Gran Fondos or Cyclosportives have long been hugely popular in Europe. They are essentially cycling’s version of the wildly popular Marathon in the United States – mass start events that some are actually trying to win (either overall or in their age group) while others are just trying to finish. Most of the epic Gran Fondos in Europe feature LOTS of climbing and so finishing IS an accomplishment. Some of the most popular Gran Fondos attract 10,000 or more riders and often feature closed roads for the ENTIRE event. This is a bit unheard of in the United States, although some now having rolling road closures for the first few miles.
The first official ride in the U.S. termed a “Gran Fondo” was the San Diego Colnago Gran Fondo in 2009. It has become a series including rides in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Miami last year. However, the promoter and bike sponsor changed hands this year and it remains to be seen whether or not Gran Fondo attendance will plateau or continue to grow. Perhaps the most popular Gran Fondo in the U.S. today is the Levi Leipheimer King Ridge Gran Fondo in Northern California. The celebrity or pro racer component, which is often a key feature in Europe’s cyclosportives, may be one reason for its success. For a great discussion about the future of Gran Fondos in the U.S., originally written when the first ones were hitting the States, click here.
Orange County has its own Gran Fondo. The third edition of the OC Gran Fondo will take place on Saturday, September 29th. Participation was up to 900 riders last year and the organizers expect to break the 1,000 rider mark this year. Bianchi, an Italian bike brand, is the lead sponsor. While Orange County does not feature some of the long sustained climbing terrain you can find in San Diego or LA counties, don’t be fooled. The 100 mile course features some tough terrain including Santiago Canyon, Live Oak Canyon and Saddleback Ranch Road.
Now, the famed Giro d’Italia has entered the fray. RCS Sport, which organizes the Giro d’Italia, has announced its intention to organize two Gran Fondos in the United States for 2012 as well as one on a stage route of the 2013 Giro. A Road Bike 4U will be participating in the inaugural Pasadena event taking place July 22nd. And yes, in the European tradition, climb you will. You know those mountains you see on New Year’s Day behind the Rose Bowl? That’s where you’ll be headed once you leave Pasadena City Hall. If you’re interested in giving this Gran Fondo thing a try, sign up through A Road Bike 4U (and get a discount on the entry fee) where you’ll enjoy the support and camraderie of “Team ARB” cyclists just like you.