The biggest hill along the 27-mile route of the FoCo Fondo came just after the midway point.
I pointed my borrowed Ibis Hakka gravel bike down an incline that cut through rolling prairie east of Fort Collins, gritted my teeth as I wobbled through some sketchy sand, then started pumping. By the time I got to the top of the other side, I was gasping like a guppy and needed a break. I hopped off and chatted with half a dozen other cyclists taking a breather.
That’s the thing about this event –– while it drew plenty of top-notch gravel racers, including pro rider Sam Boardman from Los Angeles, who placed fifth in the 107-mile route, it also attracted plenty of casual athletes like me. We weren’t in it for the win, even though the race paid out a total of $2,000 to top finishers. We came to get in a good workout, enjoy the scenery and share some fun with like-minded people.
About 800 cyclists –– 36 percent of them female –– participated in this year’s FoCo Fondo, and like me, many of them traveled from out of state for the event. By signing up for an event in Colorado, I get to do two things I love: ride bikes and discover a new city. And Fort Collins, with its breweries, the nearby Poudre River and hiking at Lory State Park, has plenty to offer.
The Fort Collins bike scene
“The bike scene here is great,” says Zack Allison, who along with his wife Whitney, both pro cyclists, put on the event. “The paved riding is amazing, and gravel riding is unexplored.”
The FoCo Fondo, now in its fifth year, featured 107-, 59-, 27- and 12-mile options. All routes start and finish at New Belgium Brewery, and a portion of proceeds benefitted Safe Routes to School’s after school program.
The family friendly event is all about inclusiveness, Whitney Allison says. “You ride all the roads around here a hundred times and then you turn down a gravel road to see where it goes. That’s what gravel is to us –– exploration,” she says.
With so many distance options, it offers something for all skill levels.
“We can do one event and people can do it either way –– they can race to win, or they can go for a ride and enjoy the aid stations and scenery,” Zack Allison says.
‘Get to be a kid again’
Krystal Salvent, a member of Black Girls Do Bike in Denver, came for the adventure of gravel riding and the finish line camaraderie. “It’s the connections and clinking of glasses,” she says. “You’re an adult and get to be a kid again.”
For Alisha Zellner, a 34-year-old police corporal at Colorado State University who founded the Bike Ride for Black Lives initiative and serves on the board of Ride for Racial Justice, it offered a chance to bring more awareness to the injustices in the criminal justice movement –– and a chance to encourage other African Americans to take up cycling.
“For me, it’s the freedom of the bike,” Zellner says. She wants others to experience that joy. “If they’ve got someone who looks like them, they want to be a part of it, too.”
By the time I finish my 27-mile cruise, my legs are shot and sweat is trickling down my back. It’s nothing an iced towel and a cold beer at the finish line festival can’t cure, though. And then it’s on to explore downtown Fort Collins.