…and you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?
by Chris Geiser
A moment in time — the front corral, west bound, lower level of the George Washington Bridge — roughly 6:35 AM
It was a bummer to not report to the GFNY Village on Monday morning. A carnival atmosphere where instead of riding the tilt-a-whirl and eating candy apples, riders from all over the world, shook hands, hugged, and talked cycling, travel, and GFNY. By Monday morning it would have been transformed back. Back into an ordinary park and not the festival that had become a home since Thursday afternoon when I arrived back in town from a business trip to the West Coast.
It was my kind of carnival. Let’s face it, to be around cycling, and racing is exciting. And for as much as I enjoy watching the pros, I had completely forgotten that the Giro was happening, or the ToC, because I was here, in the GFNY village, living global cycling. And while not all of us were in contention for #breaking4 — we were all in the race.
The hardest working man in show business making magic happen. Jared’s cycling shoe fashion statement. Terracina remembered with Tom, Toto, and Professor Michael.
As Wednesday’s overnight flight morphed into Thursday morning, I had some work to do to #beready. My bike, in the shop since the previous Sunday’s post-ride drop-off, had an unexpected issue. The call I made from Seattle the day before revealed a crack in the faceplate of my stem, and there would be some legwork to do figure it out without completely replacing the stem. With calls to Italy, and website searches, I was resigned to a new stem, and so I gave the go-ahead.
Touch down in Newark, drive home, sleep 2 hours, get the stem thing figured out, figure out a bike rental for a friend, and get to the village in time to work my 4–7 shift at the info booth. Easy Peasy. With a mixture of good luck and no luck at all, I should be able to pull this off. Lucky enough to spend some time with Maestro Vito, he provided some race guidance and planning, as well as a box of stems that would help sort the stem problem, and the right size bike to solve the rental problem — this was shaping up to be a pretty good day. By now I was on my 17th cup of coffee and using it exclusively to will myself awake and into action throughout the day. Just keep moving.
The cracked stem photo, and a text over to Italy to see if I could find an “out of the box” solution.
Reporting for duty at the info booth, I got the briefing from Heidi on the questions we were answering, and settled in to help as many riders as we could (with some help from the GFNY magazine). The where’s, when’s and how’s of GFNY, with some #breaking4 arguments mixed in, and overall race talk. Secrets of the Gruppo Sportivo exposed, and fashion shots of Jared’s bike shoes and jeans combo for his ride home. The race had already started in my mind, it was as good as happening.
All manner of shennanigans at the info both and outside near the barbecue tent. I am beginning to think I may be a bad influence.
Without getting into detail, I will only say that Friday was a special day for a number of reasons. I had the opportunity to spend time with the organizers of the GFNY races from around the World, and learned more and more about how GFNY has grown, who is racing and how the spirit of the race is materializing in some of the places that I have yet to visit. So far — Europe has been a comfort zone. Places I know, and love to visit, and feel very much at home in. Hearing about the races throughout Latin America has set my eyes to the South for continuing to build that feeling around the World through cycling.
My Turn on the Front
Saturday brought me to my turn on the front and the GFNY group ride — the last one prior to the race leaving from the village. With 27 of my closest new friends along (and a couple of my #teamPiriPiri teammates from GFNY Portugal 2018 along), we set out to see River Road and the Alpine climb before heading to Piermont, and then State Line. The first 15km of the race, and the last 15km of the race. We got a spirited and well behaved paceline going all the way to the climb, and then I got to watch as an impressive group made there way up what would be the first real selection of the next 24 hours. Tomorrow, we would be on the climb for real, and then have 145km more work to do to get to the finish line. Today, we were rolling at coffee pace.
The selfie at the top of Alpine. Quite a group!
Race Day is Here
…and so there I was, one year removed from the end-of-race vehicle. One day removed from the group ride, and the GFNY Village. Standing on the George Washington Bridge and ready for the day to begin in earnest. As I took it all in, I realized that the last time I had stood on the bridge for the start was in 2016. In 2017 I was skunked by a wheel problem, but managed to get sorted in time (just not in the corral on the bridge), and in 2018, well that’s another story — literally. (https://firstname.lastname@example.org/the-end-of-the-race-is-nigh-81692ee79088).
How different was this than 2016 — night and day, apples and oranges, cats and dogs — whatever — my entire GFNY life was flashing before my eyes, and culminating in the week that was in this third week of May, 2019. Now reflecting on double-doubles, GFNY 3x medals, GFNY 10x medals, Germany, Portugal, Mexico, Italy, and now back home. The places and races I had seen, the ones that I had yet to see. But now, back home to what we have described in these pages as the cruel brillance of the GFNY Championship NYC course. The holiday season for my people here in the states. Where thousands come from all over the Globe to race, connect/reconnect with friends they have met on their own GFNY journeys, and to participate in the authentic Italian granfondo style.
