The FoCo Fondo has all the makings of an iconic gravel event that flirts with the mountains and is based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. The 2018 event started and finished at New Belgium Brewery and I think that should be a requirement for all epic gravel events. Coach Zack and Co. put on the event so I’ve been privy to the evolution of it over the years. When he invited me out there I thought, “sounds like an adventure. I’m in!”
Often times the most epic events reward those of us willing to grit our teeth and get dirty. Leadville has a belt buckle; Belgian Waffle Ride has finisher’s beer and the FoCo Fondo has the bolo tie. FoCo Fondo doesn’t keep results, there is no finishing order or really timing. To earn the bolo tie you have to complete the 103-mile course BEFORE 1pm for men, 130pm for women. Start time is 7am sharp. That gave me 6 complete hours to ride 103 miles. Thinking back on it, a 6-hour elapsed time 100-mile ride is something you’ll rarely see from anyone without a UCI logo on his/ her jersey and 100 miles of mixed terrain is ripe for mechanicals and wildlife delays. This was going to be epic. I wanted that bolo tie. I traveled from San Diego to Fort Collins for the FoCo Fondo and I was going to give it a go.
I still didn’t think it would that big of a challenge to collect the bolo tie until I saw the small number of hand made ties at Zack’s house. MAYBE 20 and definitely not more than that. Zack says, “Yeah man. 6 hours for you to ride 103 miles. You’re going to have to ride if you want one.” It was obvious I was going to need not just my “A-Game” but also my wits. Time to make a plan.
Know your goal. Understand your goal.
The goal is simple. 103 miles in sub 6 hours and I get a bolo tie. Understanding how to use strategy to reach that goal can get more complex. I’ve done some other articles about making good decisions in events and now I was going to have to practice my own advice.
In order to get to the finish line in time, remember that places DO NOT MATTER. 1st and 10th still get the bolo tie as long as we’re in before 1pm. The goal is to get down the road as fast as possible. That means stay with the front group and don’t work any more than you need to. The front group was full of a bunch of guys that were both fast and altitude acclimated. But making the group was an exercise in patience, attention and toughness.
In the beginning of any race, fondo, gravel grinder ect. everyone is fresh and eager to smash the pedals. If it’s a race, they race. If it’s not a race, they ride hard like it’s a race. During that crucial first 1.5- 2 hours it’s important to ‘flow forward’ and cover gaps to the front group while they are small. That way energy investment is minimal and you’re able to stay with the fastest guys. The last thing anyone wants to do is get stuck riding hard in the wind for a long time early on a big day.
Understand when to let go.
At the FoCo Fondo the front group was riding at a pace that wasn’t particularly hard. However, at 5000ft it was hard for me not living at altitude and being acclimated. At the mile 49 aid station, I made a strategic decision to sit up and wait for the next group. The front group was beginning to show signs of fatigue which leads to decreased cooperation which puts everyone in the wind more. That would spell disaster for me as I wasn’t ready for a 54-mile soul crushing effort at 5000+ feet. If I blew apart, I’d be dead in the water, going slow and not get the bolo tie. Also, we made it nearly half way in 2:33 so I knew I was now ahead of the time cut. Time to play the strategic game and wait for group 2.
Find another group. Ride with your group.
Group 2 began as 7 of us nearly equally matched, all motivated and all willing to do work in the wind. This was a good group for all. Also, included was Joe Schmalz, who was in town training for the Leadville 100. Sure, he was on an Erickson mountain bike but as is the case with talented professional riders, they have big motors. And throttle can make up for many deficiencies in cycling. For the next 95 minutes we all rotated, no surges, no skipped pulls, just getting down the road as fast and smooth as possible. This also meant no one took hero pulls. Those short, hard pulls may be a ripping fast turn of pace for you. However, the net result typically is a slower speed for the group as everyone needs to recover.
Keep an eye on the clock. Minimize stoppage time.
All told, I spent 17 minutes not moving forward. That’s about 4% of my day. While it’s not bad, it’s not great. However, given the previous events, I still believe that this was the fastest way for me to get to the finish line at earn my bolo tie. Still, I can not stress enough that your stops should be kept to 5 minutes or less.
Clock management was also key for the day’s goal. Luckily, I had Joe with me and both of us are well versed in this skill. We needed to know when and how much to increase or decrease effort to make the time goal. The first 2:38 we did 49 miles. That’s a hair over 5:15 pace for the entire ride. Well ahead of schedule. Then came my 10-minute stop which effectively made 49 miles in 2:48 (9:48am). Things still looked good. The next stop saw us lose ground due to climbing and wind (so much wind) and saw us at the 74-mile point at 11:20am when we departed the aid station. We no longer enjoyed a large cushion and the bolo tie was still in play but not “safe.” It was going to be close. We got on the gas, just enough to be uncomfortable but not enough to hurt. When we rolled through the finish line it was 12:53. Seven minutes to spare and we had the bolo tie.
I’ve spent this entire post discussing decision making and strategy which what I considered the most important variable for me. However, that is a luxury afforded me because I am experienced in how to fuel and hydrate myself. Primarily, I used Clif products for food and fluids. I burned over 3500 kJ on this ride and spent over 70 minutes at or over 90% of FTP.
I’ve had enough bad “luck” on dirt over the years (I’ve been riding gravel since 2003) to appreciate the simplicity of choosing durability over chic. Tires that are a little heavier will always roll faster than tires that are flat, and wider tires are usually better on rough surfaces. Name brand equipment that has a history of performing at gravel or cyclo-cross events are always better than something being lusted after on “weight weenies.” The bike was the same rig I rode at the Dirty Kanza this summer and it performed flawlessly. I was running the IRC Boken Tires 40c with X-Guard and while there was a bit of a weight penalty, I didn’t have any sidewall cuts and they rolled fast all day long.
The bolo tie was probably one of the toughest achievements I’ve ever undertaken on a bike. The bolo tie proudly sits on the workbench, although maybe I should move into the office. The FoCo Fondo finished at the New Belgium Brewery with catered food, live music and of course, fantastic beer. All told, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a day in Fort Collins. Check out this early August event next year!
About the Author: Adam Mills has raced at the elite level since 2002 and graduated with a Masters Degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Kansas in 2005. His true talent comes with his ability to combine his vast experience with his knowledge of sport. He is indeed a student of science, sport, athletic performance, strategy, and tactics. He continuously educates himself by keeping up to date with current research trends and methods in sport and his clients have reaped the benefits from this work with over 15 national championships in 10 disciplines on two continents. Adam is able to incorporate these attributes on a daily basis to help his clients reach and exceed their goals whether they are a beginner or a seasoned professional. Learn more about Adam and Source Endurance here.