Even the name for these mass participation road cycling events is impressive. A fixture in many European countries for several decades, Gran Fondos are becoming increasingly popular in North America. Every year, more than 100 Grand Fondo events take place worldwide. Here is what you need to know about them.
Great Distance. Or Great Endurance. Or Great Foundation.
There are several English interpretations for the name Gran Fondo (including all of the above), but the name is Italian—logical, since Italy is the birthplace of the Gran Fondo. The first event of its kind took place in the early 1900’s and they remain popular there to this day.
It’s Not (Always) a Race
Gran Fondo events are not always necessarily races—some are competitive, but others are non-competitive “rides.” A winner is typically declared in both types of races, but prizes will vary from a pat on the back to some serious loot.
The pool of riders will vary as well. Some races attract sponsored pros or retired athletes, but most events will include everyone from casual riders looking for a challenge to aggressive weekend warriors working to smash their PB.
Overall, Gran Fondos are known for their friendly atmosphere: a “party on wheels”, if you will. Cyclists get to gather with like-minded folk and enjoy the challenge of a long distance route, with luxuries like road closures and water stations.
“Great Distance” is Subjective
Unlike, say, a marathon or half-marathon, there is no prescribed distance for a Gran Fondo. Most courses are somewhere between 160 to 225 km, or 100 to 140 miles, but there are exceptions. Some courses offer shorter routes, called “medio fondo” or simply “fondo”.
Gran Fondos are always single day events—sorry, no Tour de France here!
It’s a Scenic Ride
Gran Fondo routes obviously vary depending on the geographical location of the event, but most courses tend to be quite scenic, meandering through placid countryside, along sparkling oceans or through treacherous mountainsides (or all three!).
Some notable routes? La Marmotte in France involves a 5,180 meter (17,000 feet) climb, while the Gran Fondo Internazionale Girodana in Italy is feared by even Lance Armstrong (it includes “the hardest climb I’ve ever ridden”, he says). The intimate Gran Fondo Las Vegas is limited to 300 entrants and tackles some epic western scenery.
An International Phenomenon
The French partake in Gran Fondos, only they call the events “Cyclosportive.” Other countries that host their own iterations of the event include Australia, Finland, South Africa and Sweden.
Anyone Can Participate, Sort Of
Gran Fondos are an inclusive event, where riders of all levels are welcome.
Still, it’s not exactly a walk (or bike ride) in the park. Many training programs exist, most of which require at least eight weeks of practice, with 14 to 16 weeks being preferable. In other words, don’t sign up the night before the event on a whim without having done some prep work. Your legs will never forgive you.
Most Gran Fondo events are seeded at start to avoid bottlenecking, so beginner participants don’t have to worry about holding up a semi-pro rider. Still, with some events counting thousands of participants, riders can expect to get cozy with their neighbors.
Up for the challenge? The Gran Fondo Guide offers a calendar of Gran Fondo events throughout the world. Find a route that inspires you, and start riding!