambassador. I started racing and fully immersed myself into the Greenville, SC cycling community. As a bonus, my wife also started cycling, and it was great to have her as part of the team. We both set a goal to ride in 2021 Chattanooga at the Hincapie Fondo.

Gran Fondo Race Day

The big day arrived, and we were in the starting corral. We donned our beautiful custom hincapie fondo jerseys, ready to tackle the 58 miles of the Medio course, and I was excited to ride the 79 miles of the Gran course. My wife was a bit nervous as this was her first real cycling event. I knew she could finish, and I would be there for most of the ride to help her until I turned off to ride the additional Gran miles.

The start was a success, and then we hit Suck creek (named well) which was 5.5 miles of steady climbing. Soon into the climb, I could see that my wife was struggling; she had the will, but her knee was less than 9 months out from major surgery, and it was showing. I had a solution, a tow rope, and an epiphany; cycling is a team sport, and sometimes the team’s goals outweigh the goals of the individual. So, partway up Suck Creek, we pulled out the tow rope, she pedaled as hard as she could, and I picked up the slack and towed her to the top.

What goes up…

Now it was time for some fun; the descent down Suck creek was something I had been looking forward to. We decided that I would go ahead and meet my wife on the flats at the bottom of the descent. Off I went, Gulo’s humming under me. I am riding a custom set up with Gulo GRD-36 in the front and GRD-46 on the back. This set up allows me to ride with more confidence with cross wind gusts. I glanced down regularly and saw that I was holding 47 mph steadily. Not once did I feel out of control. Top speed on the descent 48.5mph!

The Gulo wheels were spectacular, performing just as you would expect. Power! Then I needed to put it down, control the turns, and the grin on my face told the rest of the story. I love fast descents! After waiting a few minutes at the bottom, my wife came rolling along with an equally big grin on her face from the pure adrenaline rush of the descent.

Finishing as a team

Turns out the course was not going to give in that easy. Gentle rolling hills gave way to another major 2.5-mile climb followed by a series of smaller climbs back over the ridge into Chattanooga. I decided to complete the Medio course with my wife and not go on to the Gran course. We wanted to finish as a team. The scenery was spectacular. We crested the final climb, and the city below Chattanooga was a welcomed beautiful sight. The last few miles were a piece of cake, and they flew by. Maybe it was the great company or the beautiful warm weather.

Saturday, May 1st, 2021, was a culmination of a year of fighting my way back to health and a healthy weight. Finishing in the 2021 Chattonooga Hincapie Fondo and feeling physically better than I have in years was what I had been working so hard for. Cycling has been a life-changer for me, and I look forward to taking on more Gran Fondos and races in the future.

Article by “AJ” Kingdom

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