Suddenly, Gran Fondos (see here for an explanation of them - http://www.granfondoguide.com) are everywhere. And I think this is a good thing.
The popularity of Gran Fondos echoes a trend in cycling overall. People want more - more of everything.
- They want safer roads so they can ride without fear.
- They want better gear (yeah for us!).
- They want better experiences.
- Most importantly, they want those experiences to be about themselves.
At least here in the States, for most riders, charity and casual century rides have traditionally held sway as the main achievement-oriented outlets for cyclists. Everyone can remember their first MS-150 ride, the feeling of crossing the finish line, and the sense of accomplishment. It’s awesome. But let’s be honest with ourselves, most riders have limited connection with the charity itself. They have donated or raised the required amount of money to participate and that is the main (if only) extent of the link. I don’t fault them - it’s natural and there are countless charities and organizations pulling these same riders in many different directions all throughout the year.
There is also little, if any, cache among non-cyclists about training for a charity ride. Outside of our world, no one really knows about the MS-150 rides or the Tour de Cures. I wish it were not the case but it is reality.
Contrast this with the New York or Boston Marathons, the Iron Man competitions, or even the relatively new “Tough Mudders.” If one says he is training for one of these events, he immediately garners some status (either as an individual with incredible athletic prowess, mental fortitude, and/or as a lunatic). The cycling world has not kept pace with such events.
Enter Gran Fondos. While some Gran Fondos benefit charities, the real focus is on the rider. Whether it’s gourmet snacks at rest-stops, post-ride massages, riding with cycling legends, or the ability to compete against the clock, Gran Fondos offer that chance to expose the inner pro in all of us. And someone who is saddling up on a lavishly expensive full carbon bike with Di2 probably wants a competitive environment sometimes.
I don’t think charity rides are going anywhere anytime soon. But the growing popularity of Gran Fondos may cause organizers to re-think how they approach the events. In the meantime, we’ll do our best to participate in both. But I sure will be looking forward to that lemon sorbet at the mile 50 rest stop and a glass of Prosecco when I cross the finish line.
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