Hoping to strengthen their legs for the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo, 7 OVC riders -- Dean P., Alex, Caleb, Roscoe, Ted, Mark, and Jason -- accepted an invitation from ESVA’s Jeff and Donnie to join them in the hills of Frederick County. OVC met at Easton’s Rise Up for red-eye’s and espresso and then headed on to Thurmont for the 10AM start. Conditions were perfect -- sunny, low humidity, and 70 degree temps -- and foreshadowed the great day of cycling to come.

The climbing began almost immediately with a 6 mile ascent up Rt 77. The pace was steady, but Mark and Jason -- in what would be a pattern of the day -- got some separation at the summit and finished 1-2. After a nice descent, the next climb was a steep pitch up Wolfsville Road. Once again, Mark and Jason finished 1-2 (in that order, I believe), with Alex, displaying some Bike Virginia climbing legs, was not too far behind.

The next climb was up the winding, tar-and-chip covered Highland School Road to Gambrill Park Road. Mark and Roscoe thought they had it in the bag, but were actually only half-way up. Jason counter-attacked and appears to have taken the honors, with a 17 min 44 sec effort for the 3.2 mile length (11.2 mph). At this point, a few riders were wondering what they’d gotten themselves into -- and it was only Mile 22 of 69.

After cruising through Frederick, the group faced about 35 minutes of climbing up to Gambrill State Park. It was a doozy -- Mark was up front most of the way and was the victim of a rolling coal incident. Jason stayed on his wheel and you’ll have to ask them who was first. Dean began to show his cards for the first time all day, trying to sneak in for the bronze, but Roscoe wouldn’t tolerate it. After a group pic, the nine riders bounced through a bumpy, steep descent in which Dean and Mark showed no fear and gained 2 minutes on the field. It was on this downhill that Caleb’s carbon wheel melted, rendering his final 20 miles to be conducted in “safe mode.”

Back on the road, the group faced a couple of sharp rollers. Feeling frisky, Roscoe jumped out in front, hoping to muscle through the terrain. Unfortunately, Harp Hill was waaaay steeper and longer than expected. Mark, Jason, Dean, and Alex cruised by and Roscoe was forced to walk. Mark captured the gold on this 11% grade 1 mile climb with ease -- gaining 30 seconds on Jason.

The group enjoyed a quick descent and faced a minor climb up the .8 mile, 7 % grade of Scravel Road. Roscoe took advantage of having the route on-board and carried his momentum to the top with -- as usual -- Jason and Mark right behind. After a quick regroup, the nine riders headed toward the last sustained climb on Loy Wolf Road. This 4.7 mile stretch was full of fireworks. The usual suspects were setting the pace, but before long, the ride’s host -- Jeff P. -- moved toward the front and, in his words, poked the bear. Mark, Jason, Roscoe, and Dean (who’d been saving his legs for this) kicked things up a notch. Dean and Jason fell off the pace, while Roscoe and Mark cruised to the regroup area, enjoying cheers of “Allez, Allez, Allez” for the last 200 meters.

Before long, the 9 shoremen set out for the final 12 miles of their expedition. After a series of punchy rollers (in which several top-10 Strava cups were garnered as well as a KOM by Mark), a final selection of Mark, Dean, and Roscoe was established. The trio worked together a bit and was intact when they hit the final descent into Thurmont. The next 6.4 miles were covered at a 30 mph pace with Dean P. passing a minivan and two motorcycles to secure victory. After the lead trio, Jason and Ted were not far behind.

By my computer, the 69 miles route was completed in 4 hr 22 min of riding time (5 hr 40 min elapsed) for an average speed of 15.8 mph -- with 8,000 feet of climbing. Beers and burgers were enjoyed afterwards courtesy of Culver and Pierson -- Thanks, Dean! Special thanks again to Jeff P. for organizing this incredible ride!

I encourage those on the ride to share their favorite moments that oxygen deprivation may have removed from my memory.