Six Facts to Know About Gran Fondos

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!