One of the perks of being a Pactimo Brand Ambassador is comp entries to amazing rides. When I saw the Golden Gran Fondo on the list, I immediately knew that was the one I wanted to do because it means a trip back home to see family, friends, and ride my bike with amazing scenery.
I -of course- said I’d do the longest route without really checking the elevation profile. Then I did and promptly thought HARD PASS. So I signed up for the 63 – still a formidable route – and got a friend to also register also. I spent my summer seeking out long gravel rides and extended climbing so I could get the feel for pacing myself over this type of distance and elevation gain. I felt both totally ready and completely Not Ready.
I reserved a hotel room across the street from the ride start (GENIUS, really) and rented a Liv Avail carbon road bike from EVO Denver. My sister decided to join me for the weekend as my support person, which was unexpected and totally appreciated.
The morning was warm and sunny with a low chance of rain. I picked up my timing chip and then waited for my friend. I also chatted with Julie, another Pactimo Brand Ambassador who I have been talking to online. Around 7:45am, we all gathered under the big arch in downtown Golden for the pre-ride spiel.
Right out of the gate we’re sent up Lookout Mountain. This was a ride I had wanted to do forever and hadn’t for a variety of reasons. It’s 5-mile climb that averages 5% grade, which ended up being more accessible than I imagined. Find a cadence and spin. I took a short break right after the end of the timed section and met a few other East Coasters (Philly, New Jersey, and New York in the house!) who were out for the ride. I also met Jan, who was turning 65 tomorrow and this ride was her birthday present to herself.
Coming down the other side, averaging 30 mph, was what cycling dreams are made of. Jan and I made it to the first aid station, manned by a local Boy Scout Troop. They had water, electrolytes, PB&Js – and an adorable puppy “for stress relief.”
I checked my text messages to see where my friend was. I had texted her at the top of Lookout to meet up at the first Aid Station – but unfortunately, my friend was not having a good bike day and ended her ride at 20 miles.
The next section was a series of two long hills up Golden Gate Canyon Rd. As a predominately gravel and mountain bike rider these days, I forgot just how exposed pavement is. Especially in Colorado. It was already well into the 80s and not a cloud in sight. My strategy here was to find an all-day pace and spin; pause in the shade when necessary (it was SO HOT) to catch my breath, eat something, and then continue on. There was also a pretty continuous headwind, which is great for cooling off but not good for energy to pedal your bike up a hill.
Along the way, I somehow lost Jan but met Kevin from New Jersey. We both had stopped in the shade to get some respite from the sun. I was out of water (and 5 miles to get to the aid station) and no cell service. One of the ride support vehicles stopped to check on us (and refill my water). Kevin took a ride up to the top of the steep climb; being told it was less than a mile to the top, I decided to ride.
But a mile later, I’m still slowly climbing and the grade is ticking upwards. Another support truck rolled up and said “Hop in! You aren’t the first person we’ve given a quick boost.” About a mile later, they dropped me off at the top and I bombed down the road to the next aid station. Also, they had fruit snacks which were very much needed at that moment.
My goal had been to get to Aid Station 2 by 11am and it’s now 12pm. I decide to take a longer break, eat, and think about my options. The next section is a timed climb – and while my legs aren’t shot, the saddle on my rental bike isn’t playing nice with my sit-bones. And given how far off pace I am, do I really want to spend the next hour and a half climbing over 1,400′ over 12 miles? Not really. It was really hot, I was worried about the water situation, my saddle, and the headwinds (which we heard were worse further up in the canyon).
Thankfully Aid Station 2 would have also been Aid Station 3 – so Kevin and I rolled out to finish the route, minus the 12 miles. The next 5 miles or so were all sweet, sweet downhill through Golden Gate Canyon State Park. We used to take our kids camping there when we lived in Colorado so NOSTALGIA.
Then came Drew Hill. The meanest hill on the entire route. 1.5 miles with whole sections over 15% grade. Dirt over crumbling pavement. I knew it was coming and I rode the first portion until the grade got to a point where I hopped off and started to walk. Which was still a workout. Kevin and I talked the whole way up, cheering on the guys who were riding it. One guy fell over trying to ride up the hill.
At the very top, we were rewarded with spectacular views and a 10-mile descent back into town. We chatted with a few others from the Philly area (so much East Coast love out there!) and then bombed back to town.
This is probably the hardest Gran Fondo in the whole series. I was surprised by the relatively small number of riders compared to other events I’ve been to – but it seems the climbing scares a lot of people away. Nothing was truly awful except maybe Drew Hill. And to be honest, it sounds really impressive to say I had climbed over 5,000′ in 30 miles when I got to the second aid station. The climbing is definitely front-loaded.
While I didn’t complete the whole route, I have no regrets. I had a great day on the bike and met so many cool people along the way. Should I register for this again, I would do one thing differently: Bring my own bike. I know it, I love it, I trust it. It’s worth the hassle and expense. And maybe I would have tackled the second timed section because my butt didn’t hurt.
Despite not completing the whole route, I placed 5th in my gendered age bracket based on the timed segments I completed.
See you on the road!