A guide to racing the GFNY Championship NYC course, by the ride leaders and ambassadors that know it best.
By Chris Geiser
Breaking Down the Race
After we talked through training, we broke down the course. There are dozens of GFNY races between the team members, everywhere from Italy, Colombia, Deutschland, Portugal, and Cozumel. For all the challenges faced by the members of the team, they hold a special place for their home course, and their personal approaches to each part of the race. They all agree that every race day brings with it different circumstances. Wind, rain, heat, cold, and of course training. There is also a palpable vibe on the course. How you handle yourself and your bike among the other riders, catching on and working within a group, and where you choose to burn your matches, are all critical to having a great race day. There is no “right way” to ride the GFNY – there is only your way to ride the course and accomplish your goals. Gruppo Sportivo’s individual approaches to the course, are as diverse as they are as riders. Perhaps you will see yourself in their stories, and their take on the course will help you to guide your own.
George Washington Bridge to the top of Alpine
The music, the atmosphere, the festival feeling on the George Washington Bridge is tough to beat. While it can be chilly leading up to the start, there is music, and announcements of celebrity riders, and a feeling that something special is about to happen. Once the National Anthem is over, and you hear the deafening sound of everyone clipping in, you know it’s on. There is a mix of activity as you roll to the matt, and over the timer. Many will go “a tutta” – all out – from the start. Some will hold back. There are number of technical turns to navigate, and riders may bunch up. This is a time for attention to detail as you work your way into the park, and down the hill under the iconic bridge that you just rode over. The sun rise will still be new, and fresh, and you will hear all manner of “on your left” as faster riders try to find the front and see if they can catch the front groups. Some will go hard and blow up, some will have the discipline to know that the first ten miles have a not insignificant climb, and a series of rollers to get through before making it up to 9W.
I think it’s important when you take off with adrenaline kicking in. You see the other riders, you see the people on the side yelling your name, and you have the tendency to put some extra work and go all out – that’s mistake number one! From the bridge to the entrance of the park, I am going to focus on getting my rhythm. After that first three or four k – having the rhythm is important. We all know that the park rolls and has a couple of up and down punches, so I want to keep consistent so that I can get up Alpine without spending so much energy.
It’s very easy to get into the red early when you have 5000 other riders pushing you. I want to get to Alpine without feeling like I wasted anything along the way. Alpine’s not terrible and not that long, and if I take it relatively easily (I am not a climber), 5 or 6 minutes, and then I know I have a stretch ahead of me where I can gain some advantage. Going to the red here is something you will feel a lot later. Get to the top of alpine at a good pace but not having spent a lot of exertion and knowing you can now push and make up time.
I like to enjoy and temper the excitement of the ride. I try to focus on reducing tension and anxiety and navigate clearly of other riders that are super-charged up, and not getting caught up with some of those that are going all out from the gun. Being a marathoner, I know how to measure it out, because it’s a long day, so I make sure to breath and take it easy.
This is always the place to be safe in terms of real safety. There are a couple of turns to make. We start at the front, but the quality of racers in the front mean a lot of people passing me. Safety first and stay steady. Alpine itself should be a steady ride, without burning yourself out to get to the top. When you hear the waterfall in your left ear, you know you are in the second half, and you know you are getting closer to 9W. The whole park itself is not the place to make up time.
For the first 6km I’m at full throttle trying to film the leaders at the front of race. By the time I hit China Wall I’ve used up 2 matches and for next 10km it’s all about active recovery. I need to regain composure, so I can jump onto a strong pack once we get onto 9W.
On the bridge, I am trying to preserve body heat as much as possible and praying for a safe start to the race, and thinking about seeing my family at the finish line. In Alpine, normally trying my best not to over pace but last year, it was total chaos to follow the front group. I ended up with many PRs and then bonked.
The urge at the start of the race is to go hard. Us mere mortals can’t race a full 100 miles going all out, so I treat the bridge to alpine as a warm-up. I fight the adrenaline rush telling me to go fast and keep a moderate pace until I hit 9W. Risks you have to take at the beginning of the race are not going to gain you enough to be worth it. You have to stay under control. Once I hit 9W I pick up the pace and try to find a group to latch onto. It’s a 100-mile race why shouldn’t I conserve energy by drafting. I usually skip the Piermont Nutrition stop to save some time and get ahead of the other racers.
The predominant take-away from the group about this very critical section of the course is to embrace the chaos, but to maintain your composure, and regulate your energy. Depending on where you start in the field, there will be racers and elites that are away, and off the front of the pack from the very beginning. If you start relatively close to the front, you will have a feel for those that started further back from the racers corral trying to catch on, form a group, and see if they can catch the wheels of the elite racers that have come from all over the globe to compete. And they will work like a pack of wild dogs to catch on. For most of the GS-GFNY, this section will be about controlling your energy, and finding your rhythm. While the road tilts down at first, and there are few technical turns to handle, the terrain will roll through the climb to the Alpine Ranger station. Six out of seven agree – this is not the place to burn a match. Stay steady, stay safe – plenty of racing ahead.
Editor’s take – Experience has taught me that going too hard, too early, is a sure-fire way to end up meeting the bonk in Clarkstown, or West Nyack, and surviving to the finish line. If you are a negative splitter, this will be a place for negative split discipline. Know before you go, what you would like your time to be like through here and stick to the plan. You will thank yourself later in the day.