On July 10, a brand new gran fondo was on the calendar. The GFNY Grand Ballon. The name says it all, a Vosges through the Vosges under the flag of of Granfondo New York.
Start and finish take place in the small but picturesque Thann. The motto of the organization is be a pro for a day. This is reflected in many details that make it best for the participants. Think of the fact that bottles are given to you during the ride. For a part of the participants who are not aiming for a certain time no necessity, but for those who are competitive it is convenient. With L'Étape du Tour and some other well-known events on the same date, it was not easy to get many people to the start. Still, the organizers managed to lure about five hundred participants at the first edition.
The starting shot is given at 8 o'clock in the morning, ideal for the many participants who still had to make a long drive home after the gran fondo. The course is beautiful, and very hard. With 147 km and a small 4,000m+ you won't find much harder.
From the start it's going uphill and there's a lot of racing going on. A small group of about twenty riders emerges with almost all the favourites among them. The second climb of the day is immediately one of the toughest, the Grand Ballon, the roof of the Vosges. The climb goes up at a good pace, especially under the command of the Swiss Armin Dederichs. Without any real attacks, we are left with about twelve riders and we can start the descent towards the next climb of the day, the Col du Firstplan. On this climb the riders are again riding at a steady pace, so nobody really tries to take their chances. Possibly, the Petit Ballon and Platzerwasel that still follow also plays a role here. Wasting too much energy would be sour on these two tough climbs.
On the Petit Ballon, a climb with an average of 7% (but very irregular), the leading group definitely breaks into pieces. At the front, a leading group of five riders is formed, including Frederic Glorieux. To be honest, I was most afraid of the descent of this climb. As only the French can do, the descent was full of stones called gravillon. Since the abrasions from my fall a few weeks ago still hadn't healed, I certainly didn't feel like making this all any worse. Fortunately, no crazy risks are taken in the descent and everyone gets down safely.
Now we can start what is actually the last real climb of the day: the Platzerwasel. With its 8% average it's one of the toughest climbs you can find in the Vosges. Due to some attacks, the break of 5 is reduced to 3 (myself, Frederic Glorieux and Larry Valvasori). I can close the gap as last one and so I find myself in the ultimate leading group of this beautiful gran fondo. The ideal number, everyone is sure of a podium, so in theory everyone will now ride until the gap is big enough. That's how it goes. The cooperation is perfect and at the top of the Platzerwasel it is clear that the podium is there.
Because from the Platzerwasel it's still mainly slightly up and down towards the top of the Grand Ballon, it looks like it's going to be a sprint with 3 riders in Thann. During the descent of the Grand Ballon, Glorieux unfortunately got mechanical problems. He lost time and hence a good chance to win. Luckily, the gap to the chasers was big enough for him to get a podium place.
I'm riding together with Larry Valvasori (from Luxemburg) to the finish where it won't really come down to a sprint, but rather to be the first into the last few corners just before the finish. I succeed in this and so I can cross the line first in this beautiful gran fondo.
There is really nothing to complain about with regards to the organization. They succeed in organizing a great event with a lot of volunteers. Everything was well signposted, the feed stations are perfect, traffic is almost non-existent. In short, you get value for your money. A big thumbs up for Cédric Haas and his entourage as organizers of this beautiful event. That the pasta party became a sauerkraut party we took with pleasure. Let us hope that this gran fondo can continue in the future and grow to a larger number of participants.