Why leave Los Angeles? It either has or is adjacent to everything. Ocean? Right over there. Twenty-mile climbs to searing mountain tops? Over there. Winter skiing? Just up the road.
But people peregrinate. They’re never satisfied with what’s in their own front yard, or back yard, or even their neighbor’s yard. They want more.
Fortunately, if you want more, California delivers, and if you’re a cyclist seeking new spectacular vistas surrounded by 11,000-foot peaks, throw the bike in the car and drive up to Mammoth for their annual fall grand fondue. Don’t worry about having to scale interminable climbs. You’ll get all the climbing workout you need walking up the three stairs to your cottage, because Mammoth Village sits at 8,000 feet, where oxygen doesn’t hang out much.
The Mammoth GF has history, bike racing history. It first existed as a real stage race, the Mammoth Cycling Classic, and attracted world class talent during the heyday of the 80’s. In 1994 the race transmogrified into a one-day grand fondue, and is now in its twenty-third year, regularly earning kudos for its stunning scenery, car-less roads, and beautifully maintained pavement.
And although the ride has been around for decades, it’s now at the forefront of the new wave in cycling, where chips and timed Strava segments let riders compete for overall glory as well as for imaginary spoils on certain sections in the middle of the ride. In other words, like a Chinese buffet, you really can have it all: A 102-mile race; a completely chill, noncompetitive ride; an easy ride punctuated by at least one timed, all-out effort. You pick. And of course there are routes of varying length.
Here’s what you get for your entry fee:
- Pro style mass start. This pro style start makes you feel pro. You can bring extra carbon for your all carbon, 100% carbon bike and get 25% more pro. Neil Shirley might be there and might even autograph your chamois (before, not after). In other words, pro.
- Timing and posted results. It’s not a race, really. Okay, I call bullshit. It’s totally a race. Pin on your number, nail your timing chip to your ankle, and lock down your heartjockrate strap. Don’t look up from your Garmin until it’s done.
- Six rest stops. Basically, these are THE REASON WE RIDE. Burn 400 kcal, eat 1,500. Repeat until sufficiently bloated. Return to the start/finish in the sag wagon. The stops have everything you are going to need, in other words, sugar. And this year they will also offer the magic of Jeff Mahin, master chef. You can always add another 120-mile loop if you go overboard on his creations.
- Clothing drops. Since the ride takes place at 72,000 feet, there isn’t much air. Scientifically speaking, the cold molecules adhere to your skin better way up there and create something called FIC Syndrome (Fugg, it’s cold!). So the way this works is that you wear warm stuff to start, work yourself up into a hot bother, and then drop off your nasty duds at the sag stops. The volunteers pour gasoline on them and light a match, which provides extra heat for frozen fingers.
- On-course lunch. If you do the Grand Fondue or the Medium Fondue, you get fed a light lunch. This has nothing in common with the packet of crackers and cup of water you get on Southwest when flying six hours from coast-to-coast.
- On-course SAG support. As every cyclist knows, SAG is the safety diaper we all crave when stranded out in the wilderness with two flats (right and left). The grand fondue has roving SAG vehicles that can air up your legs, swap out a punctured lung, and true your badly bent moral compass as you lie in a ditch wondering where all the air went.
- Signature pint glass. In 1937, Alfonse d’Tuileries hosted the world’s first grand fondue outside of Paris and he forgot to provide beer to the finishers. Alfonse is recognized as the first Frenchman to be lynched by a mob since the Paris Commune, and a garden is named after him near the Louvre. The Mammoth GF ensures no lynching by providing a trophy pint glass into which to pour your Sierra Nevada beer.
- Finisher’s t-shirt. If you can’t brag about it, it didn’t happen. Cool t-shirt lets you remind your slovenly co-workers that while they were arguing with an inert TV screen over a bad call by the ref, you were slaying dragons and mashing pedals in the Sierras.
- Event photos. Let’s face it. Your co-workers don’t really believe you were in the Sierras, much less riding 102 miles through them airlessly on a bicycle. Free event photos can be silkscreened onto a custom t-shirt or used as templates for your very own Grand Fondue face tattoo. Let ’em deny your awesomeness with that.
- Timed KOM/QOM section. 102-mile grand fonduers get to compete in the KOM/QOM Strava segment. Brang it.
- Party. After you’re done dry heaving and have come somewhat out of your delirium, there is a massive bash in the Village at Mammoth featuring more genius food creations of Jeff Mahin, Sierra Nevada fermented beverages, dessert, expo, and entertainment, not limited to the whopping lies you’ll overhear as you quietly sip your kale-peanut butter–escargot smoothie.
This is one you’d be crazy to miss.
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