Big Ride Times Two

To say Sunday is a day of rest for most Mammoth Gran Fondo participants is a forgone conclusion. Most rode 102.6 miles the day before, battling 6,463 vertical feet of climbing and divebombing more than a vertical mile of alpine descents. All of this at the Eastern Sierra altitude, where the views are as epic as the air is thin.

Some, even participated in Friday’s prologue. A once in a lifetime experience for all who haven’t participated on the professional level, where riders begin the race against the clock atop a starting ramp, like the ones you see at races such as the Tour of California and the Tour de France. Rolling down that ramp, these intrepid pedalers experience a rare taste of downhill because the next 7.8 miles is almost completely uphill.

From the start point of the junction of Highway 395 and Highway 203, these racers climb 1,624 vertical feet. Translation: this is a race of pain management. Whether you’re a pro or a weekend warrior, you’ll be in pain. And, at points, just may wonder, “Why did I ever think this was a good idea?”

So, Sunday…good day to rest and tip back a mimosa or two in The Village to toast all of those miles, right?

Not for a select group sadists accomplished cyclists who will pedal from Mammoth Lakes down the 395 to Big Pine, descending 4,071 feet in 58.1 miles before banging a left and climbing, climbing, climbing.

The ascending is steep. The heat is intense. And there’s one section that’s only one lane.

The descents? Fast and technical, with little room for error.

By the time the day is over, the riders will have logged almost 260 miles of riding in three days, but technically about 48 hours. And more than 240 miles will be completed in a 30 hour span. And most of that’s at race pace. Last year, the select group of Sunday riders rode 146.1 miles, averaging a blistering 20.6 mph during the course of the ride that climbed 8,215 feet. To most, this begs a simple question: why? “Because it’s big, epic, and why not?” said Chris Lyman, a former Master’s National Champion Road Racer and the co-organizer of the Sunday ride.

Last year was the inaugural ride and participants (pictured above) also included Ryan Yee from Peloton Magazine, Dillon Clapp, Road Magazine, Neil Shirley from Road Bike Action, and Mammoth Gran Fondo organizer and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame member, Bill Cockroft.

Like thousands of bike industry veterans around the country, this crew was heading to Las Vegas for the weeklong bicycle industry trade show, Interbike.

“It’s an epic day that’s everything bike riding should be about: breaking during a climb, exhilaration, and cursing the racers who pull away,” explained Lyman.

One of those riders who pulled away was Neil Shirley, an ex-pro who raced for a decade professionally, three years on the dirt and for seven years on the road.

A father with a full time gig editing Road Bike Action, take a gander at his Strava and you’ll wonder if he’s found a way to live without sleep.

For Shirley, returning to Mammoth Lakes is like coming home. He fell in love with cycling in the 93546 when he visited with his father years ago on their first-ever mountain bike trip.

As a native of SoCal, he’s used to dealing with traffic, traffic lights, and stop signs. “When you get up to Mammoth, you’re not going to have to deal with any of that. No cars. No stopping. With fantastic views, some of the best scenery in the world, and great [ride] support? You can’t beat it,” said Shirley.

And the line-up at Saturday’s Gran Fondo might be the most diverse and most inclusive in all of cycling.

“What I really loved is the feel on Saturday where you have a crew of current pro riders, former pro riders, and people who are doing their first organized ride, ever. Everyone is there at the starting line, chatting and mingling: to me that’s what it’s all about,” said Shirley.

Although Saturday’s ride is a race for folks at the front, an event Shirley won last year.

The ride on Sunday is fast with a shared, common goal: to get to Vegas at a reasonable time for a celebratory dinner to put the finishing touches on a great weekend of riding in the Eastern Sierra including some miles that are only possible with a little help.

“Sunday’s ride is on terrain and roads I would never be able to ride on without support. It really capped off a unique weekend,” said Shirley, who admitted the Mammoth Gran Fondo weekend was his favorite of the year.  “It was the perfect way to set ourselves up for a long week in Vegas.”

This year’s ride, which takes place the weekend of Sept. 11-13, will include professional support from Mavic, the yellow vehicles you may recognize from the Tour de France. Fuel will be provided by Untapped.

Author: Stephen Krcmar Stephen Krcmar is a journalist, marketing guy, and former Copywriter, Social Media Director, and Associate Creative Director at Mammoth Mountain. During his tenure at Mammoth, he rode his bicycle outfitted with studded tires to Main Lodge on most winter days. And he never skipped a meal.

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