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A Gran Fondo is a type of long-distance road cycling ride originating in Italy in 1970, and roughly translates into English as "Big Ride". Italian Gran Fondos are officially defined and certified by the Italian Cycling Federation as a bicycle event at least 120 kilometres (75 mi) long, and are individually chip-timed (start to finish) races with prizes for the fastest riders in each category. The starts are done en masse, and the format allows for riders of every level to participate, much like a marathon, where most participants are competing against the clock instead of other participants. Traditionally a large meal is served to the participants at the end of the event, and roads are shut down.
Nowadays only a handful of the largest Italian Gran Fondos have full road closures, but laws requiring riders to obey all traffic signals are more lax in Italy compared to other western countries.
The first few Gran Fondo events in the United States were organized in 2009, and as of 2017[update] there were over 200 events in North America. There is no official authority to certify US Grand Fondos. As a result, they come in many different varieties with some adhering very strictly to the traditional definition (often going as far as to have a full road closure), and others treating it more like a century ride where riders only compete in short timed sections and enjoy a large elaborate banquet at the finish.
The first Gran Fondo was the Nove Colli held on July 12, 1970, in Cesenatico, Italy. With chip timing becoming more popular in the 1990s, the number of Gran Fondo events grew rapidly in Italy. While many Gran Fondos came and went, a few have remained since the early years, such as Gran Fondo Cooperatori, Gran Fondo 10 Colli, Gran Fondo Felice Gimondi.
The Italian cycling federation "Federciclismo" provides rules of what makes an Italian Gran Fondo.
Similar events were soon held in other countries, most notably France, where they are called “Cyclosportive”.
Today, Gran Fondo events are held in many countries. However, not all of them follow the true Italian Gran Fondo model of a cycling marathon.
In Italy, Gran Fondos are held between February and October. A full list can be found on dalzero.it . “Dal zero” means “from zero” and refers to the way Gran Fondos are usually raced: “a tutta” or “all out”, from the start.
In Italy, a "dilettante" is an Elite amateur under the age of 25 trying to turn professional. Only a handful of athletes have a chance to turn pro each year. Others either end their cycling career, have to continue racing small circuit races, or compete at Gran Fondos, which explains the competitiveness at Gran Fondos and their popularity.
In Argentina, Gran Fondo cycling is still a rather new concept. In 2013, the first one was held in San Luis, which many consider the cycling capital of Argentina, given that the men’s professional race Tour de San Luis and the women’s professional race Tour Femenino are held there as well.
Today, the Gran Fondo in San Luis is part of the GFNY World series and now called GFNY Argentina. The other notable event is Gran Fondo Buenos Aires, which was first held in 2015. It’s a relatively short (100 km) but flat and fast race.
Despite the growth of cycling in Australia, Gran Fondo events are still relatively rare. Yet, Amy’s Gran Fondo is one of the most notable globally, held along the Great Ocean Road, with 2,500 riders completing the Gran Fondo distance.
In the north, Darwin's Top End Gran Fondo was the 3rd Gran Fondo in Australia starting in 2012. The Top End event has become an annual event in the Australian cycling calendar, showcasing the unique NT landscape.
In Austria, the generally used term for Gran Fondo is Radmarathon. This can be confusing because events with that same term in Germany are non-timed bike tours. While not as competitive as the Italian counterpart, Radmarathons are true Gran Fondo-style races. The mother of them all is the Oetztaler Radmarathon, over 240 km with 5,200 m of climbing, one of the hardest Gran Fondo races in the world that attracts a sold-out field of 4,000 riders.
In Belgium, local laws prevent Gran Fondo races. A lot of events have tried it but all that’s left are bike tours. While thousands of riders get to experience events on the same courses like the pros – e.g. at Ronde Van Vlaanderen – they can’t race them.
After a few hiccups with early events that were held and later got cancelled, Brasil is starting to embrace Gran Fondo races now that larger organizations have appeared. Under ASO license, the inaugural L'Etape Brasil was held in 2015. Starting in 2017, Gran Fondo New York grants a license to a race organizer in Brasil to host GFNY Brasil.
