The Hincapie Gran Fondo Racing Series was started by former professional cyclist George Hincapie, now a resident of Greenville, S.C., and there are three other Hincapie Gran Fondo venues in addition to Chattanooga: Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania; Bangor, Maine; and Greenville, South Carolina. Gran Fondo cycling events originated in Italy in the 1970s, and the literal translation from Italian is “big ride.” For an event to be officially classified as a Gran Fondo, it must meet the following criteria:
- The race must be at least 75 miles long with multiple long climbs. Suck Creek and Sequatchie Mountain were the Chattanooga climbs this year. At 5.4 miles long, the Suck Creek climb s the longest climb of any of the other Gran Fondos.
- Each participant must receive a “bib number” that is embedded with a chip that times their start and finish times. Cyclists race against the clock, not other cyclists.
- The race starts “en masse,” similar to marathons, enabling recreational riders to start at the same time and mingle with (and star gaze at) more accomplished, and in some cases, professional riders.
- There must be a meal served after the race - and beer! (Beer being more important than food.)
As in past years, this year’s Gran Fondo in Chattanooga had three categories of rides: the Gran (79 miles); the Medio (58 miles, and the most popular ride); and the Piccolo (10 miles). Two recent inductees into the Chattanooga Bicycle Hall of Fame had outstanding results in the Gran category.
Lookout Mountain resident Brad Cobb finished second overall in the Men’s Gran Fondo Division, missing first place by a mere 40 seconds, a trifling amount of time when you consider a 79-mile ride. Brad finished ahead of last year’s winner, Enzo Hincapie, as well as three former professional cyclists, all of whom not only rode professionally, but also participated in multiple Tours de France - Bobby Julich, Christian Vande Velde, and George Hincapie. Additionally, all have won stages in the Tour de France, but finished behind Brad!
Chattanooga resident Amy Phillips won the Women’s Gran Fondo, blowing away the second-place finisher by more than six minutes - truly an outstanding result.
From a demographic standpoint, I think it is interesting that of the top 10 finishers in the men’s event, three were older than 50 years old, while two were older than 40. In the Women’s Gran Fondo, two of top 10 finishers were older than 50 years old (one being 59!) with two others being older than 40. It is never too late to start cycling, and it goes to show that you can still improve your cycling fitness well into your 50s, 60s, 70s, and even 80s! Truly, you can continue to compete at a very high level when most people would urge you to spend more time on the couch. The 72-year-old author of this article rode the Medio distance with six of his “mature” friends, and while we did not “podium,” I’m pretty sure we did win the after-race party, for which there was no podium.
If you are interested in learning more about cycling in Chattanooga, a good place to start is the website of the Chattanooga Bicycle Club (www.chattanoogabicycleclub.com). I hope to see you out on the road soon.
by Forrest Simmons