We here at the Performance Bicycle Blog have decided that it’s time to see, in person, what’s up with the growing popularity of the Gran Fondo (literally “big ride” in Italian). Gran Fondos, or cyclosportives, as they are also known, are organized and timed mass-participation road rides, usually with an extra degree of difficulty not usually found in the typical charity ride (but still with rest stops!) Participants aren’t necessarily competing against each other, but they are racing against the clock, since you normally have to beat a pre-determined cutoff time to finish. Ultimately it’s this personal challenge that attracts riders to a Gran Fondo – the chance to test yourself on an epic route with other like-minded cyclists along for company (and ok, maybe a little competition).
But that’s not all that Gran Fondos have to offer, as they often act as a fundraiser for deserving charities and groups, plus you often get the chance to meet and ride with the famous cyclists who are hosting or participating in the ride. Famous Gran Fondos around the world include the Maratona dles Dolomites in Italy, l’Etape du Tour in France, or the popular Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge Gran Fondo in California.
For our foray into the Gran Fondo world, we’ve decided to check off all of the above by registering for Jeremiah Bishop’s Alpine Loop Gran Fondo in Harrisonburg, Virginia (on Saturday, September 24th). In case you didn’t know, Jeremiah Bishop is one of America’s most accomplished mountain bikers in recent years, with multiple national championship titles and many other prestigious wins to his credit. Lately his focus has been on marathon events and stage races, but he’s also been mixing it up at a few World Cup cross-country events this year too. So when you hear that Jeremiah Bishop has set up a Gran Fondo, you get the feeling that you’ll be in for an epic ride.
Billed as “the most challenging and adventurous Gran Fondo in the United States”, the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo route (like most Gran Fondos, there are also shorter options) certainly sounds like it won’t disappoint! Covering 95 miles and with almost 11,000 feet in elevation gain, it adds to it’s “most challenging Gran Fondo in the US” credibility by including several miles of dirt road climbing, pitches of up to 15%, and some raging mountain road descents. This promo video shows what’s in store for the ride:
As a bonus, the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo is also a fundraiser for community charities, local schools and cycling infrastructure – all of the proceeds from the event get put to good use after we’ve finished suffering out on the road.
Chris and I (David), the same team that rode the Alps during the Performance Tour du Jour trip to the Tour de France this summer, are heading up from our headquarters for this Gran Fondo. There’s nothing like riding up Alpe d’Huez a few times to get your legs in shape for a challenging ride. Well, that’s our theory, at least! To be honest, we really haven’t been packing on the road miles since we got back to the States, so we’ll see if there’s any fitness left over from our Euro riding when we get to Virginia next week!
We’ve actually met Jeremiah at the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race – he was even nice enough to pose for a picture with his comically oversized winner’s check. Of course the only time we saw him was at the start of the race and then at the awards ceremony, since he usually finished in about half the time that it took us to ride the course (we were lucky to make it to the finish before they actually took down the finish line)!
We have a sneaking suspicion that the same timing will apply to this Gran Fondo, but lucky for us there’s a gala dinner the night before the ride where we’ll get to rub shoulders with the pros and other riders (without being in a oxygen-deprived state, as we likely will be on some of those climbs). But out on the road there will still be fun goals to aim for, like age-graded king of the mountains jerseys, staffed rest areas, cowbell prizes for the last place finishers (this prize is definitely in reach), finish line festivities, and of course some beautiful scenery.
Now that we think about it, maybe we do get what this Gran Fondo business is all about after all. A chance to test ourselves with a challenging ride in a great atmosphere, along with a few hundred new friends, all for a good cause.