Over the last few years, Gran Fondo format rides/races have taken the US by storm. They are popping up all over the place, but have been a little slower to penetrate the southeastern market. The Hincapie Gran Fondo that launched last year was the first true event, and it has proven to be a success. There have been many other events with Gran Fondo features, such as Six Gap Century with its timing of the Hogpen Gap climb.
One company that has recently starting staging these events is the Gran Fondo National Championship Series. Next week will be their inaugural Boone event, but they are also holding events in Central Florida, North Georgia, New Jersey, Colorado, and Maryland.
The GFNCS has offered a limited number of half-price discounts for readers of this blog (an offer, not an advertisement), which you can find here.
So what is a Gran Fondo anyway? In short, it is an event for amateurs that is timed. Technically it is a race, and some events will award prizes, but for many it is simply a race against the clock – a way to measure their performance on a segment or challenging ride. The term has been used interchangeably with the French concept of cyclosportive (a la Haute Route).
Boone is an ideal southeastern representative for such a format, as it boasts some of the best century rides in the entire Blue Ridge. I’ve already covered them at length, plus I have ridden many climbs in the area.
The Boone Gran Fondo is going to share some characteristics with those rides, but will offer certain elements (and climbs) that are a little more off the beaten path. There are four climbs that will be timed, and the winner will be whoever has the quickest cumulative time up all of them.
One of the climbs is Beech Mountain Rd, which is not the same climb that used to be a stage finish for the Tour Dupont. It is a little over 5-miles and gains 1,000 feet. Other climbs are Russ Cornett Rd, Highway 221 near Grandfather Mountain, and Beaver Dam Rd. A couple of these are also new to me, so I’m looking forward to tackling them. There are other familiar climbs, such as Schull’s Mill Rd (pictured above). The entire long route will be 105 miles with approximately 10,000 feet in climbing. There are also 20-mile and 55-mile route options.
One would think that this type of format would attract the cycling beasts, and there are plenty, but I’ve found that there’s a good variety of riders. For example, I have no illusions that I’ll be able to contend on any of the climbs, but I’d still like to see how I perform. This is the type of event, like the Assault on Mount Mitchell, that people will ride in consecutive years to compare their fitness. For amateur riders like myself, it is a good goal (or carrot) to work towards.
Speaking of which, I could very well be near the rear of the pack this year. I will probably not be last, but I could easily be in the bottom third. And that’s fine given the year I’ve had. To me, this is more of a ride and a way to experience some new climbs while training for my upcoming Blue Ridge Parkway ride. Next year, on the other hand, this event will likely be towards the end of my peak training period before Haute Route. Then I’ll be looking to prove something.