by Andrew Reimann with additional contributions and quotes from Vicky Sama
Start with a choose-your-own adventure course that includes up to 9,000 feet of climbing, add in gravel the size of baseballs along with pits of sand every now and again, and finish off with the perfect BBQ at one of the best vineyards that New England has to offer, and what do you end up with? The JAM Fund Cycling Grand Fundo.
With three separate lengths to choose from, and supporting the great cause of funding the JAM Fund Development Team, the Grand Fundo is now six years running, and between the organization and what the ride has to offer, it's clear that Jeremy Powers has dialed in a great system for what he called, "My perfect day of cycling," in our earlier interview with the current national champion.
Over 400 cyclists rode the course last Saturday, breaking the current record held by the event two years ago. The ride is starting to approach the maximum limitations of registrants since Jeremy Powers, Mukunda Feldman and volunteers of the JAM Fund do most of the cooking and race support (alongside SRAM) of the day.
"There was so much energy at the start," said Black Birch vineyard owner Ed Hamel, who has also ridden in all six Fundos. "The energy was magical. Everyone was in a great mood."
I lined up close to Hamel, who is a local businessman who is a huge supporter of American cyclocross. Within my sight, I could see Stephen Hyde, Tim Johnson, Jeremy Durrin, Gabby Durrin, Anthony Clark, Ellen Noble, Mo Bruno Roy and event founder Jeremy Powers. Even Brad Huff, who will be racing in the Tour of Utah, came out for the ride that included stops for ice cream and the most bizarre sandwich combination known to cycling (you can check it out in the gallery below).
Even if you ignore the good cause of the ride, the meal at the end was easily worth the price of admission, no matter whether riders were meat lovers or vegans. Ellen Noble must have wanted to raise her eyebrow at me when I came back for my third round of vegan baked beans that she was serving all 400 plus riders, but they were the most addicting BBQ side dish I have ever eaten in my life, which is a testament to Feldman's culinary prowess.
As for the ride itself, Powers stated earlier that the ideal bike setup involves 700x25c tires. Because of this, I got the wrong impression that this was something akin to an American Spring Classic like Battenkill, so I dialed in my pressure and tire choice to match these courses: big mistake (and one that cost me enough flats to become close friends with the SRAM support crews).
The lesson learned is that the Grand Fundo isn't a run-of-the-mill ride on beat up pavement and hard-packed dirt. Powers himself rode with a 28c tire choice on his gravel-purposed bike. Future riders who want to come out should fully expect sections of rough-and-tumble gravel riding and even some areas that mimic the feel of a cyclocross course. Many riders brought along their cyclocross bike, and not only was there no shame in that, but they were some of the smarter riders.
Even spending a little time on the side of the road with fellow flatters, it was hard to have a bad time. There are not many places in the country better to set out on an adventure in the hot days of late-July than Western Massachusetts, and despite having over 400 riders show up for the event, the Grand Fundo certainly felt like you were among family.
Tim Johnson walks Cyclocross Magazine through his gravel choices. © Vicky Sama
The climbs were even more challenging than I imagined, which was perfect for adding a hint of friendly competition on an otherwise relaxed day, and the descents offered views that stay with riders for a while. I look forward to the seventh annual event, and will be certain to bring along my trusty cyclocross bike along with me.
Use the slider below for more photos from the JAM Fund Grand Fundo. More info: jamcycling.org