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.
Rensselaerville Cycling Festival
Where: Rensselaerville, New York
When: September 28
How far: 25, 55, or 84 miles
Price: from $85, rensselaervillecycling.com
Why it's a must: New to the Gran Fondo calendar this year, the Resselaerville sticks to the criteria by offering a tough course – designed by pro rider and climbing specialist Tyler Wren – with some 9,000 feet of climbing over paved and dirt roads. See if you can hang with Wren and some of his elite teammates, who will ride out with participants at the mass start. If you get dropped, no sweat. There are multiple timed-segments that will analyze how you measured up against the pros later. Sip a glass of Sutter Home wine, a supporting sponsor, afterward as you check your results.