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.
Campagnolo Gran Fondo New York
Where: New York City
When: May 18
How far: 50 or 100 miles
Price: from $299, granfondony.com
Why it's a must: Cycling in NYC isn't just for Brooklyn hipsters on fixies and Citibike commuters. This challenging course calls dead-serious, kitted-out road warriors from all over the world The largely international race starts in the Big Apple on the iconic George Washington Bridge and then weaves between New Jersey and New York state lines along hilly streets with lush green trees (expect 3,000 feet and 8,000 feet of climbing per route). If you're good enough to earn "King of the Mountain," you'll go home with a sick new De Rose GFNY Protos road bike equipped with Campagnolo components (a super limited-edition model).