Cycling - Event

Gran Fondo Cycling: Everything You Need to Know About "The Big Ride"

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For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term Gran Fondo, think this as the marathon for cyclists. This is the simplest way to explain this event that is getting immensely popular among cyclists of all levels of expertise. Just as a marathon is considered to be the ultimate test of physical and mental strength if an athlete, long racing events like the Gran Fondos are the test of willpower and training of cyclists all across the world. It is immensely popular in Italy and Europe for decades and is becoming very popular in North America, Asia, Australia, U.K, and various other parts of the world. Our aim is to explain the fine details about this event and to motivate our readers to set higher goals in their fitness routine. 

What is a Gran Fondo

The term Gran Fondo is Italian and roughly translates into “Big Ride” in the English language. It was created in 1970 to honor local cycling experts and professional who achieved international feats and won tournaments. The original idea behind this event was to host a pro-cyclist race in the hometowns of these local cycling celebrities and covered iconic routes.

Did you know?
The first Gran Fondo was called the Nove Colli (Nine Hills) which was held on July 12, 1970, in Cesenatico, Italy!

In Italy, an elite cyclist (also known as the dilettante) under the age of 25 years, who wants to become a professional cycling racer has to compete in Gran Fondo events.  Therefore, these events tend to be very serious and competitive. Such is the popularity of this event that each year between February and October, more than a hundred such races are organized within Italy. Over the years, the event spread across Europe and reached the North American soil. 

The format of this event is special. Italian Gran Fondos are officially certified and defined by the Italian Cycling Federation as a bicycle event. It defines Gran Fondo as an event that -

  • covers a minimum distance of 120 kilometers
  • is a timed race (with time chip from start to finish)
  • with prizes for the fastest rider in each category!

Though the event is meant to test the endurance of pro-cyclists over a challenging terrain, it is not uncommon for many of these races to include shorter distance races specifically meant for beginners.

Since cyclists of different skills and levels of expertise take part in this race, it is customary that winners in all categories receive prizes and awards irrespective of the age. In addition to the racing specifications, this event is also characterized by many days of fun and frolic, featuring music, local food, and drinks.

Did you know?
Traditionally, in the Gran Fondo, a large meal was served to the cyclists at the end of the event, and the roads were completely shut down.

The course over which a Gran Fondo is organized tends to be a scenic route. The well-marked route is supplemented with mechanical and medical stop points, distinct regions where crowds gather to cheer up the participants, and refreshment zones where tasty food and refreshing drinks are being served for everyone. A typical Gran Fondo gets a lot of media attention and coverage by sports channels and magazines.

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Gran Fondo (source)

All Details You Need to Know About Gran Fondo

If you want to know what is Gran Fondo in terms of its format, course detail, and registration fees, here are a few things that you should know:

1. Each Participant is Timed

Gran Fondo is a very competitive event. Each participant is individually timed and ranked according to their performance from start to finish. Anybody who doesn’t finish the race is marked “Did Not Finish”. Timing is monitored with a timing chip placed on each cyclist.

2. There is No Need for Maps

The original format of the Gran Fondo race does not include and maps or cues for the participating cyclist. The route is well-marked and complete information regarding the gradient and length is mentioned at all relevant point on the course. 

3. Participants Don’t Have to Stop at Traffic Signals

The original idea of designing and conducting a Gran Fondo race was to allow uninterrupted cycling. For this purpose, there was a practice to close traffic on the route where the event was organized. If total traffic closure is not possible, then the traffic is moderated in such a way that the cyclists don’t have to stop at the traffic signals.

4. Higher Registration Fee

Given the impeccable way that a Gran Fondo is organized, and the extensive area it covers, it is not surprising that it will cost you a lot to take part in one. The registration costs for this event are more than twice the costs of participating in other timed races.

Higher registration fees are justified because of the involvement of a lot of people to monitor the tracks and control traffic when the tournament is in progress. Most of these events include a big number of prizes and awards, therefore, they require more investment than other cycling events. Many charity organizations are riding the popularity wave of Gran Fondo events and using it as a means to collect money for social causes. 

5. Complete Mechanical and Medical Support

These tournaments are characterized by the complete provision of mechanical and medical support to the participants at different points on the course. In case anything goes wrong with the bike or the health of the cyclists, they have places to rest and recover.

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Full support at the race (source)

6. Participation In All Levels of Expertise

The beauty of a Gran Fondo race lies in the fact that riders of all levels of expertise are encouraged to participate in it. They are motivated by the reward at the end of the race, the scenic beauty en-route and the chance to improve their performance. Faster and more experienced cyclists stand closer to the start line and inexperienced or lesser-experienced cyclists are given a place a bit further away from the start line.

7. Timed Climbs

Even though the overall performance is the major motivating factor in a Gran Fondo, many cyclists are also motivated by the fact that steep and challenging parts of the course are timed individually. Special rewards are given to the cyclists who cover the more difficult parts of the race faster.

