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Over 180 hard core, hill-climbing cyclists tackled the inaugural Gran Fondo Vermont

Last weekend saw over 180 hard core, hill-climbing cyclists around Vermont, and plenty more from out of state, tackle the 100-plus-mile route that traverses the Lincoln, Appalachian, Middlebury and Brandon gaps. Forcing them to wheel and wheeze up and down more than 10,000 feet.

It was a bragging-rights ride of passage.

Green Mountain gearheads eager to try the LAMB got the European treatment when the inaugural Vermont Gran Fondo rolled out of Addison County, basckup by bike mechanics, course marshals and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, plus the support vehicles known, appropriately enough, as SAG wagons.

Described by Bicycling magazine as a "party on wheels," a gran fondo is typically a high-spirited affair that treats cyclists to sumptuous meals and fine wines after a ferocious ride through the European countryside.

Less of a party and more of a panting, heart-stopping, adrenaline-rushing ride up and down Vermont's most notorious mountains. "This was a hard event," said event director Sue Hoxie. "It is not the average cyclist who was able to complete this."

The idea of a Vermont Gran Fondo got legs late last summer, when nearly a dozen cycling enthusiasts began working with the Addison County Chamber of Commerce to organize and promote a road ride akin to the Vermont 50 mountain bike race out of Brownsville. They wanted it to be tough but fun. "It's not a race," says Ripton rider and Vermont Gran Fondo organizer Willem Jewett, who happened to be in France last summer when 8,000 people showed up for a spin. "The format is accessible not just to the fittest of people."

For those who weren't quite geared up for the full Gran Fondo of 104 miles and 10,700 feet of climbing on all four gaps, there wasthe Medio Fondo (69 miles and 7,300 feet of climbing on the Lincoln and Appalachian gaps) and the Piccolo Fondo (46 miles and 3,100 feet of climbing on the Brandon and Middlebury gaps).

The oldest rider registered was 70. The youngest was 13, part of a family vacationing from Wisconsin.

60 percent of the entrants hail from out of state.

"This event brought people in and shows them that this was a great place to ride and stay in the hotels, eat in the restaurants" says Mike Hussey, director of the Rikert Nordic Center in Ripton. The Gran Fondo fits neatly into the county's long-term economic development plan: "These types of events provide jobs that young people entering the work force are looking for."

The route itself evoked riders' memories of a typical childhood job — the paper route. "Lincoln Gap was a particularly miserable stretch of road," says Fondo cofounder Andrew Gardner of Ripton. "I ride it just infrequently enough to forget how steep it is — steep enough that I nearly always have to tack back and forth in a type of 'paper boy' cycling maneuver to keep momentum up the climb."

On the slightly milder Middlebury Gap, riders had the extra incentive to put mettle to the pedals. The fastest woman and man through this segment will be named the "Ewe" and "Ram" of the LAMB and win $100 gift certificates for Velocio, a high-end clothing company.

The start of the inaugural Gran Fondo Vermont