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Racing In The Streets: This Sunday’s Gran Fondo NY

RW_Gran Fondo_bIt’s 20 miles from the George Washington Bridge to Nyack, a trip that most people don’t give a second thought about when driving. But for 5,000 cyclists who will bike that route on Sunday morning in the 2014 Gran Fondo NY, it represents the culmination of months of training — and 80 more miles to go before reaching the finish line.

The fastest and most competitive cyclists are expected to pedal through the village at 7:45a with the back of the pack passing through about an hour later. The route through the Nyack river villages includes Piermont Ave, Gedney St., 4th Ave and North Broadway. In Upper Nyack the cyclists will turn left on Old Mountain Rd and then right on 9W.

This is the third Gran Fondo in which Steve Knowlton of Nyack has participated. And he hopes that it’s his best year yet — because his previous experiences have been mostly been an exercise in character building. “In 2012 I was involved in a collision at the beginning of the ride while climbing the Alpine Ascent in Palisades Park.” He says the accident happened when another rider swerved into his path to avoid a pothole, knocking Knowlton off his bike and injuring his right knee. “By the time I made it into Nyack, my knee was the size of a grapefruit, so, choosing discretion over valor, I dropped out of the race.”  The following year Knowlton was sidelined while recovering from pneumonia, a torn tendon and blood clots in his leg and lung. But he still participated driving a “SAG Wagon” changing flats and rescuing hypothermic riders on a cold and rainy day. “This year, I’m healthy. I spent the fall and winter on the bike — even riding on snowy days! —  and I am ready to go!” Regardless of Knowlton’s final time on Sunday, he’s already a winner: he has raised over $2000 to benefit the Nyack Center in his role as the GFNY Town Challenger for the Village of Nyack.

Gran Fondo 2014 CourseSunday’s weather calls for clear skies and temps in the high 60’s. Although Mother Nature won’t impact the race from above, the effects of her fury from last winter will be felt from below. GFNY CEO Uli Fluhme says his Gran Fondo staff is aware of the pothole situation on Rockland’s roads and they have been working closely with parks, towns, and the county to make the course as safe as possible. “The biggest issues in terms of potholes were on Henry Hudson Drive in Palisades Interstate Park, Broadway in Nyack, 9W at the NY/NJ state line, 9W on the descent towards Rockland Lake, 9W in Stony Point and on South Mountain Road.” Fluhme says all of those trouble spots have been addressed thanks to the great support they received from everyone on the route. “GFNY not only helps its own riders but also the thousands of cyclists who enjoy these beautiful roads – as well as helping cars to have a smoother drive, too,” he said.

That’s good news for three time Gran Fondo rider Mike Benowitz from New City. Because he’s pretty sure last year’s rough roads dislodged a stone which caused him to quit early — but not the kind of stone that road crews typically are responsible for fixing. “I was riding strong and setting personal records on all the major climbs. With only 30 miles to go, the end was in sight as we approached the rest stop at Boulder Stadium. Ramapo Town Supervisor Christopher Saint Lawrence was directing traffic and he told me to take a left on a recently milled road that was scheduled for repaving the next day.” When Benowitz stopped at the rest area he began to cramp up. Drinking water only made the pain much worse. But in the spirit of a true road warrior, he got back on his bike to complete the race — and immediately realized something was very wrong. “Because I was near my house, I decided to call it a day,” he said. “I took a quick shower and the pain only got worse.” Benowitz’s wife drove him to the ER where he learned that he had two kidney stones that were probably knocked loose by the bumpy and newly milled road. “This year, I’ll be well hydrated and plan to finish the race — even if I have three kidney stones!”

Without a little bit of pain, there’s usually no gain — or so the expression goes. Ben Pollinger , the Executive Chef of NYC’s Oceana Restaurant, will be turning his Gran Fondo pain into fundraising gain for City Harvest. The Oradell, NJ resident has raised more than $10,000 for this charity in support of his 2014 GFNY ride. City Harvest collects and distributes more than 46 million pounds of excess food each year from restaurants, grocers, corporate cafeterias, manufacturers and farms for delivery to more than 500 community food programs serving two million New Yorkers.

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