Tired legs dismounted carbon-fiber bike frames to stop spinning wheels after a morning’s worth of pedaling and one big climb.
Some 300 cyclists in bright green jerseys competed Sunday in the inaugural Gran Fondo New York race in Santa Fe, choosing a 60-mile course or a 75-mile course.
At the top of the longer course, in which riders had to climb Hyde Park Road to the base of the ski mountain, racers crossed the finish line, received medals around their necks, and nearly inhaled fluids and granola bars.
First-place finisher Fortunato Ferrara grabbed something less nutritious.
“I can’t explain how awesome this tastes now,” said the 40-year-old Northern New Mexico transplant — by way of Gorizia, Italy, — between gulps of Coca-Cola. “The sugar, the caffeine, it’s just awesome.”
Ferrara said he had a pasta dinner Saturday night, cereal before the race and, all things considered, a stress-free Sunday ride, finishing with an unofficial time of 3 hours, 29 minutes, 57 seconds.
Other competitors, like Santa Fe’s Amer family, had a more eventful morning ahead of the 7 a.m. start.
“He’s known for chronically being late, and I may have kind of gotten a little bit of that,” said 27-year-old Tess Amer, gesturing toward her father, Lyle. “We left home at like 6:50. I swear we were there for the start, we were just in the back. It was nobody’s fault.”
Tess Amer, who graduated from St. Michael’s High School in 2009 as a decorated cross-country runner, was the first female finisher in about four hours and 20 minutes — and 10 seconds ahead of her dad. She said she had done the climb up to the ski basin on a bike in the past but still hates it.
Ferrara said he does the climb twice a week as he prepares for a weeklong race through the French Alps in August.
Plenty of the rest of the field did not have as much experience riding across Northern New Mexico’s landscapes, with views that are perhaps a little less breathtaking than the altitude.
“Riding in the wild, wild West, the Land of Enchantment, the desert, the high mountains — it’s a dream for somebody from Europe who just knows the story from books or movies,” said 37-year-old Marcel Berger, who is from Germany but lives in Southern New Mexico.
“I train in Las Cruces and it doesn’t take long to feel the difference,” he said. “There’s less oxygen here.”
The race course started at the Plaza, headed up Bishops Lodge Road, and circled back to N.M. 599 and N.M. 14 before the return downtown and the grueling trek up the mountain.
Berger said he hit 45 mph in some of the earlier stages of the race, when he set the pace and provided wind cover for Ferrara and second-place finisher Joseph Garcia of El Paso, who both left him in the dust at the start of the climb.
“My purpose was that I sacrifice myself,” Berger said. “I did my job.”
Garcia said he had sight of Ferrara for the first half of the 15-mile climb up to the ski basin, and both riders said after the race that they hope Gran Fondo New York, which organizes races across the country, returns to New Mexico next year.
GFNY Santa Fe — only the second U.S. event in what has become an annual series of 20 races at sites around the globe — was also the North American Championship, allowing cyclists to qualify for the 100-mile GFNY World Championship race in May in New York.
For a Santa Fe native like Tess Amer, who now lives in Boulder, Colo., the race could help strengthen the local cycling community to involve more youth.
“I think it’s great to get more attention to the sport. I see the kids in Boulder, and there’s so many younger kids cycling,” Amer said. “There’s not many youth cycling programs here in the same way. It would be really cool to expose more kids at a younger age to the sport.”