How far can a strong amateur cyclist go with the four-times and current US professional cycling champion Freddie Rodriguez on a tough 90-mile training ride? Several hundred such riders showed up at the Claremont Resort in Berkeley, California, August 17, to test themselves in the inaugural Fast Freddie Gran Fondo.
The event, a fundraiser for the Fast Freddie and Osborne Family foundations, offered three options: a 13-mile corto route with 1800 feet of climbing, a 47-mile medio route with a stiff 6200 feet, and the 88-mile lungo with a punishing 9300 feet of elevation gain, including an ascent on the fabled Mount Diablo.
A majority of the riders rolling out from the Claremont Resort were destined for the lungo fondo, based on one of Fast Freddie's tough training routes, and by the finish the consensus among riders was this is one of, if not the toughest of the NorCal gran fondos.
"Not often!" said Freddie with a laugh in the post-ride festival area, when asked how frequently his small training group tackles that route. Far from being a pure climber, his career is built on an impressive capacity to pip others in the sprint for the finish line. He makes no bones about the healthy aversion he and other race-winning speed specialists have for the uphill.
With this in mind, it was all the more impressive to see how easily he made the ascents. Other riders groaned under the load of the final climb, a seven-mile haul up Wildcat Canyon and the spectacular Grizzly Peak Boulevard, while Freddie, who is a few days shy of his 40th birthday, seemed fresh and chatty.
On a short level section connecting the two climbs he even obligingly towed a small group at 25mph. Seeing a professional road sprinter towing a group of riders was worth the entry fee alone.
Yet Freddie's main purpose for instigating this event goes beyond challenging and socializing with seasoned amateurs. Born in Bogota, Colombia, but having grown up in the East Bay, he recalls his youth in a tough neighborhood. "Cycling was my way to get out into the countryside and have positive experiences that helped me believe in myself and learn life skills," he said this April at a fundraiser for one of his favorite charities, the National Interscholastic Cycling Association.
A statement on the the Fast Freddie Gran Fondo website reads "Without help, good kids can fall victim to bad influences, and cycles of poverty, violence, obesity, dependency or simple bad habits can continue from generation to generation... The Fast Freddie Foundation and the Osborne Family Foundation are committed to the physical, ethical, and life development of kids through youth cycling programs that give kids the skills to realize their dreams."
"I have a family now with children, I am getting close to the end of my professional racing career, and I've been examining the things that are important to me. Helping under-privileged kids to find healthy lifestyles, that's what's important to me now," says Freddie.
For California's steadily-growing cycling population, Fast Freddie's new direction means a challenging new ride that many will find irresistible for more reasons than one.