Ovando Grand Fondo PreviewThursday August 2, 2012
By now I am guessing that most of you have heard of or have already registered for the Ovando Gran Fondo. On Monday (July 30) I had the opportunity to preview the entire course with my companions from the Ovando Gran Fondo Organizing Committee. Part of the preview for me entailed riding several segments of the route on my cyclocross bike. What a treat! The roads and landscape that riders will traverse are nothing short of magnificent. The mountains of the Bob Marshall Wilderness provide the perfect backdrop. I was nearly speechless, the magnificence of the valley was absolutely breathtaking. It is so beautiful out there that you will think you died and went to Montana.
A rolling country double-track winds through private ranches during the first section of the ride. The dirt surface is fairly smooth, fast and flowing. A quick glance at the topo map would seem to indicate that the terrain is undulating, but it sure did feel like I was mostly riding downhill. My speed remained high, and I didn't feel like I was working that hard. Maybe it was simply the thrill of riding new roads in beautiful country.
By the time we reached the base of the first "Challenge Loop," I was ready to test my ride-worn legs. I did a pretty long and hard ride two days prior, and my legs were still quite fatigued. I wasn't sure how my body would respond to this 4-mile climb on the first Challenge Loop. The allure of the dirt road that rose up before me was too great to pass up, and I eagerly began the ascent. I found myself settling into a nice rhythm, turning the pedals in a surprisingly comfortable manner. I was pushing a 36x25 gear for the majority of the climb, occasionally dropping into a 36x27 gear when the road pitched up a bit more. The curiosity of what I would see at the top drove me forward. Once in awhile I could catch a glimpse of the valley below me, but the view never opened up, at least not until I reached the top. The expansive view from the top is marvelous. If you are up for a good climb, then this is a view not to be passed up.
As with every solid climb, the descent is the reward that awaits. The thrill-seeker in me was excited to take advantage of this fast descent. I am sure I was wearing a big grin the whole time. After reconnecting with the main part of the course, there are still a few miles to the lunch stop at Monture Creek campground. This part of the course skirts the southern perimeter of the Bob. This is a relatively fast section given that at times I was hitting over 25mph on the dirt road without too much effort.
The nature and character of the course changes a bit on the second half. Whereas the first half is mostly smooth rolling country roads that are easily managed, the second half demands more attentiveness on the rider's part given that the road surface is rougher and bumpier than the first half. I certainly would not describe the terrain as technical or exceptionally rough, but it is more like back-country cyclocross riding. I was happy with my decision to use larger volume tires (700x40 tires).
About a mile before the start of the "Challenge Loop #2" the road begins to climb in earnest. About 200 yards before the turn onto the loop a very steep fire road appeared before me that cut an intimidating angle across the mountainside. I was pretty sure that was the start of the loop, but I began wondering how I was going to manage the climb with the gearing I had. The challenge of "Challenge Loop #2" begins the moment you make the turn to start the climb. The road looks like a vertical wall blocking your path. I guess you could call it riding but it was more like a wrestling match with my bike. I was pulling on the handlebars and pushing on the pedals. I had no idea how long it was going stay steep. As far as I knew the entire 4+ mile loop would be this steep. It certainly felt like an eternity. The reality was that the steep section was only about .8 miles long. The road mellowed considerably, but then about a mile later it pitched up again. Just to make sure that this climb isn't too easy, the surface is a bit loose and rocky. The reward for your efforts: an awesome view deep into the Scapegoat Wilderness. Yeah, this loop is short, but it is definitely a challenge. I'd go for it if I were you.
Finally, the remainder of the ride is noticeably bumpier and looser than anything on the first half. My larger volume tires were very welcome through the end of the ride. If you are using your mountain bike for the Ovando Gran Fondo, then you may just be the envy of your 'cross bike riding companions. Go ahead and gloat! Cyclocross bikes are very likely faster on the first half of the ride, but mountain bikes will float the second half of the course. Those of you on mountain bikes will cover the roads with ease while your 'cross bike riding buddies will have to be a bit more attentive. Still, after checking out the entire course, I will be sticking with my cyclocross bike. What are you going to ride?
I look forward to seeing you out there.
For more information about the Ovando Grand Fondo click here.