Turning the tables: When a pro cyclist turns race promoter

I finished the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana this year and yet it was The Tent that nearly broke me.

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I finished the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana this year and yet it was The Tent that nearly broke me.

It was 18 hours before the inaugural Peacham Fall Fondo presented by Wahoo and I was overwhelmed by the myriad details that have to be accounted for, managed, and executed to ensure a great day for the hundreds of cyclists who would flood my new hometown, Peacham, Vermont, the next day. Gretchen, my fiancée, and two friends were debating the aesthetic of the beer garden, an important task that I felt needed to be marked “done” so that we could all move on to other work. I tried to help. And then I came up against The Tent.

Gretchen’s parents had loaned us the 20×20 foot canvas canopy for which there weren’t enough stout wooden stakes. So there I was, watching my friend Marshall Opel running around trying to use flimsy camp stakes to secure the massive swath of canvas while I held one of the eight poles. Fiberglass splinters from an earlier failed attempt irritated my hand while the other seven poles wavered in the wind, threatening to collapse the whole structure.

If we couldn’t even figure how to put the damn event tent up, how could we possibly pull off this ride for 183 expectant participants? Overwhelmed with frustration, I did something I’d never do in my day job: I threw my hands up in defeat.

I’ve been racing and riding in cycling events around the world since the age of 12. It’s always been pretty easy: I show up, I ride my bike, I enjoy the environment of the event. Sure, I suffer a little bit, but it’s always my own doing.

It wasn’t, however, until the day before the Peacham Fall Fondo – an event that I decided to launch with Gretchen’s invaluable support – that I first experienced the challenge of planning an event and truly understood how much time and energy goes into making them happen.

In the World Tour, we riders are the show. All of my most basic needs are cared for by our staff and the race organizers. Hotels are arranged, meals prepared, massages offered. There’s even staff to wash our laundry each day. And it all happens while I’m pedaling my bike, eating, or resting.

As Gretchen and I started planning and organizing the Peacham Fall Fondo, we both felt a desire to provide a level of comfort and ease comparable to what I’ve experienced as a Pro Tour rider. Doing so, it turned out, would cause me enough stress to compensate for all those years of carefree racing.

Before immersing myself in the details, before announcing the event, and long before The Tent threatened to collapse on me, I was first motivated to start the fondo so I could share with others the welcoming nature of my new hometown and its small, tightly knit community. Plus, I wanted an excuse to go out for a casual ride — the sort that I don’t often get to enjoy while training and racing.

A fondo seemed like the right format, with an emphasis on fun and achievement, and not competition. It seemed like a great way to gather lots of cyclists with all kinds of experience and fitness to collectively embrace the simple pleasure of riding a bike for fun in a beautiful place while enjoying ample food and camaraderie throughout the event.

That’s what I envisioned, and despite the endless stress and our fight with The Tent, my vision became reality in the most surprising and wonderful ways.

People always say the cycling community is close-knit and full of friendly people willing to help out. That truth was immediately apparent when I reached out to some potential partners. Wahoo jumped right on board with my vision to keep the event feeling community-focused and true to Vermont values. They donated a KICKR trainer as a grand prize for a post-ride raffle, incentivizing people to enter the raffle to support this cause. Our event raised funds to build a pavilion that may be used year-round for diverse community activities.

As soon as the sun rose behind lingering rain clouds on the morning of the ride, it was apparent to me that the fondo had attracted a group of hearty and happy folks. As riders began to trickle into registration and visit with our other partners — SRAM, Ridge Supply, and OttoLock — Marshall, my right-hand man for the day, and I started to think we may actually be able to pull off the whole thing.

Many participants approached me to say that they had heard about the fondo this summer during the Tour de France on the Breakfast with Boz podcast hosted by Marshall. And, lo and behold, Marshall and I were together again bringing this fondo to life, and it warmed my heart to know that cyclists we’d reached through the podcast were excited to meet us in person.

Participants who had come from all around New England and even from as far as Georgia, Missouri, Oregon, and California eagerly tied number plates onto their handlebars and sipped coffee. Just like me at any race, they did not worry about whether or not the food and beer for the post-ride celebration would arrive on time. They certainly were not thinking about The Tent and whether or not the stakes my neighbor welded for us the night before would hold together. They were just excited to ride.

It’s not often I am able to embrace the opportunity to ride my bike at a social pace, and after just a few miles, I was enjoying cheery conversation with riders wanting to push themselves as well as those out for a more leisurely ride with friends.

Dave and Marilyn Magnus, I learned at the finish, chose to stop for a picnic lunch along the meandering route. The local couple, 81 and 80, signed up for the Fondo after some urging from their son, another cyclist from Peacham.

One local family, I heard while sharing beers and stories with some participants afterwards, started a fire and roasted hot dogs at the end of their driveway along the route to cheer on riders.

Another group of cyclists stopped in for well-deserved seconds of apple pie at a rest stop sponsored by the Peacham Library.

All of the stress from the days and weeks leading up to the event washed away when the last riders had finished. No one had crashed; no one was lost. Some toes were cold, noses runny, but there were lots of smiles as riders came back to The Tent — which was still standing — to collect special edition Peacham Fall Fondo Ridge Supply socks and snacks from Cabot Cheese (which sources milk from Peacham’s Kempton Farm and sends its cheese around the world).

In my career, I’ve learned more from mistakes than from success. And we certainly made some mistakes, like underestimating the time it would take those with ambition to complete the 44-mile gravel ride with 4,400 feet of climbing. And, in retrospect, on a cool day, mulled wine and cider may have been favorable to cold beers. But as the sun set and the lessons I learned began to sink in at the end of the day, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride in the community that had worked together to host the first-annual Peacham Fall Fondo. Never underestimate the strength of a tight-knit community with big goals. Or a home-welded tent stake.

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