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.
Gran Fondo New England
Where: Providence, RI
When: October 5
How far: 27, 65, or 104 miles
Price: from $75, granfondonewengland.com
Why it's a must: Another rookie by Gran Fondo standards, the year-old event spans three New England states – Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts – during peak leaf-peeping season. You can also test yourself and see how you stack up on the timed Strava King of the Mountain climb, end your race, and then watch other cyclists start theirs. "The finish is timed for you to watch the UCI-sanction cyclo-cross races at Roger Williams Park, former site of USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships," says pro-level CTS coach Jane Beezer.
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