As in the US, Canadians struggle with what a Gran Fondo is. Due to its French heritage, Quebec embraces the cyclosportive culture which is identical to Italian Gran Fondos. In the English-speaking part of the country, many events don't offer racing despite the Gran Fondo name. The big household name, however, is Gran Fondo Canada, which hosted the inaugural Gran Fondo Whistler in 2010 and currently also operates Gran Fondo Banff. Both are true Gran Fondo races.
In Chile, road cycling has to catch up in popularity with mountain biking and triathlon, but several Gran Fondo events are showing up on the scene, like Gran Fondo Giro del Lago, and set for 2017, GFNY Chile just outside Santiago.
Colombia is a country where enthusiasm for cycling is near Italian levels and bigger than in most other countries. However, Gran Fondo races are very rare still, with GFNY Colombia (first held in 2015) being the only true Gran Fondo. The popular La Ruta Colombia Gran Fondo series with two events in changing locations as well as the one-off Gran Fondo Hincapie are not Gran Fondo races but only bike tours with timed sections. Since 2016, the Gran Fondo Boyaca Mundial is being held inside the department of Boyaca.
In Denmark, Gran Fondo Copenhagen was held in 2014 and 2015 until it got cancelled in 2016.
The Dubai Gran Fondo was held for a few years but cancelled in 2016. The Dubai 92 cycle challenge is UCI Grand Fondo-approved for 2016.
Gran Fondos are called “Cyclosportive” in France and they are just as popular as the ones in Italy. Not quite as competitive, the scene is easily the second strongest globally with a solid calendar of racing from March to September. Popular races include La Marmotte, Etape du Tour, Les Trois Ballons, GFNY Mont Ventoux, Kohnse.com/en/ L'Ariegiose and L'Ardechoise.
Gran Fondos in Germany are usually called “Jedermann” races. These events are generally only open to non-race license holders or those with the lowest-level license (C). As a consequence, many riders no longer obtain racing licenses but rather race Jedermann races. Some riders are organized in teams that are no less professional than elite amateur teams.
For the first time in 2016, a Gran Fondo was held in Indonesia on the island of Lombok. GFNY Indonesia took place on October 2, 2016 and drew 600 riders from over 30 countries.
Long-distance bike tours like the Wicklow 200 have been popular in Ireland for many years. In recent years, some Gran Fondo events have appeared, but most of them are non-timed bike tours.
The first Israeli Gran Fondo the "Clal Health Gran Fondo", took place in April 2012. Since then it has taken place in the north and the south of Israel. In 2015 the Dead Sea Gran Fondo joined forces with the Israel Cycling Federation, the organizers of the Tour of Arad to create the largest international road cycling event in Israel the Gran Fondo Arad Dead Sea. It takes place in the lowest point on the earth and 1,000 riders from 30 countries are expected to take part in the two day three stage 155K km / 96.3 mile race in 2018.
400 riders from 31 countries took on the first ever GFNY Malaysia which took place on April 23 2017. Riders were treated to a scenic course and cultural experience in host city Ipoh, capital of Perak which is just 200km outside of Kuala Lumpur.
Thanks to the GFNY series, Gran Fondos are currently booming in Mexico. GFNY Cozumel was the first Gran Fondo in 2014, followed by GFNY Mexico City. La Etapa Mexico was also a true Gran Fondo, while Gran Fondo Giro d'Italia Mexico only featured timed climbs. The so-called "Gran Fondo Mexico" is a 50 km non-timed bike tour.
Like Belgium, the Netherlands suffer from strict laws that have so far prevented amateur mass-participation cycling races.
Gran Fondo Panama is Central America's most popular Gran Fondo, reaching from the Pacific to the Atlantic oceans.
Gran Fondo debuted in the Philippines in July 2014 as the "Misamisnon Gran Fondo". Since then, every July, cyclists flock to Misamis Occidental in southern Philippines and participate in a festive sporting event celebrating cycling and enjoying the legendary hospitality of Filipinos.
