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Gran Fondo 2012 Recap: Worldwide Riders Raced in Rockland

by Dave Zornow

Nyack, May 22 — Thousands of cyclists pedaled through the village last Sunday morning in the 2012 Gran Fondo New York International bike race. And although only a handful of bikers lead their respective categories, there were winners all around. “I would describe the day as fantasy baseball camp for cyclists,” said Michael Benowitz from New City. “Five thousand bikers gathered on the George Washington Bridge, sang the National Anthem and were off!”

Eight different countries were represented in the top 20 finishers on the 110 mile course from NYC to Bear Mountain and back. The overall winner was Wladimiro D’Ascenzo from Bellante Stazione, Italy, followed by Anthony Fatuzzo from Fairlawn, New Jersey. Piermont’s 71 year-old Jay Jacobson took second place in his category with an overall time better than 546 other finishers.

The Gran Fondo is a unique event because only a small part of the course is timed — which means the serious cyclist and the “just social” biker can pedal side by side for most of the route. “The ride offers challenges from the start and rewards throughout,” said Kim Silvera from Piermont. “About two miles into the ride, there’s a rude multiple-hill awakening in Palisades Park – a real doozie of a climb.” The first serious challenge of the day separated the seasoned cyclists from the wannabe road warriors. “It was a treat to see the skilled riders stay on beat as they climbed steep hills as if they were escalators. At the same time, the novice climbers reminded me of gymnasts  — because they dismounted and walked!”

Benowitz says his highlight of the day was the timed climb up Perkins Memorial Drive to the top of Bear Mountain, a part of the course that rises 1255 feet over four miles. “The Gran Fondo starting line looked like a time trial, Bear Mountain was decorated like a pro tour and we were greeted at the end by the traditional inflatable finish sign,” he said.

“I heard someone say ‘this is no Sunday ride to Bear Mountain’ — that really is the best way to describe it,” said Ann Breeswine of Nyack. “My goal for the race was to finish before they took down the finish line.  I made it and for that I am happy to reach another goal in my athletic life.”

Breeswine and other cyclists say that the long hours of training and the camaraderie that develops among riders is something special, forming the basis of friendships that last a lifetime. “The Gran Fondo is more than a race. It brings the culture of cycling to the US,” she said.  “The towns along the route showed great support for us riding through. My greatest hope is that through Gran Fondo New York, those who live in this incredible area embrace the culture of cycling.”

Both Benowitz and Silvera say that the extra effort by both official and unofficial volunteers made the day special. “At the top of the fourth climb someone was sitting at the end of their driveway with a garden house filling water bottles and spraying anyone who wanted to be cooled down — standing on the corner and taking pity on us poor, hot, dehydrated stragglers!” After a long ride in the saddle, a little kindness by the side of the road is a site for sore eyes and other sore body parts. “Whoever she was is ‘one step closer to heaven’ as one rider said…my bet is she is several steps closer!!” said Benowitz. “Weehawken welcomed me with open arms as a ride volunteer handed me my silver ‘Medio’ finisher medallion,” said Silvera. “I had the time of my life, two beers and a great pasta meal at Confetti’s in Piermont to celebrate.”

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Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is sponsored by Sun River Health.

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