The ride this morning from Gavia to the bridge was symbolic of the flashback. The journey that began at Gavia in 2016 to become a better cyclist, and more importantly a better and more grateful human being, now found me rolling onto the bridge and improved cyclist, and improving human being.
The atmosphere at the start. Lined up to get on the bridge, Uli in the lead car — ready to launch.
We had a plan. Sakes alive! Yes, we had a plan. Go easy and with groups to Bear, follow all the Gruppo Sportivo advice, get to Bear as quickly as possible, but with enough in the tank to carry us home. But there are some thing that you need to get around first. Talking about the discipline you need to employ to contain yourself at the start is one thing. Doing it, is quite another. With all the GFNY royalty and celebrity in the front corral, it was difficult to not get caught up in the electricity of the moment. As the national anthem was sung, and the clock counted down, to 0 — I was caught up. We rolled as a group at almost exaclty 7AM knowing that the fury of the elite racers would swarm us, and that we would not see them again until they were furiously working the return from Bear Mountain, smiles erased, friendships dissolved, and now only “truces and alliances” as they worked to real in whatever break would get away. The work through the River Road section to Alpine was frenzied. Adrienne and I weaved in and out of packs, and patiently tried to knock down each undulation without burning the matches we knew we would need later. As we approached 9W, it was time to find groups and pace with the groups for as long as we could.
Hamming on the bridge — getting caught up in the atmosphere.
The approach to the bridge!
But we had a Goldilocks problem. Too fast, too slow. We were having difficulty finding that just right pace. We didn’t want to burn matches, and we didn’t want to waste time. Well, let me tell you. If you can’t spot the sucker at the table — you’re it! Numerous times we would turn around to find out that the “just right” group, was us. With a number of new BFF’s we hadn’t met yet, that would latch on, and fall off as we surged the rise and fall of the 9W rollers into Tallman, and down into Piermont. At one point, Adrienne was able to hold a group, but I was still recovering from the Alpine climb and was unable to hang on.
If that happens again — please just go with it and take the ride. I can chase on, or try to chase on!
I tried to encourage Adrienne to take the next group, but it wasn’t yet available as we climbed up through Nyack, and over Hook Mountain. Descending into Rockland Lake we caught Mike B, and tried to work with a group up to the turn toward Haverstraw. It felt like it was working for a bit as we headed up the small climb out of the lake area. We turned right and hit Haverstraw at a good clip, but we were being careful not to burn out. Snatching some hand up SIS gels as we passed the aid station, we refueled on the go, and headed back up the hill to 9W.
Bear was almost upon us and so was Tom Niccum. As if on cue, Tom’s measured approach caught us as we descended to approach Dunderberg. (also known as Baby Bear). We chatted away as we started to climb, and then the front of the race showed coming the other way. It was showing 2:10 elapsed on the clock. There was one rider out ahead as they were climbing the other side of Baby Bear, and by our count, he had at least 1 minute on the first chase group. But we didn’t have time for precision. It was time to climb Bear.
The long and winding road of Bear Mountain, allowed us to set a nice tempo. Tom, Adrienne, and I at this point, carrying on a conversation as we were trying to keep ourselves conversational and under control on the way up. Our arrival at the top had me realizing that the two cokes I grabbed and quickly swallowed were probably pointing to a larger problem more gels, an SIS bar, and refill of both water bottles had me ready. Tom was ready to go, but I was not yet, and nore was Adrienne. We decided to break up the band with the hopes of catching each other on the road later on. I needed this break. I had done the unthinkable and torched myself getting to Bear. This was gonna be a long haul.
With apologies for the lack of photos at this point, as we were busy riding.
Adrienne led the descent down Bear. Hearing our names a few times, shouted by riders climbing up gave us the encouragement we needed for the next section. We worked quickly down, and started up the back side of Baby Bear. As we climbed it struck me that — when we see the racers on the other side of the road at that point — for as close as they seem, they are TWELVE MILES AWAY! WOW! That is a lot of work!
We were soon to Mott Farm Road with a thought looming in my head. Get up the turn and onto Mott Farm before you see the end of race car. If you can do that, you will be ok! It was a goal. Stay away from the end of race car. The Mott Farm turn was the last place we could possibly see it, and we made it. Things were looking up, as we kept our burn under control up Mott Farm, over Queensboro, and over to Pinarello. The Pinarello, or Gate Hill climb is kind of my nemesis. Easy to learn, impossible to master. To see Adrienne’s husband Mike at the bottom cheering us on, gave me the incentive I needed to mentally get back to work. But back to the nemesis thing. It would seem, that somewhere between the turn off of Mott Farm, and the parkway overpass, there is a magic magnet that inspires a special kind of inner theigh cramp. (only when riding the full course). And today was no exception.
