Gran Fondo New York - The True Experience

Campagnolo GFNY is a 100-mile cycling challenge for 7,000 riders from over 70 countries on May 19, 2013. The race starts in NYC on the most travelled bridge in the world, George Washington Bridge. It travels north to beautiful Bear Mountain State Park and finishes after 100 miles and 7000ft of climbing in Weehawken, NJ facing the NYC skyline.

[303Cycling] I dont think alot of Americans know the differences between typical Gran Fondos in the United States and Europe. Can you explain to our readers the differences between the two, especially the competitve and team aspect?
[GFNY] A true Gran Fondo is like a marathon: at the front, racers compete for the win, in the middle riders try to beat their PR and at the back the focus is on beating the cut-off. An event that has no competitive element should never be called "Gran Fondo" because it's misleading the participants. Italians call an untimed ride "Cicloturismo". Unfortunately, the vast majority of Gran Fondos in the US are such mislabeled rides. A Gran Fondo requires road closures or police moderated traffic. Right now, riders need to be careful what they sign up for. Not everything that's called a "Gran Fondo" is actually a Gran Fondo.

In Italy, where Gran Fondos stem from, there are only very few masters circuit races. If a racer hasn't made the step from "dilettante" (elite amateur) to pro at the age of 25, most turn to race Gran Fondo as these provide more challenging and exciting courses. Hence, the competition level at Italian Gran Fondos is similar to a Pro/Cat1 race at the front and from there all levels up to casual riders at the back.

[303Cycling] Another big difference between the US and Europe is the percentage of woman that participate in Gran Fondos. Why do you think there are so many more women participating the US?
[GFNY] I think it's a cultural difference that holds true for all endurance sports although it's probably most accentuated in cycling which has traditionally been a sport for "hard men". Tradition is the key word here. A younger society like here in the US doesn't suffer from the negative effects that old traditions sometimes inherit. People in a more progressive society are not held back by what is expected from them to do or not but they rather do what they enjoy. Rightfully, most Europeans events are very jealous of the high quotas of women in US cycling and try to incentivise women by offering very low or even free entries, front starts and preferential treatment. While the intention is laudable, some try too hard in my opinion to attract women because they neglect those trusted riders who have shaped and supported the races over the years. A more sustainable approach would be to build support groups for beginning riders that takes away the fear of riding in traffic and dealing with mechanical issues - for both genders! Our Gruppo Sportivo does exactly that (www.granfondony.com/gruppo-sportivo).

Let's put a number to it: at GFNY, we have about 15% female participants while 2% is the usual rate in Italy. That said, I've personally seen this evolve in the right direction over the last few years. Globalization didn't stop with cycling and women in traditional cycling countries discover the sport as a fun way to be healthy and socialize. At GFNY, we're working on establishing a women's racing team. We may have a higher quota than Europe but there's still lots more potential if you consider that more women than men run Half Marathons.

[303Cycling] Can you explain why you think the Gran Fondo format is a good platform to develop junior racers who aim to become Pro Tour Riders?
[GFNY] I raced in Europe as a junior in the early 90s. Back then, we still had road races that were held on single loop 100 mile courses or at least, say, four 20 mile loops. But these road races started to disappear in the mid 90s because it became too expensive, unmanageable and hard to justify to close off so many more and more congested roads for just 200 amateur racers. Nowadays, and that's unfortunately the case on both sides of the Atlantic, amateur racers are often left with criterium races in deserted industrial areas on Sundays or at best circuit races on five mile loops that maybe contain a one mile climb. But that kind of racing is so vastly different from what you go through mentally and physically in a 140 mile point to point pro race! Bring in Gran Fondos which often provide courses that are similar to those of pros. And Gran Fondos - the proper ones - can afford closing bigger roads because they have a few thousand paying entrants to back up the high costs. E.g., at GFNY we pay a whopping $500,000 solely for road closures and police support.

[303Cycling] I have read that you hope to bring Pro Tour Level racing to NYC. Do you envision something similar to the US Cycling Pro Challenge or a stage of the Giro?
[GFNY] We have been in talks with the UCi since last year to hold a pro race on the same day and course as GFNY. Pat McQuaid has been very supportive of our plans. We have no doubt that pro racing will come to the world's biggest stage, NYC. Why we want that? Because we love NYC and pro cycling. We've brought our passion for Gran Fondo to New York. And that now paves the way to hold a pro race in and around the world's greatest city. That was the long term plan since GFNY's foundation.

The integration into a stage race is definitely an option. Other parts of the country may have the more spectacular landscapes. But the East Coast has the larger amount of (potential) fans that make bike racing relevant for the media which is they key driver of pro sports. Our motto at GFNY is "la corsa la fanno i corridori", "the racers make the race" which we use to describe that we, being racers ourselves, always first have the participant in mind. Because without each and everyone of them, GFNY wouldn't be what it is. The original meaning of this saying, however, stems from pro racing. No matter the race course, spectacular or bland, it's the racers who make the race hard and attractive - or not. Our goal for now is a World Tour single day race.

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