Gran Fondo in Morristown: Nothing can rain on Marty’s parade…not even a tough diagnosis

'MARTY!' Cyclists salute Marty Epstein at the Gran Fondo NJ 2018. Photo by Katharine Boyle
'MARTY!' Cyclists salute Marty Epstein at the Gran Fondo NJ 2018. Photo by Katharine Boyle
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It would take more than a little rain to make Marty Epstein frown.

“I’m really tired, but very elated,” Epstein said on Sunday morning, after hundreds of cyclists rolled from drizzly Morristown for the eighth annual Gran Fondo NJ.

Gran Fondo is Italian for “big ride,” and some 2,200 bikers signed up to pedal routes of 18- to 107 miles through the northern New Jersey countryside. Epstein, who has sold bikes to generations at Marty’s Reliable Cycle in town, said his vision for the event always was to “build community.”

Now that community was returning the favor, as Epstein fights metastatic prostate cancer.

Marty Epstein, founder, at the Gran Fondo NJ 2018. Photo by Katharine Boyle
Marty Epstein, founder, at the Gran Fondo NJ 2018. Photo by Katharine Boyle

“Marty’s out here doing his bit, he’s got his own challenges right now, so I’m here to help him out and support him,” said Mark Morales, who traveled from suburban Philadelphia to do the 107 mile ride. Morales wore pink booties to honor his mother, also battling cancer.

Epstein, 69, was diagnosed four summers ago, just before the 2014 Gran Fondo NJ. This year, he felt compelled to go public, to urge men to get screened regularly for prostate- and colo-rectal cancer.

“All you guys need to do that,” Epstein said, during a lull in Saturday’s Kid Fondo. “Nobody wants to talk about it, but this is what we need to talk about. I’m very willing to do that and very happy to do that.”

Slideshow photos by Katharine Boyle. Hover/ click on images for captions:

The peloton at the Gran Fondo NJ 2018. Photo by Katharine Boyle
Ready to roll, at Gran Fondo NJ 2018. Photo by Katharine Boyle
Starting the Gran Fondo NJ 2018. Photo by Katharine Boyle
Saluting Marty Epstein at the Gran Fondo NJ 2018. Photo by Katharine Boyle
Cyclists await Gran Fondo NJ 2018. Photo by Katharine Boyle
Cyclists roll out for Gran Fondo NJ 2018. Photo by Katharine Boyle
Tale of the tape, at the Gran Fondo NJ 2018. Photo by Katharine Boyle
Marty Epstein, founder of the Gran Fondo NJ 2018. Photo by Katharine Boyle
Biking around the Morristown Green at Gran Fondo NJ 2018. Photo by Katharine Boyle
John Burke, right, CEO of Trek Bicycles, addresses cycling star Ivan 'the Terrible' Basso and Fondo founder Marty Epstein at Gran Fondo NJ 2018. Photo by Katharine Boyle
Waiting for the final countdown, at Gran Fondo NJ 2018. Photo by Katharine Boyle
Congressional candidate Mikie Sherrill greets cyclists at Gran Fondo NJ 2018. Photo by Katharine Boyle
Pedaling at start of Gran Fondo NJ 2018. Photo by Katharine Boyle
Dr. Julio Garcia Aquilar of Memorial Sloan Kettering says a few words, at Gran Fondo NJ 2018. Photo by Katharine Boyle
Sea of cyclists at the Gran Fondo NJ 2018. Photo by Katharine Boyle
Cycling star Ivan Basso speaks before Gran Fondo NJ  2018. Photo by Katharine Boyle
The Gran Fondo NJ 2018. Photo by Katharine Boyle
Co-Director Bill Ruddick says hello at Gran Fondo NJ 2018. From left, Mayor Tim Dougherty, Fondo Co-Director Marty Epstein. Photo by Katharine Boyle
Morristown is awash in cyclists at Gran Fondo NJ 2018. Photo by Katharine Boyle
BASF team before Gran Fondo 2018. Photo by Katharine Boyle
Marty Epstein, founder of the Gran Fondo NJ 2018. Photo by Katharine Boyle
Heading out at the Gran Fondo NJ 2018. Photo by Katharine Boyle
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Gran Fondo_9-9-18_18 - The peloton at the Gran Fondo NJ 2018. Photo by Katharine Boyle
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In the past, Epstein occasionally would bike 200 miles in a single day. He is grateful now to cover 20 miles with a pedal-assisted electric bicycle.

