Gran Fondo – What is it?

By now you’re probably wondering what exactly it is I plan on doing with this blog.    Well, as the title to this blog states, it is about a cyclist preparing for his first Gran Fondo.   If you’re not familiar with Gran Fondos, they have become the newest cycling rage in North America over the past five years.  Gran Fondo is Italian for “big ride”.   They have been popular in Europe, especially Italy, for many  years and recently they have made their way into North American cycling culture.

Essentially, they provide an opportunity for the average cyclist to compete in an organized ride over  a controlled course within a certain amount of time.   The important thing to remember is it is NOT a race.   Cyclists compete against themselves to complete the course in the best time they possibly can.    What’s great about them is that they attract cyclists of all ages and abilities.   The Axel Merckz Gran Fondo in Penticton has been running for four years now.   Last year there were thousands of cyclists that took part.

Here’s a video clip that gives you an idea of the size of these competitions.

As you can see, this has become a huge event in Penticton.   Axel Merckz, who organized this race, is the son of the great Eddy Merckz – a five time Tour de France champion (who won without the use of performance enhancing drugs, I might add), and probably the greatest competitive cyclist of all time.   Axel rode in the Tour for the Belgium team, as well as the Olympics,  and now resides in Kelowna.

A full Gran Fondo is about 130-160 km.   The Penticton event is 160km but you can do shorter versions of the same race .  There is a Mediofondo which is 92 km as well as a  Cortofondo which is 55 km.    So it attracts a wide variety of cyclists making  it a great opportunity for all ages.    The Pentiction event even holds a minifondo for kids.

Penticton is not the only city that holds Gran Fondos.   Others take place throughout Western Canada including Vancouver where cyclists ride from Vancouver to Whistler on a closed lane of the Sea to Sky highway.   There are also fondos in Banff, Vernon, Cranbrook (held their second one last September), Salmon Arm and many others throughout the province.    My challenge will be to decide which one to do.  Maybe I’ll do two.

The other great thing about fondos is the support that is provided for riders.  160 km is a long way to go so there are aid stations set up along the way providing food and drink.   There are support vehicles that follow the racers should they run into mechanical trouble and a meal is often provided as well.    Sound like fun?  You bet.    Can’t wait to get out there.

As you can imagine, training is essential.   You can’t just jump on your bike and ride 160 km.  So I recently bought an indoor trainer for my bike and we’ll talk about my training regiment next time.


About gssfire

High school teacher, husband, father of three children currently residing in Golden B.C.
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