Gran Fondo: The "Big Ride"
Who would have ever thought that a Gran Fondo would be a serious athletic event? Or maybe one of the hardest athletic events that I have ever done. Who even knows what a Gran Fondo is?
by Scott Russell, 1993 FIM Superbike World Champion
A few of us on the NMC cycling team found out when we ventured south to San Antonio, Florida for the Giordana Gran Fondo Florida which is part of the Girodana Gran Fondo National Championship series – www.gfncs.com
Let’s start with an introduction to Gran Fondos. They are mass participation cycling events that have enjoyed incredible popularity in Europe for decades and are becoming increasingly popular in North America. Gran Fondo is an Italian term, which loosely translates to “Big Ride”. Riders, ranging from professional to recreational cyclists, participate in these events for camaraderie, scenic views, personal achievement and the chance to win prizes. Think of one as a combination of a group ride, race, and tour, all in one. Mechanical support, SAG support, with pre-, during-, and post-ride food & refreshments are available to all those who participate.
Our Gran Fondo experience started Friday afternoon with Tim Robinson, Kirk Corsello, Matthieu “Frenchie” Jeannes and I met up to drive down to San Antonio, which is just north of Tampa. Given that it was Easter weekend, getting out of Atlanta made a normal 5 hour trip turn into a 8 hour trip.
After a long but unremarkable trip down, we rolled into San Antonio just in time to pick up our race numbers, grab some dinner and plan our race strategy. Given that there was $1,000 up for grabs for the 4-person team with the fastest combined time, we were all motivated to go for a win (plus all being racers, we wanted to win anyways).
The ride itself was a 100 mile course doing a loop in the rolling hills north of Tampa with timed sections at the 16, 42, 69 and 89 mile marks. The first and third timed sections were each 3 miles in length, and the second and the fourth 5 miles in length. That may not sound that long, but let me assure you, it was full gas for each section. Our strategy was to try and stay together as a group, and use our stronger riders to help our weaker riders (who shall remain nameless).
The event started promptly at 8 a.m. with overcast skies and the threat of rain. It had rained the night before so the streets were a bit wet. Being first-time Gran Fondo riders, we rolled up to the line with 125 or so other people, approaching like any other bike race. One thing that was odd: we didn’t see any of the fire power (read real pros) that we heard was going to be there. If I can digress, during registration on Friday night we learned several local pro teams and previous winners were expected to race. We had our own secret weapon in Frenchie (see inset), and we were hoping that we had brought bigger guns. We will come back to this later.
Once we got underway, we quickly forgot about who didn’t show, because the people racing shot off like it was a 30-minute sprint race. The front group sorted itself out like it always does into a group of maybe 35-40 people, and the pace was brisk. Even though the first timed section wasn’t until mile 16, you would have thought we were being timed from the gun. I knew it was going to be a long day when at about mile 10, I was struggling to hold the wheel in front of me. I don’t know if it was something I ate, or if I was just having a bad day. I told the boys I wasn’t feeling well and they rallied around me to get us through the first timed section, which started at mile 16. Needless to say, we didn’t win the first timed section, so we knew we needed an adjustment in strategy.
Since I was in the deep end of the pool without a life jacket, we switched tactics to try and get Tim, Kirk and Frenchie a good age group result or possibly an individual overall result. We were only down 20 seconds after the first segment (more about that later). Thank goodness that after each race section, the group would reassemble to ride the in between sections at a much more reasonable 20mph pace. My goal from then onwards was to hang on!
At the beginning of the second timed section, Frenchie, attacked and rode away from the field on his own. As usual in this sort of event, you have riders off all skill levels from newbies to pros and everything else in between. As you might expect, the second session had people, that probably shouldn’t have been where they were, jostling for position with a crash ensuing. Fortunately we all escaped the carnage, but Tim and I got caught behind it and had to come to a stop. Kirk avoided the crash and went on to win the bunch sprint, taking second behind Frenchie.
Frenchie again attacked the third section, with Kirk and Tim patrolling the front to thwart any attempts at a chase. Three guys attacked and got a gap on the main group. Tim chased them down bringing Kirk with him. Once they caught them, Kirk countered and bridged up to Frenchie. Again they went 1,2 in our group.
By mile 92, and the fourth section, the group had started to tire, so it was a slow start to that section. I flatted at mile 75 and it took all four of us chasing to catch the group prior to the last section. To get things going, Tim attacked, and like throwing a ball to a dog, they chased. Once the group caught Tim, Kirk and Frenchie countered with one other guy. They ended up dropping him and again went 1,2 in our bunch.
After losing time in the first section, we felt pretty good about Kirk and Frenchie’s times as we rolled across the finish line. Remember what I said about the other guys missing the start line. Unbeknownst to us, there was another group riding their own race behind us. A group of guys from the Clean Sport / Seasucker / Guttenplan Coaching Pro Team, along with the guy that won it last year, were riding their own race. While we were fighting with the age groupers and tri athletes, they were riding a clean smooth team time trial. In retrospect, we should have done the same thing.
At the end of the day, Kirk ended up second in age group and 8th overall. Frenchie placed 4th in age group and 9th overall; and Tim was 7th in age group and 24th overall. I came 22nd in age group and 61st overall.
