Three Punctures & Thirty-Nine Degrees: My Gran Fondo Story

I only went and did it!!

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I’ve been working up to this for a while, but yesterday I cycled my first ever Gran Fondo with Matt. If you don’t know what a Gran Fondo is, it’s a challenge set by Strava where cyclists sign up and attempt to ride 115km all in one go. It’s not on a track, and it’s not a race; so it’s generally used to achieve something more personally.

I’m gutted I didn’t do this before, because it only used to be 100km before Strava changed the rules the beginning of this year. 

To be honest, we hadn’t actually planned to complete the Gran Fondo yesterday. It was in our diaries as a long ride, and our original intentions were to ride for 3 to 4 hours and see how we got on – with the actual Gran Fondo planned for next Friday. But in the last few days we kinda just said ‘well, we might as well get it over with!’.

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So, with the sun rising at 6am, we stocked up on water, gels and courage and cracked on. Matt suggested our favourite motivational video, but I didn’t feel like I needed it. The first leg of our journey was from Reem Island to Yas Island along a pretty big main road (only 5 or 6 lanes lol). As the sun was still rising, the weather was really pleasant, around 23 or so degrees. The ride along that road was actually really nice, it was pretty flat and it seemed to speed along! When we got to Yas Island, we had 20km to go until our halfway point, so we took a ride around Yas to add on a few km’s before we took our break.

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Commence puncture number 1. Riding behind Matt sometimes causes some issues. Mainly me not noticing drains or potholes or realising when he’s slowing down without him singling to me. Unfortunately on this occasion, I didn’t see a decent sized rock in the road and as soon as I hit it – I knew. So we stopped in the shade to get it fixed. Well – I say we – I documented the whole thing on SnapChat whilst Matt did all of the work. I’ve watched a fair few GCN videos to know how to do it if I needed to, but I had the pro there so I just let him get on with it. It didn’t go quite right straight away so we had to stop a few hundred metres down the road, but we got there in the end and carried on around Yas Island and got to our half-way point at a lovely little coffee shop at Al Zeina.

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After our coffee break at Andiamo, we stocked up on water, got my front tyre pumped up properly at Yas Cycles and went on our way. But low and behold – about 600 metres down the road – puncture number 2 hit us. Same tyre, same place. So we turned and walked back to the cycle shop. On the way there I had to talk myself out of being angry about it, and keep my head in the game. Considering we still had around 60km to go, I took the puncture as a welcomed break – and left the shop raring to go!

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Puncture number 3. CAN YOU ACTUALLY BELIEVE IT?!! Even Matt sounded a little frustrated (angry) when I shouted ahead to him to stop. We had got half way round Yas by the time it happened, so no way of getting back to Yas Cycles, and at this point I was convinced it was something to do with the way I was riding the bloody bike. I don’t know how many times I said sorry to Matt, and I don’t know how many times he told me it was absolutely not my fault, but when I got back on the bike I was so cautious of the smallest bump in the road (because we literally had no more inner tubes left).

We were soon out into the middle of NOWHERE and beginning our journey back towards Reem. The wind had started to pick up and we soon realised that our return journey might be a little tough. I drafted Matt along a long sandy stretch and then we took our last break before the long straight back to the city. I wish I still had the video, but we had to use a stand alone palm tree as shade in the 30+ degree heat before cracking on.

Riding back along the Sheikh Khalifa Highway was touuuuuuuuugh! Like, real tough. The wind was in our faces constantly. Matt was so good to me here – I practically drafted him the whole time – only coming up to ride alongside him on the downhill parts or where the wind took some mercy on us. We were around the 85km mark where it really hit me. We were struggling up a hill when I almost asked Matt to stop so I could take a break. But what was the point? We were halfway down a motorway with NO shade and nowhere else to go apart from forward. I just had to talk myself out of it and carry on. Words actually left my mouth, and Matt would have thought I was crazy if he could hear me, but it got me through it.

The sights of Saadiyat were definitely welcome – I’ll tell you that! And I thought the turmoil was over, but it turns out that wasn’t quite meant to be. The wind may have died down, but that just meant that the heat shot up (like a freakin’ volcano!!). Matt read 39 degrees off the Garmin at one point, and I was seriously melting! It felt as if I couldn’t stop sweating, my throat was closing up and my helmet was making me claustrophobic. I had to ask Matt to stop under the next bridge just so I could take a breath – and as soon as I unclipped my helmet I burst into tears. We were around 95kms down with 20 left to go, and all I wanted to do was get done. The heat was just crazy and I was all out of energy. But after a minute or two on the side of the road we got back going. Not much choice really!

The last 20kms or so had been spent riding behind one another (with me being protected from the wind) so it really made a welcome change to ride alongside Matt back towards the city. We talked and laughed and it really took the edge off. My legs weren’t aching at all, but we both acknowledged that the heat was so draining. Some of the noises coming out of my mouth were horrendous lol! Matt was just laughing at me by the end of it, and I couldn’t help but apologise to him every few seconds because of how annoying I must have been.

More annoyingly, as we got close to our apartment, we realised that we still had 9km to go. Nine hellish kilometres with home in sight. That’s probably the hardest part – actually being so close to home but having to cycle around it a couple of times to make up the last little bit. The sun was beating down on us and Matt counted down the kilometres until he finally said ‘Guess what…? We’re done!’ 

And right on cue – I burst into tears. Again. 

 I don’t even know why I cry at this kind of stuff. Because it was a serious challenge and I actually did it? Because I tried so damn hard and didn’t give up through three punctures and 39 degrees? Who knows – but I did – and now it’s done. Yay me!!

Gran Fondo over…and I’m not sure I want to do one again any time too soon lol. I wouldn’t mind rides lasting 3-4 hours, as I don’t think they’d really bother me – but especially in this heat I don’t want to be trying another Fondo in a flash (unless we decide to do one at night!). I’m really happy that I did it, and it was certainly a thing I wanted to tick off of my list for ‘Things I Can Do’. My body can do it – I just need to train my mind better!

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