You don't need to speak Italian to know that Gran Fondo stands for badass bike race. The actual translation is debatable – some say it means "big ride" and others "great endurance" – but the one we like is "great foundation." That's exactly what you'll need to take on one of these mass-start competitions that have been a cycling culture staple since Italians first introduced them more than 100 years ago.
Biking 100 miles or more is only one part of the grueling race that takes place on road or dirt and often features sweet swag for winners. What makes a Gran Fondo hardcore is the quad-busting elevation gain. For many races, you'll be pedaling over mountaintops. Because the course requires hilly terrain, these challenges are often set in some of the most breathtaking backdrops, and U.S. events are no exception. Sure, you might be panting the whole way up, but man, what a view! That's just the first part of the reward, too. The second is bragging rights, and, you know, getting in the best shape of your life.
Test your grit and increase your street cred by the mile with one of these 10 Gran Fondo favorites from the world-class endurance coaches at Carmichael Training Systems (CTS), who specialize in getting novice to elite athletes ready to kill courses across the country.
Bottega Gran Fondo
Where: Napa Valley, CA
When: April (Register early for next year as it caps off at just 300 riders!)
How far: 40 and 75 miles
Price: $250, bottegagranfondo.com
Why it's a must: You share the same philosophy as the race's slogan: "We ride to eat!" And on this special course, you will not go hungry. "It's hosted by celebrated chef and avid cyclist Michael Chiarello, which makes this event the ultimate combination of cycling, food and wine. Local chefs provide gourmet food at the rest stops, and then there's a sit-down, relaxed post-ride feast on the lawn of Bottega Ristorante," says Chris Carmichael, founder/CEO of CTS.
Credit: Jonathan Herre