Saturday, September 29, 2012

Giro Di San Diego Gran Fondo, Bad Taste of Solana Beach, Review

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to put my Pilates core to the test by having fun and attending my first "organized" cycling event, Giro Di San Diego Gran Fondo. Oh, it was amusing alright, but only in retrospect. Here's my email exchange with the Tobias Panek, the man who calls himself the owner of the event. Have fun!

From: Isabelle 
Sent: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 10:47 AM
To: Giro di San Diego GranFondo
Subject: Missing times

The results are finally up, but lots of KOM/QOM times missing. Are you still working on the lists? This was my first event of this type and I worked so hard getting ready for it, and of course during the event itself (even thought I was with one of the groups that got lost! We did an extra 13 miles before turning around). Regardless, even after being lost, I pushed myself to make my personal best time for the climb. I can't wait to get my QOM!
Thank you, Isabelle Thompson (entry #485)

On Sep 25, 2012, at 12:38 PM, Giro di San Diego GranFondo wrote:
Hello Isabelle,

I am glad you enjoyed the route. It was the best the county let me do this year. We had a lot of trouble with people stealing signs. It was terrible that happens. Aside from the confusion I am having more trouble with the organization that did the timing. They said they could do the job but in the end they could not. There is a lot of data missing. I have posted what I could on the climbs. I can not get any more data. I am very upset too. Next year we will have a different company and electronic timing to ensure there are no missing times. I apologize for not getting your time.


Tobias Panek


Hello Tobias,

I was wondering if you even read what I wrote. I simply wanted to know my climb time. I never said I enjoyed the route. I may have, had A. the route not changed from 65 to 72 miles (almost too much for me) and B. the signs been moved, which also resulted in additional miles. 
Your Gran fondo was my first. I had no idea it was your first too, but not exactly my responsibility or fault either. I took the time to train hard, turned down work for the weekend, and got a hotel near the venue, because I live two hours away. I did all that so that I could be timed on the climb. I'm a new, not very skilled, cyclist and my only "forte" is climbing. So, Giro Di San Diego Sunday arrived, and I was at the venue by a quarter to 7. (You're getting the whole story...)
My friend was in the Gran Fondo. He was going to make the first wave, but we almost got our car towed, because the streets were not properly marked. We both watched the first and second group leave. There were people with blue aaand green wristbands. So, before my friend left with the third wave, I asked if I could leave with them. I was told "no". By now, the second wave was also clearly mixed, Gran and Medio. I was told that they were allowed to go because they hadn't asked. Really? So, I waited, being penalized for asking. I went up the hill to grab a coffee, when one of the volunteers grabbed my arm and exclaimed that I obviously hadn't followed the directions (what directions?), and that my wristband was too tight (according to the experienced volunteer my wrist was going to swell by 2 inches).  Before I had a chance to respond, she had cut it off me. So, I waited for another one. She came back with a blue (gran fondo). I asked for a green (medio fondo, my event). She said they didn't have any more green, and that all I needed it for was to eat; wrong! She put the blue one on me so loosely that it fell of my not-yet-swollen wrist. She replaced it with a bright pink one (piccolo fondo) . I objected, explaining that I had put my life on hold to train, so that I could join the Medio group, and I still wanted the green. There were only pink ones left... I rode mostly alone because of that. Right after the first rest stop, it looked as if I was lost. Nobody cared to help out. I finally joined a group a couple of miles before the missing "BarNham" turn--I told them I was with the Medio Fondo. BTW Try to find BanNham on google maps, in Escondido. The group and I were miserably lost, we discovered 6.5 miles later. Some kept going straight, but two of us wanted to stay on course. All I wanted was to be able to finish and to get timed on the climb. So, the two of us rode back. We finally made it to rest stop 2 where there was no cold water! Regardless, I was geared up, I was going to do the climb I set out for! So, a few sips of bathtub-temperature water later, I took off. I didn't know where the climb started, but it didn't matter. I left rest stop 2 and didn't look back. I pounded on those pedals. I tried to use my brain, my legs, my core . . . I used everything I had to make the climb, and even on the way down, I went faster than I have in my entire life--just in case it was part of the timed climb. I made it safely back to rest stop 2, exhilarated, hurting, but feeling accomplished to almost get run over by oncoming traffic, since the rest stop was at an admittedly poor spot. Still, I could NOT wait for my QOM score! It was all worth it. I rode past rest stop 1 this time--lots of us did. It was not clearly marked. Luckily, by then, my friend was returning from Palomar, caught up to me, and had cash on him. He took me to the nearest convenience store, about 10 miles down the road, where we bought cold water and coca colas. 
Eight hours later after I started, I made it back to the finish line. I used up my last bit of energy to yell my number. "We don't take numbers any longer," a male volunteer said to me. I paused. I told him that surely he was kidding, since it wasn't even 4 pm yet (courses allegedly closed at 6:30pm). Finally, in order to get rid of me, he said that the volunteers at the top of the hill were taking down our numbers. I got to the top of the hill, and said my number again. "We don't take numbers here," another volunteer said to me, "only at the bottom." I explained to her that I didn't care where they took down numbers any longer, and that somebody just had to. Finally, another lady wrote down my number on a piece of paper, while another was trying to force one of your medals over my helmet (it didn't fit). 
I tried to recover and to think positively. I went to eat, courtesy of my bright pink wristband. "May I have the Fontina pasta, you advertised on your site?" I asked. "What is Fontina?" was the response I got. I asked for some plain pasta. I got a bit of wilted salad on the side and a bread roll with no butter. A guy sprinkled grated cheese, about a quarter of a teaspoon over my tasteless mushy rigatoni. I just looked at him. He pointed to the bowl that he was holding on his other hand and shrugged, "We're rationing." He had a point; there was barely any left. Oh well, at least a long tough day ended with a lovely Ai-talian "Gourmet" "Feast"!
So, Tobias, to sum things up, I would appreciate your consideration for reimbursing me for my entry. Between my friend's and my entry ($203.16), our room at the Official Ride Hotel ($180), we spent $383 for your first event--not counting the convenience store which was clearly a major inconvenience, rather than a significant financial burden. We also went out to dinner supporting local areas. I also turned down work. I do not have unrealistic expectations: the entry fee reimbursement would be enough, not to make me feel better, but to make me feel like less of a loser.
Having said all that, I would like to add what my friend suggested to your volunteers. Get the local Chamber of Commerce to back you up. As your event keeps growing, so will local business. I many not be able to say I'll join you next time, but I in the end, I do wish you well. I hope that next year you'll be much better prepared so that the event is a success for all parties involved, especially the Riders.