“You just change your expectations and do what you can do, and try to stay healthy through cycling,” he said.  Chemotherapy has been tough, he acknowledges, and he’s been “a little introspective about it all.”

Yet the mood was upbeat at Sunday’s starting line.

'SIT, MARTY!' Marty Epstein, left, with Seeing Eye puppy Marty, and cyclist Rob Lax, at the 2018 Gran Fondo NJ. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
‘SIT, MARTY!’ Marty Epstein, left, with Seeing Eye puppy Marty, and cyclist Rob Lax, at the 2018 Gran Fondo NJ. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Grabbing a microphone, Epstein wished everyone the “best day of cycling ever.” Congressional candidate Mikie Sherrill said a few words, and Fondo Co-Director Bill Ruddick thanked elected officials for getting Speedwell Avenue repaved at last.

Mayor Tim Dougherty coaxed a roar of “Marty!” from the throng of cyclists, and The Seeing Eye Inc. introduced Epstein to a puppy named for him.

(Obliging photographers, the man and his namesake both responded smartly to commands of “Sit, Marty!”)

 

Italian cycling star Ivan Basso, diagnosed in 2015 with testicular cancer and now cancer-free, exhorted everyone to keep smiling and enjoy the ride. Bicycling restored his confidence during recovery, said “Ivan the Terrible,” as he was dubbed in racing circles.

“To fight cancer, the first therapy is believe in yourself. So try to be happy, and have a  good day on the bike,” said Basso, 40, a two-time winner of the Giro d’Italia.

The Gran Fondo NJ has helped raise more than $1 million for charities over the years. A new sponsor, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, sent a cycling team to raise money for prostate cancer research. Epstein credits the center with saving his life.

Trek CEO John Burke hugs Marty Epstein, between Mayor Tim Dougherty and cyclist Ivan Basso, at the 2018 Gran Fondo NJ. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Trek CEO John Burke hugs Marty Epstein, between Mayor Tim Dougherty and cyclist Ivan Basso, at the 2018 Gran Fondo NJ. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“The importance of community cannot be emphasized enough in the fight against cancer,” said Dr. Julio Garcia Aquilar, a Sloan Kettering surgeon who biked with his team on Sunday. 

Encouragement also came from Trek Bicycles CEO John Burke, who praised Epstein’s “amazing attitude.”

“When anybody sees Marty today, they ought to just say thank you, because Marty has done more for cycling in New Jersey than anyone,” Burke said.

“There’s a lot of people at Trek who love Marty and I just want to come out here and tell Marty how much I love him. And I want to make sure Marty has an awesome time today.”

Video: Going Public at the Gran Fondo NJ:

PASSING THE BIKE PUMP

The person most inspired by Epstein’s battle may be his son Jesse, who quietly has assumed management of a family business that expanded to shops in Randolph and Hackettstown under the slogan Saving the World with Bikes Since 1978.

Sea of cyclists at the Gran Fondo NJ 2018. Photo by Katharine Boyle
Sea of cyclists at the Gran Fondo NJ 2018. Photo by Katharine Boyle

“My dad’s super-positive attitude makes all the difference,” said Jesse Epstein, 41.

“I think that he’s doing better than you would expect because he’s such a happy guy. He smiles every day. It’s unbelievable to me. I’m not sure I could be so positive and happy with such a diagnosis, so I give him a lot of credit.”

The only time Marty Epstein nearly choked up on Sunday morning was when a reporter asked him about handing off the bike shops to his son.

Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin. Hover / click on images for captions:

Maura Hays and Asidro Ramirez of the Fire Cycling Team of NY, at the 2018 Gran Fondo NJ. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
'SIT, MARTY!' Marty Epstein, left, with Seeing Eye puppy Marty, and cyclist Rob Lax, at the 2018 Gran Fondo NJ. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Trek CEO John Burke, right, has kind words for Marty Epstein, left, as Italian cyclist Ivan Basso listens, at the 2018 Gran Fondo NJ. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Trek CEO John Burke hugs Marty Epstein, between Mayor Tim Dougherty and cyclist Ivan Basso, at the 2018 Gran Fondo NJ. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Mark Morales came from Fairhills, Pa., to show support for Marty Epstein at the 2018 Gran Fondo NJ. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Mark Morales sports pink booties for his mom, who is battling cancer. Morales rode in the 2018 Gran Fondo NJ. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Leela McClelland, almost 7, came from Clifton for the 2018 Kid Fondo NJ. She's welcomed by Marty Epstein and Mayor Tim Dougherty. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
SELFIE TIME: Cyclist poses with Marty Epstein at the 2018 Gran Fondo NJ. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
TANDEM BIKERS: Jesse Epstein with his dad, Marty Epstein, at the 2018 Gran Fondo NJ. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
SWEET NOTHINGS: Co-Director Bill Ruddick whispers into ear of Founder Marty Epstein, at the 2018 Gran Fondo NJ. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Italian cyclist Ivan Basso says a few words, as Congressional candidate Mikie Sherrill listens, at the 2018 Gran Fondo NJ. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown Special Officer Carl Cousins salutes the flag at the 2018 Gran Fondo NJ. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Grow It Green Morristown team at the 2018 Gran Fondo NJ. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Mayor Tim Dougherty and Marty Epstein share pointers at the 2018 Gran Fondo NJ. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Italian cycling star Ivan 'The Terrible' Basso, flanked by Mayor Tim Dougherty and Marty Epstein, at the 2018 Gran Fondo NJ. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
L-R: Fondo Co-Directors Bill Ruddick and Marty Epstein, Congressional candidate Mikie Sherrill, Mayor Tim Dougherty, and Italian cycling star Ivan 'The Terrible' Basso, at the 2018 Gran Fondo NJ. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty and Congressional candidate Mikie Sherrill at the 2018 Gran Fondo NJ. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty and Congressional candidate Mikie Sherrill at the 2018 Gran Fondo NJ. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
MEET THE NEW BOSS: Cyclist shakes hands with Jesse Epstein, who now operates Marty's Reliable Cycle, at the 2018 Gran Fondo NJ. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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“You know, I remember him when he couldn’t even talk yet, he used to point at bicycles and called them ‘Dada’s,'” recounted Marty, now a grandfather of six. 

“He seems to have an inherent love for bicycles, and he is such a wonderful guy,” he said of Jesse. “People love him. He’s such a gentle guy and salesman. He’s just the best. Don’t make me cry!”

TANDEM BIKERS: Jesse Epstein with his dad, Marty Epstein, at the 2018 Gran Fondo NJ. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
TANDEM BIKERS: Jesse Epstein with his dad, Marty Epstein, at the 2018 Gran Fondo NJ. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Following a local legend is tough. Jesse said dining out with his gregarious father can be challenging because so many acquaintances want to say hello to him.

“He is not a fantastic businessman,” Jesse said. “The truth of the matter is, he is awesome with people, and he loves people, and he loves community and building community, and that’s why he’s been so successful.”

The son doubts he ever will measure up in one vital area: His dad’s iconic, finger-in-the-socket, frizzy mane that is the company’s logo.

“I’m working on it, but it’s not going that well,” Jesse said with a grin, removing his cap to reveal a pate as smooth as a bicycle seat.

ICONIC MANE: Logo for Marty's.
ICONIC MANE: Logo for Marty’s Reliable Cycle.

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