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.
Where: Santa Rosa, CA
When: October 4
How far: 32, 65, or 103 miles
Price: from $80, levisgranfondo.com
Why it's a must: Levi Leipeheimer, a three-time Tour of California champ and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist, doesn't just lend his name to this challenge – he participates, too, and usually with his well-known pro and celeb friends, including avid cyclist Patrick Dempsey. "Sonoma County is arguably the best riding terrain in the country. On the course, you experience several micro-climates and distinctly different environments, from canopied forests to wide-open ridges overlooking the Pacific Ocean," says a senior-level CTS coach Charlie Livermore. Another highlight is Santa Rosa itself. "The community really gets behind this event. Volunteers come out in droves to support the 7,500 riders every year. Afterward, you see them all again at a great post-event party to celebrate your accomplishment," he adds.
Credit: BrakeThrough Media