With the growing popularity of cycling in Eastern Europe, Poland is at the forefront of hosting Gran Fondo-type events. The Poznan Bike Challenge is currently the best-known.
The Gran Fondo Premium series consists of two events: Serra da Estrela, and Aldeias do Xisto.
The Grand Fondo Russia has debited in 2016. In 2017 it had 3 distances - 30, 60 and 100 km.
The Franja Marathon is one of the oldest mass-participation cycling events in the world and as such, it is a true Italian-style Gran Fondo.
One of the world's biggest Gran Fondos is the Cape Town Cycle Tour (formerly Cape Argus). The 105 km race has over 30,000 riders.
Spanish laws require full road closures to organize a fully timed Gran Fondo. Hence, many so-called Gran Fondos like Gran Fondo La Mussara are non-timed events. One of the country's classics is La Quebrantahuesos, in the Pyrenees.
Being a hotbed for cycling, Switzerland has always had its fair share of mass-participation cycling events. A very popular one has always been the "Radmarathon", which is a non-competitive but sometimes timed long-distance cycling event. One of the longest-standing and toughest is the Alpenbrevet. Meanwhile, competitive races have been more rare due to strict Swiss laws. The former legendary pro race Zuri Metzgete used to have an all-comers race attached to the event. Since the pro race has become defunct, the mass-participation event has also struggled to survive. Gran Fondo San Gottardo is the only event with the name "Gran Fondo" in it. While it's held in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland (Ticino), it doesn't follow the rules of the Italian cycling federation for Gran Fondos because only the climbs are timed.
The first "Gran Fondo Ukraine" was organized in 2017 year by Lviv Bicycle Club. Race has two distance 90 and 120 km and starts from Old Sambir town at the West of Ukraine.
The concept of Gran Fondo is still relatively new in the UK. Most endurance cycling events are timed bike events called "Sportive", and rarely exclude vehicle traffic. Held across the UK, they continue to be very popular and attract large numbers of cyclists. Many keen UK cyclists have often preferred to travel to France or Italy for their Gran Fondo experience. However, there are now a number of cycle events that feature roads closed to traffic and chip timing. They include the Tour of Cambridgeshire, Ride London, Velothon Wales, Etape Caledonia  and L'Etape Wales by Le Tour de France .
In the United States, the term “Gran Fondo” refers to both traditional Italian Gran Fondo events where the course is closed and timed from start to finish, such as Gran Fondo New York, as well as numerous modified Gran Fondo events that take place on open roads where riders must adhere to traffic rules, some with timed sections rather than fully timed courses. Examples of these Gran Fondos include the Gran Fondo National Championship Series (GFNCS), and Gran Fondo New Jersey.
The popularity of Gran Fondos has increased rapidly in the U.S. and in 2016, there are expected to be more than 60 Gran Fondo events held across the country. While many of these are not cycling marathons in the Italian tradition but are rather modified Gran Fondos, these events are designed to provide competitive and experiential elements for both professional and recreational cyclists. In most Gran Fondo series, participants do not need a USA cycling license to ride.
A full list of all US Gran Fondos can be found here
The first-ever Gran Fondo in Uruguay was GFNY Uruguay, held in 2016 in Punta del Este. Later that year, Gran Fondo Schneck near Montevideo was a mere bike tour.
The first ever Gran Fondo in Vietnam is the Coupe De Hue Gran Fondo, held for the first time in August 2018 and will feature on the UCI World Cycling For All Calendar in September 2019.
Gran Fondos are run on challenging courses that are usually between 120 km and 200 km, and have between 2,000 m and 4,000 m of vertical climbing. Most events also offer a shorter and easier version.
Gran Fondos are run like bike races. They have lead and follow cars, judges, safety escort, police escort, as well as technical and medical assistance. Aid stations along the course replace team cars.
Races are covered in regional, national, or international press, depending on their importance.
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- Nove Colli
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