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.
Hincapie Gran Fondo
Where: Greenville, S.C.
When: October 25
How far: 15, 50, or 80 miles
Price: from $80, granfondohincapie.com
Why it's a must: Any race named after George Hincapie, one of the Tour de France's most famous American stars, is bound to be tough (the retired cycling legend is also a participant, so he's gotta keep it interesting). This event's location along the Blue Ridge Foothills guarantees it with three heart-clutching climbs, including one that gains nearly 2000 feet in just four miles. But if you love quiet, rural back-roads and fall foliage, you might reach a zen that will help you tune out your screaming calves. "The peak fall colors paint the hillsides with vast swatches of orange, yellow, and red," says CTS coach Josh Whitmore. "Afterward, you can enjoy a post-ride festival at George Hincapie's Hotel Domestique, with live music, cold beer, and great food," he says.