Isabelle Thompson

PS: I found the latest little "disclaimer" at the top of the "Results" page to be unconvincingly feeble and to a certain extent inaccurate. 



Hello Isabelle,

Thank you for your detailed accounting of the day. This feedback is extremly useful to me as these are the things that go on that I don't see running the event. I did not mean to imply that this is our first time running events. As it is listed on our website, we also ran the GranFondo San Diego this past April and the Sea Otter Classic GranFondo for the past 2 years. Both events are 3X the size of this event. However they have both been running for 4 years, so you get an idea of where the problems are and what needs what. Like parking and such. So being the first year, with any event, it is the hardest to foresee. What I have found running events is that it is difficult to coordinate the 200+ people required to do the job. Most of them are volunteers too. With the new event I had a lot of new staff. Many of which will never work for me again. The course marking, food quality and timing were my biggest issues this year. 

Getting this "new" event off the ground was extremely challenging. Many of the issues on the road were because the county required me to use a route I did not want. The rest stops were in poor places because I had limited options this year. The county does not start the detailed review process till 30 days away. When issues come up that you don't know there is no time to do anything. Hence a big issue with new events. Going into next year I know now what the issues are with the county and how to get around the problems. This is why we are going to get our route as shown on the website. Only for this reason I would encourage you to come back next year. The route will be way better and I will have ice at all the stops.

Your situation with the volunteers is interesting. Thanks to your comments I will know better what to monitor, how to staff and train.

I am sure the event will run more smooth next year. I can not offer a refund as this first year was an investment to get started. I would be happy to offer a 50% discount for you +1 other for next year.   

Tobias Panek

Hello Tobias,
I stand corrected; this wasn't your fist time running events. I would not brag about it though. In any case, I wasn't really expecting a refund, I did however hope that you would say something more along the lines of: Your money went to a good cause (support Rivers of Hope perhaps). Lesson learned again; I have no expectations. Finally, thank you but no-thank-you for your counterproposal to my request for a refund. I will not be buying three instead of two entries to support your investment, besides you cannot refund one's sweat and disappointment. 


Isabelle Thompson

At this point, I decided that I was done with Tobias and his giro. I never got a straight answer or a proper apology. Never mind, the rest of my life was calling.

I hope my little experience at the Giro Di San Diego entertained you. As for Tobias, he's heard of the saying, "Any publicity is good publicity". More importantly, what can one expect from a cyclist who can't even keep himself on course? It's like asking the blind to lead the blind.

I'll stick to Pilates and my beloved studio.

Stand tall!