What's a Gran Fondo you might ask? Well, in the good old USA we might call them organized rides like your local century, but that's definitely selling the experience short. Gran Fondos are held all over Italy and yes, they are organized rides, but there is more, so much more that most of the really popular rides like the Novi Colli (nine passes), Maratona de Dolomiti, Campagnolo, etc. attract upwards of ten thousand (10,000) participants.
Many riders treat these events as unofficial races. To be sure, you don't need a racing license to enter, but the organizers recognize the top finishers in a host of age and gender-related categories. Also, everyone who enters and finishes gets an official time and gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded for completing the course withing specified time limits which are also set based on age and gender.
What this all adds up to is some pretty competitive riding by the athletes up front, and some of those not at the front, but there is definitely room for those who just want to finish. It is not uncommon to see a rider in his teens trading pedal strokes with someone in their 60's. Just like the Tour de France and the Giro d' Italia there is usually a start and finish village with exhibitors, food, and live music.
Which brings us to March 1, 2009 and the first annual Gran Fondo San Diego. Starting and finishing, appropriately, in Little Italy, cyclists will have the opportunity to sample a Gran Fondo ("big ride") for themselves without having to hop across the great pond. Routes of 100mi, 100km and 40km offer something for riders of all abilities. Check out www.granfondosandiego.com. See you there. This is going to be a whole lot of fun.