Gran Fondos are quickly becoming the most widely attended cycling events for a good reason. The recreational rider can chose a scenic loop to enjoy. The competitive cyclist can satisfy their competitive urges as every rider is timed and then ranked afterward.
In Europe Gran Fondos are a staple of the cycling calendar. These epic rides replicate famous stages from a Grand Tour or are challenging courses ridden in celebration of a famous rider. Here in the States the Levi Leipheimer King Ridge Gran Fondo includes sections from the Amgen Tour of California. Lucas Euser of the SpiderTech team is the ambassador for the Echelon Gran Fondo organization which has a schedule of 18 rides. Not to be out done, South Carolina has it’s own Gran Fondo of epic proportions – The Caesar’s Head Challenge.
The Caesar’s Head ride is a local favorite and the local pros include the climb in their training plans. George Hincapie is often seen doing intervals up this climb as he hones his fitness.
With three routes to choose from this ride offers something to every type of rider. Caesar’s Head Challenge organizer, Boyd Johnson describes the courses this way, “ You can make it the hardest ride of your life or enjoy the scenery with a good lunch at the end.”
Obviously the most challenging route is the 100 mile option which includes five mountain passes and ends with the 6.4 mile ascent to the finish line at Caesar’s Head. The key to a successful ride is pacing yourself in anticipation of the final climb.
Many locals favor the 62-mile route as this will offer more than enough climbing. This route has one tough ascent before the 6.4 mile drag to the summit of Caesar’s Head – the Camp Old Indian climb. Located at the 31 mile marker this will take some of the snap out of the legs. Make sure you stock up on nutrients at one of the feed zones before you drop into the small ring for this climb.
For the rider with not as many miles in their legs the Caesar’s Head Challenge offers a 33-mile option which doesn’t include the kicker to Caesar’s Head. This shortest of all the options includes rolling terrain and almost a continual view of the ride’s namesake.
There are three theories on the naming of Caesar’s Head mountain. One is about a hunter and his dog named Caesar, who accidentally fell off the granite cliff in pursuit of its prey. The distraught owner named the cliff after his faithful dog. Another says caesar is a crude adaptation of sachem the Cherokee word for Indian chief. The third is that the rock resembles Julius Caesar’s profile.
Average gradient of Caesar’s Head climb: 5.8%
Local pros complete the climb in under 30 minutes
Elevation at summit: 3,266 feet