As I write this, my legs are sore, my back hurts, and I couldn’t be happier, because it is all due to riding in Jeremiah Bishop’s Alpine Loop Gran Fondo this past Saturday.

Before we get into the highs and more highs of this amazing ride, let’s go over the history of the Gran Fondo. First the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo has three different routes (32, 71, and 104 miles), is in its second year, and is one of pro mountain bike racer Jeremiah Bishop’s favorite training loops. After completing the ride I now know why he is so fit. The best part about the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo is that proceeds go towards prostate cancer awareness and bicycling infrastructure.

I got into the friendly city of Harrisonburg on Friday afternoon and stopped by Shenandoah Bicycling Company, one of the local bike shops. Do yourself a favor next time you are in the area, and stop by this one of a kind cycling store. Not only is the staff incredibly knowledgeable, but they are also friendly and helpful. They did a quick check over of my bike, answered my questions, and even gave me a beer! After picking up my race packet, stocking up on some ride food, and drinking my complimentary Dale’s Pale Ale, I strolled over to the Bike Capital Gala. The Gala kicks off the whole fondo weekend with good food, great discussion, raffles and more. It was great to see local bicycling advocates, visiting riders, and others all having a great time and sharing ideas and knowledge about cycling and the community.

I could bore you with the rest of my night adventures, but that would take too much time so let’s just say I woke up Saturday feeling a bit on the hung-over side. After a few glasses of water, an amazing acai bowl from Pulp Smoothies, and a few good stretches, I was feeling like a $10 bill and pedaled over to the starting line.

First thing you notice at the ALGF is that everything is dialed. The ride seems organized, the atmosphere is relaxed, and you feel like you’re in good hands. Over 450 riders, including 2010 USA national road race champion Ben King, rolled out from Court Square and began the ride. Police escort got everyone safely out of the city and onto the gorgeous country roads that the valley is known for. Things mainly stayed together until we hit the base of 33, our first climb, and riders quickly settled into their own paces.

Alpine Loop Gran Fondo starting line

I eased into the first aid station and I thought my eyes were deceiving me. Is that Starbuck’s Frappuccino? Are those danishes? Is that fresh fruit? No, my eyes were not playing tricks on me. Every aid station was amazingly well stocked with not only good food, but helpful and friendly volunteer staff. The aid stations are critical in a ride like this because the Alpine Loop is no joke. 104 miles, 11,000 feet of elevation, two gravel climbs, this is a ride that will challenge even the most seasoned rider. For perspective, it took Ben King over 6 hours from start to finish.

I continued on over more gorgeous climbs, down ripping descents, and through peaceful valleys on my way through Franklin, W.Va., and then back to Harrisonburg. I had highs of climbing up the dark side of Reddish Knob, a 17 mile climb, and lows of trying to remember if the ride was called a fondo or fondue. In the end I made it back to town, and settled once and for all that I was on a fondo and that fondue is a melted cheese dish.

The royal treatment doesn’t end at the aid stations however, because as I crossed the finish line volunteers came running bearing cold wet towels, bottled water, and a handmade Swiss bell for finishing the ride. To top things off, local cycling club Shenandoah Valley Bicycling Coalition had partnered with New Belgium to serve some post-ride brews. So after a delicious Ranger with some of my riding buddies and a quick pic with Jeremiah and Ben the 2012 Alpine Loop Gran Fondo came to a close.

As a two-time finisher of the ALGF, and having partaken in a variety of other mountain and road cycling events, you will be hard pressed to find a better event than this. You can challenge yourself with the 75 or 104 mile options, but also bring along less seasoned riders and try the 32 mile option. You can race to the finish, or ride with your buddies and take in the breathtaking scenery. Jeremiah and his wife Erin have something really good going on here, so start training and I will see you at the 3rd Annual Alpine Loop Gran Fondo in 2013!

For a more in depth look at the ride, watch this video!