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.
El Tour de Tucson
Where: Tucson, AZ
How far: 38, 57, 81, or 107 miles
Price: from $25, perimeterbicycling.com
Why it's a must: No one will judge you for going all-out this Thanksgiving if the Saturday before you finish this calorie-torching course. It covers the base of three of Arizona's most beautiful mountain ranges, rising more than 9,000 feet. You'll also rack up good karma for the holiday season: The 32-year-old event, which draws some 10,000 cyclists, helps raise millions for various charities, including a new primary beneficiary that hasn't been announced yet. One possible roadblock: "Watch out for the river wash crossings," warns premier CTS coach Nick White. "Cyclists typically have to dismount and look for high ground through a dry riverbed."
Credit: A.E. Araiza / Arizona Daily Star / AP