2010 looks to be the year of the Gran Fondo(GF). There are over 20 GF's already announced and more are popping up every day. If there isn't a GF in your area, just wait 15 minutes. Things are likely to change.
I am a bit worried about the proliferation of Gran Fondos. These are not supposed to be just century rides where they keep track of a rider's elapsed time and publish a list of results. A GF is more than just a 'timed century'. These events are supposed to be an altogether different experience.
If we take the Gran Fondo Colnago San Diego as an example, we see that the ride begins with a mass start. Also, two-time World Road Champion, Paolo Bettini, will be there to ride and also help start the event. There is Prosecco wine to accompany the gourmet food at the finish. All these things and a few other factors create a very unique experience.
Just don't take my word for it, talk to anybody who rode the two Gran Fondos held in the US last year, Gran Fondo Colnago San Diego and the Levi Leipheimer King's Ridge Gran Fondo and they will tell you that it is something different. No, this isn't just the show up and start whenever you want, ride with a bunch of nobodies and then get your chili and beer at the finish. This is a mass-start, ride with pros and dine on gourmet food and wine experience.
The Colnago and Leipheimer events set the bar pretty high which is why I am worried about what will happen when Gran Fondo mania hits the US in 2010. I am hoping that event organizers aren't just attaching the Gran Fondo tag to their offerings in hopes of attracting more attention. Organizers need to seriously upgrade their food, sign on some big names and get co-operation from local authorities to allow a safe mass start for an organized ride to even begin to be a Gran Fondo.
Let's hope that new events will follow the lead of the San Diego and Leipheimer events and bring a new cycling experience to US riders. It should be a lot of fun.
In early October, Levi Leipheimer hosted a Gran Fondo in his adopted home town of Santa Rosa, California. For those of you wondering what a gran fondo is, it's an Italian phrase which roughly translates to "big ride." Gran fondos are all the rage in Italy with as many as 10,000 cyclists showing up for the most popular events. It's a big deal in Europe and it's about time that these events migrated west across the great pond.
This past March, the Gran Fondo San Diego(www.granfondosandiego.com) was the first gran fondo to be held on American soil. Since then, gran fondo fever has hit the states with the Levi Leipheimer event being the next in line and a whole bunch of events scheduled for 2010. If you haven't experienced a gran fondo, you will have plenty of opportunities to do so next year.
Levi's event(www.levisgranfondo.com) featured a picolo(25-mile), medio(63-mile) and gran(103-mile) fondo routes with the 103-mile course following one of his favorite training rides. King's Ridge is one of the most beautiful roads in Northern California; it was hard to find a cyclist complaining about the challenging climbing and stunning views. Both the 'gran' and 'medio' fondos finished with the short, but steep, ascent of Coleman Valley Road, which was featured in several editions of the Tour of California.
Undoubtedly, the most heartening aspect of the Levi Leipheimer Gran Fondo was the outpouring of support from the community of Santa Rosa. It seemed like half the city came out to either volunteer for support or cheer on the riders. Levi has definitely made an impact on this community. His three wins at the Tour of California and his efforts to bring that race to Santa Rosa have endeared him to the public and the gran fondo offered Levi's fans an opportunity to show their appreciation.
Whether you go to San Diego, Santa Rosa or parts east, if you haven't ridden a gran fondo it's definitely worth checking out.