Dubai Gran Fondo recap

March 30, 2015

So something a bit different – a post on my thoughts of my first UCI cycling event – the Dubai Gran Fondo – about 120 km around the streets of Dubai.
My Strava for the event. Average of about 40.7 km/h once the flag went down.
I’ve had a bit of a look through the premiertiming site as well as the photos and videos that were taken and thought I would share what I found.
Strategy A people (the faster ones) headed off in or near the front of the main group
Strategy B people (the rest of us) stayed near the back of the first group. I remember looking around when heading towards the 611 for the first time doing 50+ for 2km and getting some knowing glances that I could sum up as “yep, let’s try and hang off the back of this group”.
While there were some attacks at the front, by the time they filtered through to the back, it was a fairly steady pace with little concertina action. Going up towards JLT after Meadows/Springs the group would have been close to 180-200 riders. Photos at this time show a big bunch with a long tail and starting to drop some riders.
Coming back through JLT the second time and the group is smaller and with a longer single line at the front. Strategy B riders are still at the tail end of the group. There was a significant slowing down with corners that required hard work to catch up afterwards but the group was able to stay together at these times.
The race changed with the stack on the exit from Discovery Gardens into Al Furjan on the tight right hander. I was lucky to sneak through on the inside but others on the team got caught behind. By the timing mat at the U-turn in Al Furjan soon afterwards, I was 31 seconds down on Paul Cheetham who was through first, Graham was 6 seconds ahead of me, Andy was 3 seconds behind me, Nichola James and Lena were 10 seconds and 25 people behind me, and Lee and Phivo were another 3 seconds behind them. After the stack, I had 10 minutes of a high HR zone for me (160+) doing 45+ km/h average to get back on to the back of the main pack. Andy joined soon after although he was “spent” and had been to “a place he had never been before”.
The video near JLT was 9 km after the timing mat point and shows Andy and I on the back of main group and only 10 seconds behind the leaders. Goes to show how much the group spreads out during these narrow sections. Nichola and James were with a small group of 8 at this stage 200 metres or so behind. Marnie’s photos later going through Meadows/Springs shows their group was still the same distance behind and the next group not far behind them.
Going through Meadows/Springs for the second time was the easiest part of the ride. Back of the main group, HR in a comfortable zone, and the pace about 37-40 which allowed Nichola, James and their group of 8 to join up on the back of the main bunch. The old guy in blue was actually 10 seconds behind Nichola at the timing mat point so shows what a strong rider he was.
Going through the tight Sports City section after Hessa Street and the pace and HR shot up again and the large group of 140 split into a front group of about 90 and a second group of about 50. Once we came back out onto Hessa Street and Umm Suqeim and Al Qudra Road, the second group was small enough and tight enough to sit behind very comfortably and the front group was long gone.
Our team all managed to escape the carnage of the crash coming along Al Qudra road after the 611. I then came further forward in the group while Graham and Nichola were much nearer the front. James went around the outside near the far roundabout and Graham took off after the roundabout for his usual turn up the generator hill. It was great knowing the route and contours to be able to time any runs. The group was tight and there were a couple of times when I could jump a few positions when some space opened up ahead. Never could get towards Nichola to help her out but I could tell that Natasha had been left behind a while back. The timing mats at the end were quite narrow so took the foot off the gas at the end and lost some places to make sure that I had gone through correctly and upright!
The first group had 60 riders go through within 3 or 4 seconds of the first finisher. In comparison, the bunch of the second group had 30 go through within 3 or 4 seconds and I thought that was pretty tight! Probably because the first
There were 10 people in the large first group that would have been still together just before Al Farjan and who went through the timing mats but did not finish – that’s a 5% DNF rate for the second half of the race.
Key learnings:
On flat wide roads with little wind, it’s easy to stay on the back of the bunch. Drafting well behind the packed bunch felt OK with little wind resistance and sufficient time to get out of the way if there was any problems with the pack. There may have been less drafting with being right at the back of the main bunch.
The bunch tended to speed up in the narrow and tighter sections of the track. At least if felt like that. In these areas, the group will string out so it makes sense to be nearer the front of the group before you enter these areas to reduce the risk of getting dropped.
Keep out of trouble and stay upright is the best policy for me at least!

Gran Fondo