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A gran fondo is an Italian term for a a single day cycling event. You’ll also hear these types of events called cyclosportifs (sportif for short). Whatever you call it, these events usually follow a spectacular and historical cycling route with multiple distance options on closed roads along with timing, snacks and a festive atmosphere for everyone from PRO to grandpa.
One problem that traditional bike racing has is that it’s not a good participation sport. You don’t do it to finish, and you don’t usually just train for one or two in the season. You’re either in or you’re out. If you get dropped from the bunch it’s not a very good feeling riding back all alone (believe me, I know!). A gran fondo is a cycling event format that solves this problem and makes a bike race akin to a marathon. Rather than racing other participants, people use gran fondos to challenge themselves against the clock. The distance is usually tough enough to make people proud of simply finishing and it usually entails a weekend away with your mates.
I rode in last year’s l’Etape du Tour which was identical to Stage 17 of the TdF on close roads with 10,000 other participants. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. This was no Around the Bay in a Day. Everyone there new how to ride a bike and the top guy finished with a time only 15minutes behind Contador and Schleck’s time. Of course you could simply pedal your way through it and not be concerned about anyone else, but I had the time of my life when I found my own little group in my own little race. It was one of the best days on a bike I’ve ever experienced.
My Gran Fondo Bucket List
Gran fondo fever has taken the cycling world by storm and there seem to be enough events to fill a the calendar for a lifetime. Here are some of the popular ones I’ve heard so much about that I absolutely have to do one day:
Gran Fondo Nove Colli
If you’re at the Giro d’Italia right now, this is the gran fondo you’ll probably be heading over to ride with 12,000 others in a few days time (May 22, 2011). Starting and finishing in the seaside town of Cesenatico, the route choice is either 130km or 200km and traverses nearly 4000m of climbing on the long route.
www.novecolli.it (May 22, 2011)
Gran Fondo Internazionale Girodana (formerly named Marco Pantani Gran Fondo)
The Passo Mortirolo is at the heart of this event which is held in the Italian Alps. Lance rates it as the hardest climb he’s ever raced over and Marco Pantani put his signature on it when he obliterated the field in the 1997 Giro. The Passos Gavia, and Aprica are the next two climbs you may have heard of.There are three distances to choose from, but I wouldn’t even look at anything less than the full 175km route spiraling over 4500m of climbing.
www.granfondogiordana.com (June 26, 2011)
Gran Fondo Maratona dles Domomites
Many people have told me the Maratona is the king of all gran fondos. It’s held in the Dolomites, but from what I hear it’s very difficult to get to. This is probably why it’s one of the best.
www.maratona.it (July 10, 2011)
Tour of Flanders Sportif
This sportif is in Belgium, but I’m putting it here because of it’s proximity to the Paris-Roubaix Challenge (below) and because if you’re gonna be here at this time, you’ll probably be doing both. The Tour of Flanders Sportif is a chance to share 17 brutal climbs and pave sections with 17,000 other keen riders the day before the pros tackle it.
www.sport.be (April 2, 2011 – the day before the real Tour of Flanders)
We’ve all heard about how difficult the pave sections are in Paris-Roubaix, but I want to experience it for myself one day. This is the only way I’ll have a true appreciation when I watch one of the best races on the calendar. Unfortunately it’s only a 135kms route instead of the real 260kms, but to be honest, I’m not sure I really need to do the full route to get an appreciation for the cobbles. Especially if it’s my own bike I’m riding!
www.letapedutour.com (April 9, 2011 – the day before the real Paris-Roubaix. I assume it’ll be the same idea in 2012)
174km long and 5180 metres of climbing. This Gran Fondo scares the hell out of me and that’s why I want to do it. The route goes up the Col du Glandon, Col du Telegraphe, Col du Galibier and finishes at the top of Alpe d’Huez. Enough said.
www.sportcommunication.com (July 2, 2011)
L’Etape du Tour
As I said before, this was my first gran fondo of many more to come. You can read my post on it from last year to see what it was all about. Even though I’ll be going to the TdF this year with TopBike Tours, unfortunately I won’t be doing L’Etape as it’s too difficult to get to with our itinerary. Even though I’ve checked it off my bucket list, I’ll have to do it again some day. There are two L’Etapes this year, one Mondane Valfréjus è Alpe d’Huez (July 11, 109km) and the other Issoire è Saint-Flour (July 17, 208km).
www.rapha.cc/ltape-du-tour-2011-a-double-act (July 11 – Alpe d’Huez | July 17, Issoire è Saint-Flour)
For some excellent guides on how to tackle L’Etape (as well as anything else to do with planning a trip to the TdF), head on over to my mate Tim’s TdFTips.com. His guides were an extremely valuable resource in planning my TdF trip last year.
photo: Ken Conley
Levi’s King Ridge Gran Fondo
Held in early autumn in starting and finishing in Santa Rosa (Northern California), Levi’s Gran Fondo is in it’s third year and apparently has everything in this beautiful countryside. Three big climbs with stunning ridgetop views of mountains, valleys and the Pacific Ocean. The longest route is 160km but also has two shorter distance options as well.
www.levisgranfondo.com (Oct. 1, 2011)
photo by Veeral Patel
Amy’s Gran Fondo
You don’t have to book a holiday overseas to get the gran fondo experience. For the first time, the Amy Gillett Foundation has organised Australia’s first real gran fondo event. 120km of fully closed roads with 40km of it on the Great Ocean Road and over $20k in prize money. Don’t think of this as another Amy’s Ride. This is gonna be a full-on race for the guys at the front (which I hope to be a part of!).
3 Peaks Challenge
This isn’t promoted as a Gran Fondo per se, but I don’t see any difference. The 3 Peaks Challenge is hosted by Bicycle Victoria over 235km of some of the most spectacular terrain in Australia. I did the 2011 edition of this event and it nearly broke me. It’s one of the only times I’ve ever been proud of “finishing” a bike ride. Seriously challenging but seriously rewarding. You can also read about our reconnoissance ride here. Even though I’ve checked the 3 Peaks off my bucket list, I’ll probably be back again…
www.3peaks2011.com.au (2012 date TBD)