Gran Fondo Ottawa AKA Line-up From Hades

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Me on the Keg Bike

Looking back on my various race and event results, I have now been a pretty physically active fellow for almost exactly 10 years. I have done countless events of every type and description. Short 5k runs, up to 7-day major international events. I’ve done grass-roots style events and slick corporate-backed mega-events like the Boston Marathon. They all have one thing in common. Registration and kit pick-ups. This is sort of the ‘welcome mat’ to an event, and sets the tone and stage for what follows. It says a lot about the overall event’s organization and ability to execute. In these 10 years, I don’t believe I’ve ever had to wait more than 30 minutes to deal with this part of a race. Until GranFondo Ottawa. So shall begin my little post on this inaugural event in Ottawa, and my PERSONAL opinions of the entire weekend. I also covered it for Get Out There magazine, so you can check out my ‘official’ video review which will be a little kinder than this post will be. You can also check out some pictures that I posted from our group. Now, please read on to get my full impressions 🙂

Event Pictures from the Day

Two hours and 10 minutes! That’s how long it took to snake our way through the ever-expanding line to pick up our jerseys, swag bags, and get our race numbers. This is utterly and completely inexcusable. I’d like to say that the RD was apologetic on this matter but this was not the case Friday night. He was just standing there watching, making no apparent attempts to fix this or call in for help. The ‘race expo’ on Friday night? Non-existent. Starbucks had packed up and left by around 6pm. The Enervit booth? Packed up with no-one in sight. Just lots of very moody riders waiting as patiently as they could in line. To be clear: 1 line. 3 volunteers trying to sort everything out, with what can only be described as very spotty actual records on who was registered. There were lots of incidents of them just giving out a number on the spot while riders assured them they had paid. Jersey sizing? Well, never mind what you physically ordered. You got what they had, which in the case of several, was too large, as all the smaller jerseys had been given out already.

As my friend pointed out, this is simple math. You have about 1700 riders. Each one could take up to 2-3 minutes to deal with. That’s 3400 person-minutes, or 566 man-hours. For the love of Pete, set up at least 3-5 registration spots, either numerically, alphabetically, or whatever-the-hell you want. It’s the absolute simplest concept to understand if you’ve EVER organized an event. And yes, I’m speaking as someone who has helped at numerous events and registration processes. Enough of that. On to the sling bag. Here’s a quote from the website while it’s still up there: “sling|musette [rider bag] w/$300.00+ [no, not a typo] in cycling & related items”. So what was in mine? Two water bottles, one plastic cup with lid, bottle opener, tire levers, a small sample of chain lube, and a couple coupons (think X% off). My guesstimate value? $15-$20. Hardly what we were promised.

Sadly, the super-long registration also threw a major wrench into our fun Friday plans of a carbo-loading supper with friends, along with wine and some hot-tubbing. Instead, it was a mad scramble to cook the supper, wolf it down, then go our separate ways to prep for the early morning call for the ride.

We opted to go to the start early in the morning in case there was more madness to contend with. The 220km route was slated to leave at 7am, but didn’t get going till around 7:20am, under a bit of confusion from all involved. And why the confusion? Well, there was no event announcer, no official start, no proper lead-out, no nothing. Not only that, but anyone who actually wanted to take part in the ‘timed sections’ (there were 4) had to pick up a chip in the morning. That’s right, it was separate from registration on Friday. What did that mean? Another line-up where someone actually physically wanted you to hand over a piece of ID for the day as a deposit for the chip. As if. It goes without saying that a LOT of us opted out of this. Not like we’d win anything anyway. Another thing missing at the start? No water to hydrate. Some coffee, but it disappeared fast. Just a lot more confusion. Heck, we missed our own event start. We were just regrouping when we realized the ride was getting underway!

Now, gentle reader, please excuse the overall negative image I’ve portrayed thus far. I promise you that I have been quite objective in my assessment, and vowed at every twist to not let a prior disappointment colour my opinion of the next aspect. I’m old enough and have done enough events to know that there are always elements out of control of the organization. With that in mind, let’s turn our mind to the actual ride now!

Overall Ride Stats

I was really happy to be riding with 6 of my best friends and a group that I’d collectively say have good experience on bikes and have great patience. I knew that no matter the outcome, we’d have fun and still be smiling and laughing at the finish together. I was not let down in that aspect, and we most certainly were, but the journey was not without it’s challenges, some of which were self-inflicted, others due to design. At 8am, we got underway, and started rolling at a nice clip of 28-30km/hr moving speed. This was pretty much ideal. The gents would take turns at the front in different configurations, keeping the pace nice. There was lots of chit-chat, and some great catching up, as we don’t see each other nearly enough these days. And this, I would say, is the real spirit of a GranFondo or Cycle Tour. Camaraderie.

Our route was 170km (well, ended up at 175km total, but close enough), and took us through a number of small towns in the Ottawa Valley. Namely (and in order), Ashton, Beckwith, Tennyson, Perth, Balderson, Lanark, Almonte, Blakeney, Panmure, Carp, and back to the Kanata start/finish. In my opinion, the course was actually quite well marked. You had to pay some attention, but for the most part, the indicators where there. There were 3 sets of painted arrows and major intersections. Blue for the 220k route, Green for our 170k route, and Red for the 100k route. This should have ideally been supplemented with some sort of printed instructions or map that should have been included in our race kits, but no such thing existed, so we were on our own.

As I understand it, that did cause some consternation for some riders. I’m not overly surprised at that though. As an adventure racer, I’m used to route-finding and keeping a close eye on where we are at all times, and having a good sense of where we should be. To those ends, there was only one place where we paused and nearly missed a turn. More on that (and it’s unfortunate result) in a moment.

