Gulping coffee Saturday morning, I had that familiar pre-race upset tummy that I’ve never been able to shake. Then I remembered: this is not a race—and I felt instantly fine. In fact, this was the mantra of the day. Jeremy Powers reminded us just prior to the start, as did Tim Johnson when he merely overheard someone mention the word “race” in telling a story completely unrelated to the Grand Fundo, and admonished him to “get that word out of your head”.
The Jeremy Powers/Wheelhouse Sports Grand Fundo 2011 is the big annual fundraiser for the J.A.M. fund, which is dedicated to helping “…young cyclists reach their potential both on and off the bike while not being limited by finances.” J.A.M. (Jeremy, Al, Mukunda—as in Powers, Donohue, Feldman) development grants are targeted at racers under 25 who live in the Northeast.
The Euros have their Gran Fondos, but New England has developed something a little more populist, a little less competitive, and a lot more fun. No surprise this annual event, now in its third year, should spring up in the Pioneer Valley of Western Mass, widely known for its cycling-friendly communities and ample rolling hills and medium sized mountains. Even less of a surprise that the J.A.M fund/NCC team (formerly Wheelhouse/NCC, formerly Spooky/NCC/Kenda, formerly Kenda/Raleigh, formerly Louis Garneau) should be at the epicenter of an effort to put the fun back into—and take the elitism out of—road cycling, because that’s what that team has been about for nearly a decade. It’s a go-hard-but-take-it-easy sort of a vibe.
At one point, after I found my rhythm on King’s Highway, I picked it up a few clicks to catch up to who I thought, from behind, was James Morrison (you know, Mr. ReasonYou’reReadingThisRightNow). Turned out to be another one of the Embro elite team riders, Jackson Weber. All you guys look the same, you know? By the time I caught him, I couldn’t really talk so I mumbled something about Embrocation and faded back to my people, creeping him out pretty good, I’m sure.
The pros who showed up to shepherd the wannabes like us included Mo Bruno-Roy and Matt Roy (who very sweetly rode side-by-side the whole day), Tim Johnson, Brad Huff, Emerson Oronte, Phil Gaimon, Justin Lindine, national road champion, Max Korus, and of course Jeremy Powers.
Not a race, but it would be a classic race course, and there is racy riding to be had. And SRAM neutral support cars. But no numbers or USAC officials at the “finish line”. Still, I don’t know—there were plenty of times where I felt very much like those fast folk up front were racing. I certainly was for the half-hour or so when I was turning myself inside out to chase back on after being dropped on one of the dirt climbs. But then we came to the rest stop with the ice cream truck. OK, not a race. I could get used to this laid-back approach to a hard ride. Anyone who wanted to drill it was certainly welcome to, but most did not. And there were only a few crashes and only two (that I know of) that resulted in trips to the hospital. One was a teammate who wiped out on a dirt section before mile 12. He’ll be fine and had a lot of really nice things to say about J.A.M fund rider Frances Morrison (no relation to James), who stayed with him until the pros could patch him up.
I Found myself wishing, at the pig-roast BBQ that followed, that more races were not races. A worthy cause, a delicious course, good people. This is one to find a way to get to next year.