But I was determined. As I felt the twinge and the trembling muscle start to sieze, I heard myself scream “NOT TODAY”, as I stood up and started to waggle back and forth! In my mind I was telling myself that I was not getting off the bike. Stay in contact. Stay focused Stay in contact. You are connected to the pedals. Stay in contact.
We began to pass others as we climbed, and for every steep part, my Staten Island heritage came back to help. If you were close enough to see my mouth you could see me speaking M-E-T-H-O-D MAN, to keep my rhythm and breathing in order. And like that we were up.
By the approach to Cheescote, the predicted headwind was evident. We pressed on and I continued to rap to myself. M-E-T-H-O-D MAN, as we climbed the wall that serves as the first barrier to summiting the last big climb for a while. With a quick break at the top, we shed the remainders of our outer layers and pressed on agreeing to stop quickly — “A pee and flee” — in Ramapo. And then on.
Mike was waiting in Ramapo. “Tom passed through 10 minutes ago. Jared is over there” I grabbed more food/gels, and filled bottles. It was dawning on me that I needed the pee part of the program as we rolled off the bridge. Now was the time, and I took advantage.
By South Mountain our luck on group riding hand changed and we were able to take advantage of some passing groups all the way through to Strawtown. And then they started to slow down. Inexplicably, we were now in what was more of a herd than a group, and we had not control over raising the pace. We were behind schedule and the pace would not do. I pulled left, and pulled us forward as we powered through West Nyack, but that was the last “move” I had left in me.
Further review revealed that my suspicions about the herd through Strawtown were indeed correct.
We got to the rail trail and I was losing concentration. As I almost overcooked a corner into the high metal fence, I slowed things down a bit, and regained my focus. With the changes to the course simplifying the transition through Sparkill, we were soon back on 9W and climbing State Line.
Over the fabled four part climb that takes the 3.5km back to Alpine, I was ready to descend. It felt brilliant to go under the Alpine kite, knowing that we were going to reap some free kilometers, deal with a few undulations, and soon be climbing Dyckman to the finish line. We held together and jockeyed back and forth with some familiar riders all the way through the park. And at the base of Dyckman, there was Frank Lee.
Frank chased Adrienne and I up Dyckman, and as he and Adrienne passed me at the summit, my heart began to sink. My dreams of getting us to the finish line in well under 7 hours elapsed time, were melting away. We had taken reasonable breaks, fought the headwind, but in the end I had to admit that I had blown up the plan and did exactly what I promised I wouldn’t. Driven us hard through no mans land to Bear Mountain without a group, and putting the zapp on our energy for a strong finish.
No matter — we had done a great race and left everything out there. Except — “hey wait, guys, wait for me” — I was now falling off the back as we were down the stretch. Teammates crossing the finish line together — it felt amazing, but not as amazing as finding out that Adrienne had done a top ten finish in her category.
As we regrouped with those already finished, got photos taken with our medals, and felt the satisfaction of leaving it all out there, we took inventory of who was still out on the course. Next orders of business, eat, and regroup, and greet our comrades as they come across.
What is amazing about GFNY is the Global connection among riders. For example, while eating, I was greeted by Robert Prede, a racer attending with his teammate from Germany. In the 2018 GFNY Deutschland, Robert’s teammate won the overall and so was provided an entry and trip to NYC to compete in the GFNY Championship NYC, where he took third! WOW! But that’s not the impressive part. (well it’s pretty damned impressive actually). I had expected I would see Robert at some point during the weekend, but lost track. After the race in Germany, we exchanged information, kept in touch, and I was happy to help with whatever I could. And now, here we were, watching his teammate on the podium, thousands of miles away.
If time was the only measurement for success, as it is in many races, I would say, ok — I didn’t make my goals — but time is not the only measurement for success. For all that transpired in the village, the friends I reconnected with, the new friends I made, how we all helped and encouraged each other that is the essence of why we race GFNY, and why I will be running away with the carnival to Santa Fe in June! See you at GFNY Santa Fe! #greenorred
Finish Line Shenanigans!
The Gavia Family
I know what you’re thinking! You’re thinking — hey weren’t you in Italy for GFNY Italia? Oh right! I was — and that is next up. The Italian Job series — Secondo — will be next up! #spettacolo