2017 Hincapie Gran Fondo: Hills, Celebrities, Cyclists, Chefs, and More Hills

by Edward Wimmer May 13, 2021

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to participate in my first Hincapie Gran Fondo! ROAD iD CEO and co-founder, Edward Wimmer, had mentioned wanting to go, so I jumped at the chance. We decided in the lead up to the event that the Medio distance (50miles) would likely suit us the best. I was, however, somewhat nervous because I don’t own a (functioning) road bike right now. My current fleet of bikes consists of a Tri-bike, Cyclocross Bike, Cruiser, and a Road Bike that has a tri-bike hoodset and crazy aerobars with shifters at the end (so essentially a road-tri hybrid of sorts).

After much deliberation, I chose to go with my Tri-bike as it is my favorite bike of the bunch. I wasn’t so much nervous with my fitness but was worried about how the other 4,000+ riders at the event would react (all the roadies in particular) to seeing a tri-bike on the course, because everyone knows how much roadies love triathletes!

Aside from that my tri-bike is equipped with a full-size crank 52 and my cassette an 11-25. For those of you who don’t know all the silly bike numbers, that means this bike is really set-up for hammering top speed on FLAT roads, not climbing 5,000+ feet over 50 miles. Again, lucky for me I know people at my LBS (local bike shop) Fifty West Cycling that agreed to help me last minute (aka morning of leaving for the race) swap my cassette to an 11-28 which essentially would garner me about 3 easier gears that I could employ while climbing.

Once my last-minute tune-up and cassette swap was complete, a good friend and colleague, Susan Rosenberg with the American Heart Association, loaded up and headed to Greenville, South Carolina. The car ride was unusually long as we got stuck behind three separate traffic jams, but it was great to be road tripping with a friend. The good company and conversation got us through a nine hour car ride and made it feel like four. I don’t think we even turned the radio on once! The other positive part of the trek down to Greenville was a stop at a hole in the wall country restaurant, the Limestone Grille, where we ordered up the fried appetizer platter- fried pickles, fried green tomatoes, and fried jalapenos. Perfect pre-race fuel!

We finally made it to the Hincapie’s Hotel Domestique in time for the Friday night VIP Dinner, where we were joined by Edward. Thankfully we were hungry by then, because the Celebrity Chef Appetizers and Hors D’oeuvres were exquisitely delicious and paired very well with the wine and cocktail offerings. The Hotel sits atop a sprawling landscape that is truly stunning. Between the picturesque views of the cliffs off the veranda and the Tuscan landscape, I couldn’t tell if I was in Napa, Italy or Greenville! Truly a spectacular venue for cycling, wining and dining. The surprise of the night was seeing avid cyclist (and race car driver) Patrick Dempsey walk in. Other A-List Celebrities and Cycling Stars in attendance included Lance Armstrong, George Hincapie, Christian Vande Velde, Ryder Hesjedal the Oxi Clean guy!

After mingling we went back to the hotel, fell into bed and fast asleep. The alarm went off at 6am and off we went to the ride start at the Hotel Domestique, sporting our best lycra and bikes. The catered breakfast was good, but I definitely ate too much! The large breakfast burrito would regrettably come back to haunt me on the first 20 miles. After breakfast, Edward, Susan, and I lined up in the massive wave of bikes at the start. I was pretty nervous at this point, as I’ve never ridden in a group that large and with a mass start no less. The National Anthem, confetti canon, and boom the Hancapie Gran Fondo was off!

The first 20 miles or so were rolling, sweeping hills and it was easy to average over 20 miles per hour here. Edward and I got separated from Susan pretty early on and Edward eventually tucked in behind a large peloton of cyclists and was gone! Once the mayhem settled out I was able to settle down in to a comfortable pace and enjoy the ride.

The scenery was absolutely breathtaking. The road winds around a small lake house community outside Tryon. The water on the lake was as still as glass and made the reflection of the lake houses look like geometric origami shapes. It was near the lake that Patrick Dempsey caught up to me and passed by with a couple of other riders chatting it up.

Edward and I regrouped at the first rest stop and mentally prepared ourselves for the next section of the course, which included a 5 mile straight climb up a mountain! After grabbing some snacks and a porta break, we were back on the road. The mountain grade ended up being not as steep as I thought it would be and we attacked the climb at a comfortable and maintainable pace.

About two miles in to the climb we rode up on an awesome sight, a father-son duo mashing their way up the mountain. MIKE and his 11yr old son Ben were doing the Medio and Ben was impressively putting some good distance on his dad, so I rode up ahead with him and began chatting. It turns out that Ben LOVES cycling, wants to be a professional cyclist, and has actually ridden 153 miles in one day! Talk about being amazed and inspired. Take note of that name, as I’m sure we’ll see some incredible things in the world of cycling from Ben!

We finally made it to the top and over the backside of the mountain. The five mile sweeping decent was well worth the effort of the climb, especially on a tri-bike. It was relatively spaced out so I felt comfortable resting on my aero bars and enjoyed the thrill and speed of the descent.

The final 10 miles did deliver a blow to my exhausted legs. It surprisingly had several short climbs that pitched upwards of 12% in grade. At this point I was pretty tired, hungry and craving salt so I dreamt of the post ride payeya and spread everyone had talked about on the ride.

At last, Edward and I turned in and rode the 300 ft red carpet to the glorious Hincapie finish line, racked our bikes and hit the after party. The entire hotel and lawn were full of cyclists, and their friends and family. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, a tad warm on the bike, but sunny blue skies and a cool fall breeze. The payeya was everything I could have dreamed of and I dumped about a half a bottle of salt on it!

All in all the event was spectacular. The Hincapie’s know a thing or two about cycling and running events. Everything was executed smoothly and the full VIP experience was one of absolute catering and pampering to the cyclist. This was an event I’ll certainly never forget -THANK YOU Edward for the opportunity and Susan for the good company and driving- and hope to be able to do again. In fact, I’m pretty sure next time I’ll do the gran fondo (80 miles) and yes it will probably be on my tried and true, old faithful tri-bike!

Lessons learned:
You can survive a fondo on your tri-bike
Always take salt- even when the weather is cooler
Do not eat a large breakfast burrito before the start