8. Lavish Culinary Delight

While all big racing events culminate in a meal, the culinary experience after a GranFondo is unmatched. The event is characterized by a massive celebration at the end and includes a lip-smacking variety of food and drinks.

Now that you know the answer to the “what is Gran Fondo”, you should be able to decide if you are ready for taking part in one, and if so, at what level.

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Winning calls for a celebration (source)

Different Grades at Gran Fondo

Because of the ever-increasing number of participants in the event, Gran Fondo races have recently included courses for everyone. The full course is divided into different grades according to the difficulty they pose to the cyclist. The various categories are:

A. Beginners Grade

This part of the course is suitable for people who have just realized their passion for cycling and are looking for a platform to motivate them. This course covers a distance of fewer than 20 miles and consists of a flat terrain. Hence, a course of this grade is very easy to cycle through.

B. Leisure Grade

This grade is for cyclists who have already had some experience with cycling and are making a transition to moderately difficult courses. Leisure cyclists who want to start their professional training choose this grade. It usually covers a distance of up to 40 miles and consists of mostly a rolling terrain.

C. Proficient Grade

This grade is for cyclists who have transitioned from the easy to moderately difficult cycling terrain. Covering a distance of up to 60 miles, this grade is perfect for cyclists aiming to take up serious and professional cycling. This terrain is mostly flat but has some slopes that require climbing.

D. Challenging Grade

Meant for seasoned cyclists, this course covers about 100 miles of flat terrain or moderately sustained climbs throughout the terrain. Cyclists who have a considerable experience and expertise usually sign up for this track.

E. Experienced Grade

These courses are meant for cyclists who have been practicing regularly and have covered the previous grades. These courses tend to cover more than 100 miles and have more challenging climbs.

F. Expert Endurance Grade

This grade is only for cyclists who are challenging their own limits and motivating themselves to perform better. With very long sustained climbs and a distance of 120 miles, these Gran Fondo tracks tend to test the strongest and the most deserving cyclists.

Specifications of Gran Fondo in the USA

Ever since the popularity of the Italian race has reached the USA, many gran fondo in the US are getting increasingly famous. Just like the Italian counterpart, Gran Fondos in the US also take several days and are frequently led by a local pro-cyclist. For example, the Gran Fondo in Colorado is often led by their local hero Lance Armstrong, the one in South Carolina is often led by Goerge Hincapie and the Gran Fondo in California is led by Santa Rosa. The participation of these renowned names motivates other cyclists to take part in these events and to improve their performance and level of expertise.

Another very vital racing event in the USA is the Gran Fondo Tehachapi, where participants cover the world-famous Tehachapi Loop, Golden Hills, Alpine forests Bear Valley and Stallion Springs, covering an impressive distance of 104 miles.

Did you know?
There were over 200+ events held in North America in 2017. However, there is no official body/authority to certify the US Grand Fondos. 

An important difference between the Italian and the American version of this event is that while in Italy, most of these races involve complete closure of traffic on the cycling route, the American version usually supports open traffic. It's only followed for GFNY New York and RBC Gran Fondo.

Popularity of Gran Fondo in the UK

Typical timed cycling events in the UK are known as Sportives. Because of geographical closeness, most cycling enthusiasts go to Italy or France to take part in timed cycling races in the format of a fondo. However, with the USA giving a lot of publicity to Gran Fondo, its popularity is spreading to the UK as well. Ride London and Velothon Wales are some of the popular fondo formats in the UK.

When talking about Gran Fondo vs sportive format, the most important point is that sportives are non-competitive, timed races that may be on a very small scale or a grand scale. In contrast, Gran Fondos always involve huge participation and are extremely organized in all aspects. Hence, a Gran Fondo is not for the faint-hearted, and always involves participation by elite cyclists and professionals. This may not be the case with sportives.

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Gran Fondo covers 120 km (source)

Participating in a Gran Fondo

The following points will help to prepare you for assessing your expertise level and preparing for participation in a Gran Fondo race:

Q. How Far Can You Ride?

This simple question will give you the realistic idea of the distance that you can cover. Depending on your training and your fitness level, you can choose one of the many grades available in the Gran Fondo format.

Q. Are You Comfortable with Clipless Pedals?

Because of the sheer distance involved, most Gran Fondo participants are adept at using clipless pedals. This is because clipless pedals reduce your pedaling effort and increase your efficiency for long distance cycling.

Q. Do You Have Enough Time to Practice?

This is a very important consideration. Participation in a Gran Fondo is not a two-way deal. If you participate in such a big and serious event, you have to make sure that you practice well for it.

Q. Do You Have Enough Riding Experience?

Gran Fondo cycling tests the most serious cyclists. Therefore, if you don’t have prior experience of cycling on hilly terrains, on high altitude, on steep slopes etc., it is not a great idea to participate at a level which requires prior training on these terrains. Choosing your level wisely is the key to completing this event.


Gran Fondo is like the holy grail of cyclists. Cyclists of all levels of expertise are encouraged to take part in one. Before participating, however, they should make sure that they are ready in terms of experience, confidence, and fitness. Only then should they choose a track that is suitable for them.

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