Zuniga Qualifies for the 2017 UCI World Gran Fondo Championships

By Luiggi Zuniga

2017 UCI Worlds Championships Qualifier

Jacksonville, Alabama

The Cheaha Century Challenge won the bid to host the 2017 Union Cycliste International (UCI) Gran Fondo World Championship Qualifier for the United States. This is the only qualifier in the United States for the UCI Championship that will be held in August 2017 in Albi, France.

Day before the race:

Weather reports indicated a 90% chance of rain for race day, which made me nervous. The day before the race, it rained for 12 straight hours, with thunder and wind so strong like I’ve never seen before. I kept looking out of the window of my hotel room just pondering how this race is going to unfold.


Race Day:

To my pleasant surprise, I woke up to cloudy skies and a few sprinkles, but no sign of thunder, rain or wind like the previous day.


The race consisted of 99.8 miles and 9,443 feet of climbing. I expected the race to start at a moderate pace, and pick up as the race progressed.


I was wrong.


The race started hard from the gun. There were many well represented teams in the race, which allowed them to orchestrate a flurry of attacks for the first 90 minutes or so. I did not recognize anybody in the race, except for fellow norcal cyclist Jonathan Eropkin, racing for Peet’s Coffee cycling team, and racing in the same age category as me.


The peloton included a mix of different age groups racing together. For scoring purposes, I only had to mark the guys with the green bib numbers, which represented the 40-44 age group. During one of the attacks, I saw Jonathan grab the wheel of a younger rider who was trying to break away. Once they established a gap, I was forced to bridge. Once I joined them, the eventual age group winner Marco Arocha countered. We never saw him again.


As the race progressed, the high temperature and humidity started to take a toll on me. The rolling hills seem harder than before, but we were still gaining time on the group behind us. Once we hit the first long climb, the pace started to pick up even more. As we reached the top, it was just a handful of us left. I noticed Jonathan starting to fall behind, but somehow he managed to catch us on the descent. Jonathan and I stayed together for the second climb, and that’s when I figured it would just be us fighting for 2nd and 3rd place.


By mile 65, Jonathan got a cramp and fell behind. I thought he was gone this time for sure, but again was able to recover and get back in the group. But then, with 20 miles to go, my legs started to feel the effects of all the hard racing. To add to my worries, fellow NorCal rider Bryan Hoadley, racing for the Make a Wish cycling team, managed to catch us from behind. In the process, Bryan brought a rider from my same age category. Now it was 3 of us fighting for 2 podium spots. At first, we were all working well together, but a cramp on my left leg forced me to skip a few pulls. With 10 miles to go, the guy in my age group who had joined us had been dropped. Bryan also fell back. The rest of us were working very hard just trying to keep our distance with the group behind. With 5 miles to go, the group was down to a guy from another age group, Jonathan and me. My legs were gone by then, and I eventually found myself getting dropped and riding alone. With a couple of miles left to the finish, I continued to push in whichever way I could. I looked back and saw the guy in my age group closing in. I started pushing harder and harder and somehow I was able to hold him off and finish in 3rd place.


I have been dreaming to be able to one day race a World Championships representing USA. I just qualified, and I did it! I’m a US citizen now and I’m going to a Cycling World Championships again, in Albi, France!


Thank to Rob “Danger” Fulford the tech Manager at Mike’s Bikes Walnut Creek for keeping my bike top notch for the races.


Thanks to our sponsors for their continued support: Equator Coffee & Teas, Toyota, Specialized, Capo Cycling Apparel, Violich Farms, Smith Optics, Gu Energy Labs, Mikes Bikes, Achieve Performance Training & Coaching, Financial Force and Bike Smart.