Along all routes were also rest stops. For our route, there were five such stops. In the lead-up, riders had been told that all these stations would have water, Enervit and that they’d “do [their] best to offer bananas, bagels, peanut-butter/jelly and some baked goods”. My suspicions were raised immediately by the ‘do our best’ comment. Aid station #1? Two coolers of Enervit, and a pump bottle of water, with 3 volunteers. This station was common to all 3 routes, ergo was supposed to serve 1700 riders. No food of any sort. No big deal though, as it was early on. Luckily, stop #2 was the big one in Perth, in a park. Here again they had a 2-3 coolers of Enervit, 2 water coolers, bananas, and tasty peanut butter and jelly bagels. There was also a local vendor on site selling lots of baked goods. This was a great place to stop, and most people languished in the shade here, due to the mounting heat. However, there were NO PORTA-POTTIES set up anywhere!!

And that is where we had our own little issue. As a group, the ladies used a public restroom. The gents decided we’d head a little down the road and just use a shady tree once out of town. However, on leaving, Bonnie discovered a flat tire, so she and Grant doubled back to the bike mechanic at the park. We all agreed we’d meet up down the road and we’d go slowly. That’s where we NEARLY missed the turn, but took the right route. We found shade, relieved ourselves, and the 5 of us waited for Bonnie and Grant. And waited. And waited. Eventually, I doubled back and cycled all the way back to Perth. No one left. Crap! They must have missed the turn! A little later, Kev finally got a call from them. They were in Balderson, quite a ways down the road.

When we were finally re-joined, we learned that they, along with about 100 riders, missed the turn, headed all the way to a highway, then took a different road to Balderson, cutting off about 8km, but leaving us waiting in vain. Time lost? Probably 40 minutes, AND we were now basically at the very back of the ride. Ha ha. No one really got too miffed on that one, as we probably should just not have split up in the first place. Live and learn.

With that ‘behind’ us, we rolled on uneventfully to Lanark, then Almonte, both very compact rest stops offering 1-2 jugs of enervit and a jug of water. Luckily, one stop also had tasty pre-packaged cookies that we all enjoyed. At this particular stop, the event director also happened to be there, and was chatting about the Friday snafu. Rather than sounding apologetic, he actually had the gall to talk about another ‘event’ he attended, that was celebrating it’s 40th year, where the waits were 4 hours to register! I loudly exclaimed sarcastically that it just proves there are obviously amazingly even worse-organized events out there.

Our final bit of bad luck happened just outside Almonte. As we were biking along, we came across a railroad crossing where a rider was motioning to slow down. There was a rider down, and injured quite badly. As we slowed to pass, one of our own also managed to take a tumble and take a bump to the head. Then, a few minutes later, a third rider went down! As we waited a little bit there an ambulance and police finally showed up. Unfortunately, the first girl had a broken jaw and had to be whisked off to hospital. Our rider also felt unable to continue and therefore we had 2 riders from our group abandon and wait for the sag wagon. This dangerous crossing continued to claim riders as the day wore on. Rumour is that the OPP were going to pay a call to the RD on the fact that this was not signed, marshalled, covered off, or even warned about. Personally, I was ok, as I’m used to pretty gnarly riding, but many others are not as experienced., and hence this was not safe to be left as it was.

With slightly heavier hearts, our remaining group of 5 rode out the remainder of the route. There was another ‘fun’ section a little further on, with a 2km gravel section, entered by crossing a treacherous gravel bit, but there was a volunteer warning riders to dismount to cross the spot where the railroad tracks had recently been removed, so that went without incident. There was one final rest stop located on the side of the road in Carp, and from there, it was a mere 12km or so to the finish. This last bit took us along nice shaded roads for a bit before finally re-entering suburbia proper in Kanata.

The finish was almost as anti-climatic as the start. We turned into the parking lot and under the GranFondo banner, and that was that. The actual finish line was located a parking-lot away from the ‘fest’ area, so we just sort of rolled over to where all the other participants were hanging out. The barbecue was in full swing, and there was lots of food on hand to re-fill our bellies. I had braised beef on a bun, and some pasta salad, along with a San Pellegrino drink, and eventually, a glass of tasty Kichesippi Beer. There once again was no race announcer, or any discernible events of any sort going on apart from the food and beer. After about 30 minutes, a live band did take the stage, which was fun, but by this point, most riders had already departed to their homes to presumably shower. I will say that the finish was actually pretty well organized. We had no waits, and we did get pretty much exactly what we were told we would, so I will not complain about that 🙂

All in all, I’d say I pretty much got what I figured I’d get out of this event. Being the first time it was put on, there would obviously be a few hiccups that could be addressed should the event be put on once again next year. I stand by my initial assertion that the registration issue is not one that should have happened, but that’s life. Judging by many comments on the facebook page, there are others that were much more irate than me, and several people making no bones about the fact that there is no way they would return. It’s a shame really, as this event could be a great destination event for cyclists looking for a good 1 day challenge rather than committing to the full 2-day Rideau Lakes tour. Time will tell what will happen to the GranFondo Ottawa for 2013. Personally, I’m not convinced I’d return. Again, I’m reminded how nice it might be to just organize a small group ride and put the money towards a nice meal at the end instead of forking over the money to a big event and not really get that much value for our monies.

At any rate, this event kicks off 5 weeks in a row of races for me, so I’ll sign off now, and get back to, umm, resting? training? eating? Sure, all those things! Next up: the RockstAR 8hr Adventure Race with my buddy Carl at the Bark Lake Leadership Center. Stay tuned for that report in a week or so! Till then, stay cool (and preferably not too dry!!).

Video Review of Event

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