All in all, we had a great time were glad that we had participated. We learned a lot regarding tactics, and next time we will be better prepared. I learned to suffer like I never have before and now looking back, I loved it!
Scott Russell, 1993 FIM Superbike World Champion
Should I do a Gran Fondo?
Gran Fondo's are designed for everyone. Whether you are an experienced cyclist wanting to push your own limits, race, or you are someone new to riding and want to ride at your own pace, a Gran Fondo typically has a perfect ride and group for you!
You never know - one day you might find yourself in the Italian Dolomites riding a Gran Fondo with 13,000 feet of climbing with thousands of cyclists from all over the world, or travelling to the west coast to try out the Californian climbs, or the east coast Appalachian Mountains?
History of Gran Fondos
The first Gran Fondo ever held was the Nove Colli (Nine Hills) on July 12, 1970 in Cesenatico, Italy. Today, Nove Colli is arguably Italy’s biggest cycling party with a large 2-day expo and a 12,000 rider field tackling three distances of 80km, 120km and 200km.
With chip timing becoming more popular in the 1990s, the number of Gran Fondo events grew rapidly in Italy. Today, over 100 Gran Fondos are held in Italy between February and October. Most of them have 500-1,000 participants while a few of the bigger ones go beyond that.
Gran Fondos arrived in the U.S. around 2009 with Levi’s Gran Fondo. Most U.S. Gran Fondos aren't what they call "True Italian" Gran Fondos - mainly because the roads aren't fully closed and only sections of the roads are timed. In 2010 there were a handful of events, now in 2016 there are expected to be around 175+ events in North America alone and the scene is growing very quickly.
If you are interested in doing a Gran Fondo, check out granfondoguide.com for all things Gran Fondo.
This article also featured in Next Moto Champion Magazine May edition 2016.
About Next Moto Cycling Team
The Next Moto Champion Cycling Team presented by Roswell Bicycles is a cycling team comprised of top professional motorcycle racers who are all active, serious bicycle riders. The team has partnered with Atlanta bicycle shop Roswell Bicycles, bicycle manufacturer Scott Sports and clothing supplier Giordana Cycling Apparel. The team will be riding the Scott Addict 10, while wearing Scott Road Premium shoes and the Scott Arx Plus helmet. The team will be outfitted in custom Giordana FormaRed-Carbon clothing.
Garrett Gerloff is one of five MotoAmerica racers who now represent Scott Sports, Giordana Cycling Apparel, and Roswell Bicycles as members of the Next Moto Champion Cycling Team.
Digital media company Next Moto Champion has formed the Next Moto Champion Cycling Team presented by Roswell Bicycles. Made up of top past and present professional motorcycle road racers, the team was conceived by NMC partner, former race-team owner, and USAC Cat 2 racer Tim Robinson.
“The idea for the cycling team is to bring together individuals from different teams in the MotoAmerica paddock who are serious bike riders," said 1993 FIM Superbike World Champion Scott Russell. "Being on a team gives you motivation to train and some camaraderie with other members. It also gives the guys another social-media outlet and makes training fun.”
2016 Next Moto Champion Cycling Team Presented By Roswell Bicycles Roster:
1. Scott Russell @scott4russell @scott4russell
2. JD Beach @jdbeach95 @JDBeach95
3. Bobby Fong @bobbyfong50 @BobbyFong50
4. Garrett Gerloff @garrettgerloff @GGerloff8
5. Hayden Gillim @Hayden69gillim @Hayden69Gillim
6. Joe Roberts @joeroberts27 @joeroberts2727
7. Tim Robinson @timrrobinson @timrrobinson
About the Girodana Gran Fondo National Championship Series® (GFNCS)
he 2016 Gran Fondo National Championship Series® (GFNCS) schedule is set and registration is open for all 2016 GFNCS managed events.
In addition to the seven annual gran fondo events managed directly by GFNCS, the 2016 series will include several other gran fondos around the nation. Reuben Kline, founder and president of the Gran Fondo National Championship Series® said: “Over the last three years we’ve had inquires and requests from quite a few gran fondos around the county asking to be part of the series. We intend to announce several events that will not be managed directly by GFNCS but will be included in the series competition. In 2015 Bicycling Magazine’s Spring Classic was part of the series and will be one of the events we include again for 2016.”
The 2016 GFNCS event schedule:
Gran Fondo Florida - Saturday March 26, 2016
Bicycling Spring Classic - Sunday April 24, 2016
Tour of Georgia Gran Fondo - Saturday May 14, 2016
Highlands Gran Fondo - Sunday June 5, 2016
Gran Fondo Asheville - Saturday June 18th, 2016
Boone Gran Fondo - Sunday August 7, 2016
Golden Gran Fondo - Sunday August 28, 2016 (Rated by Gran Fondo as one of the hardest Gran Fondos in the US and in the Top 15)
Gran Fondo Maryland (2016 Gran Fondo National Championship)-Sunday September 18, 2016
To learn all about GFNCS on Gran Fondo Guide, please type "nationals" on our site search (top RHS).