There aren’t too many rides that begin with a helicopter buzzing the start line. Then again, there aren’t too many rides that include an ex-marine handing you a semi-automatic and telling you that hitting the bull’s-eye will take 10 minutes off your time. But Echelon’s Gran Fondo rides are known for their entertainment values, and this one didn’t disappoint.
Saturday’s Hood River Gran Fondo, a fully-supported, mass-start road ride/race (30, 80, 100 miles) included Cyclocross Magazine’s “Cross Mountain” off-road option, which treated riders to roughly 25 miles of beautiful, demanding fire-roads in the foothills of Mt. Hood. The route – buttressed by a total of about 12 miles of pavement – was aggressive: Riders tackled 5,000 feet of vertical dirt; found the limits of their cantilever brakes on winding, valley-plummeting descents; and took in some of the best views in the Columbia River Gorge. While mountain bikers certainly had the advantage of better ratios and a bit of suspension, ’crossers looking to get in some power training and hone their handling skills were justly rewarded. The well-marked route wound through orchards and backcountry and offered well-deserved, fully stocked rest stops.
Greg LeMond, sporting a new 2012 Redline Conquest Team carbon rig, was there to show that his time on his home-built ’cross course was paying off [See our Feature article in Issue 11]. While other riders screeched, white-knuckled, down the descents, LeMond took everyone to school, dive-bombing the hills so fast not even the follow vehicle could keep up with him. LeMond also showed he’s not afraid of a good joke – he took third in the “Greg Lemond Shooting Challenge,” in which, after the final ascent, riders could line up for 10 rounds of target shooting. Michael Martin, a longtime former police officer in the area, was on hand to instruct would-be biathletes, and to keep the muzzles pointed in the right direction.
Riders who stuck around after the ride were treated to free beer, catered meals, live music and the chance to grill LeMond on his future as a cyclocross racer. His answer? “Maybe if I drop a few pounds first.”
We at Cyclocross Magazine are excited to have our name attached to the first offering of the CrossMountain ride, and we hope to add dirt options to more of Echelon’s gran fondo events next year. It was also great meeting kindred spirits out there on the course, and afterwards over our well-earned, delicious meal(s) and beverages. We may be ’cross racers at heart, but a day like this is not to be missed.