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Posted In: Features

Gear Up for the Gran Fondo

July 27, 2012 8:48am

Credit: Sports Backers

What’s all this talk about some sort of cycling event coming to Richmondin the fall?  A Gran Fondo? It sounds like an elite racing event that you might want to check out as a spectator. Don’t be fooled – this event is for everyone who loves riding on the open roads, but it is different from many of the charity rides and events that have been hugely successful in bringing areas cyclists together on weekend mornings. It is time you sign up and start training for the October 6th event, the Martin’s Tour of Richmond.

 What the heck is a Gran Fondo?

Gran Fondo, which is Italian for “big ride,” events are popular in Europe, but have been popping up all over the United States. Think of it as a long distance citizen’s race. It is a timed road race, which is not a mass phenomenon (yet) here in theU.S.You can typically choose among distance options. TheRichmondevent is offering course length options of 102 miles, 59 miles, or 29 miles. 

If you are accustomed to bands, snack stations, and rest stop chit chat on the charity rides you have completed, expect the vibe for a Gran Fondo to be a bit different.  There are rest stops, SAG support vehicles, and post-race festivities planned, but here will be folks racing against the clock. 

I just like riding, why would I want to compete?

This is a unique opportunity for amateur riders to feel like a pro! You can personally challenge yourself to achieve a certain time. There will be people just trying to finish, riders shooting for a specific time, uniform-clad teams pushing the pace, and sponsored riders going for the win. Similar to a foot race, like the annual Richmond Marathon or theMonument Avenue10k, a Gran Fondo can satisfy anyone from the laid back participant to the die hard competitor.

How should I train differently for a Grand Fondo?

You do not need to train differently for a Gran Fondo than you would for any other road riding event of a similar distance. If you want to challenge yourself, because this is a timed event, here are some tips to get yourself into “race” shape:

  • Ride with others that might be faster than you – they will push you.
  • Replace one ride per week with a “tempo” ride – warm up for a couple of miles, then ride a “comfortably hard” pace for the next 40 minutes to an hour on varied terrain– cool down. You should feel like you want to stop at the end!
  • Do a longer ride one day per week. Try to build up to at least the distance you have registered for by adding 5-10 miles each week. Bring hydration and snacks.
  • Do not use a mountain bike – a properly fitted road or triathlon bike or a hybrid should work.

 Are there any good routes for training?

There are great riding resources all over theRichmondregion. Try to ride at times when traffic volume is low. Sunday mornings are ideal. Bring your cell phone and try to ride with a buddy for safety.

Credit: Sports Backers

 There is no better practice than training on the Gran Fondo course itself. Scroll down for turn-by-turn instructions and a course map on the event website

 The Richmond Area Bicycling Association (RABA) offers turn-by-turn print out sheets of rides starting from within city limits and from surrounding counties. Ron Corio, former RABA President, offers some course highlights of his favorite routes. Ride these on your own or try out many of the great group ride options offered by the club on these very routes. You will also make some great friends.

 Just print out a cue sheet, wrap it in plastic wrap, and get going:


  • Stratford Hills to Salisbury (29 mile, Southside) – This is a classic and long standingRichmond cycling route. The beginning of the ride parallels theJames River, affording beautiful river views including ospreys and eagles. From Old Gun to Robius is a two-mile climb that has a steep beginning and is more gradual until the top. It is a good training hill for climbing.Salisbury is a large subdivision that affords myriad streets on which to recover from the climb and prepare for the return trip. The ride down the Old Gun hill is a screamer with some S curves at the bottom. Then comes Snake Hill, a short steep winding climb that is entered at a ninety degree angle, depriving any opportunity to use momentum. It is a steep start to a level spot then another steep climb to the top.


  • Laurel Park to Hanover Courthouse (37, 53, or 62 miles, West End to Hanover County) – This ride combines two popular club-ride start points. It begins with a nine-mile leg to Ashland then turns east along Ashcake Road, across to Route 54, then on to Hanover for a store stop (the popular Ashland Coffee and Tea) at the 17-mile mark. Riders make a decision at this point whether to return or continue. Those who select a longer ride continue northeast and climb Bleak Hill five miles out. At the top of Bleak Hill is another decision point: a right turn to continue on Etna Mills leads to a 52 mile ride total, while continuing straight on Calno results in a 62 mile ride. Rolling hills are punctuated with flats to make this a ride of moderate difficulty.


  • Rockett’s Landing (56 miles, East End) – This is the bike course of Richmond’s first-ever Half Ironman triathlon, Richmond Rox, to be held in September.  Cyclists park at Rockett’s Landing and pop out for a rolling tour of Civil War battlefield sites, farms, and unobstructed views of the city skyline.  The route traverses Henrico andCharlesCity counties. Look out for the Horizon Store to refuel just before the halfway point.  


 And most importantly, do I have to wear spandex?

Of course not! There will be lots of people with loose fitting clothing.  It is smart to consider, though, that riders of all ability levels wear spandex on long-distance rides for a good reason.

About Emily Ward