The Italian Mob Race

Veronika Lenzi

Misery loves company. One cyclist grinding his way up an endless hill is a recipe for cramping quads and existential despair. But 8,000 bikers? That’s a party. The Italians, who invented these mass pedal fests, dubbed them Gran Fondos, or “big rides.” Though it may have started on the old continent, this Italian specialty’s biggest manifestation is in New York, where Campagnolo Gran Fondo New York takes off from Manhattan’s George Washington Bridge at the end of this month.

Popular in Europe since the 1970s, Gran Fondos have exploded onto the U.S. cycling scene over the last several years with races in Silicon Valley, Coral Gables, and New Jersey. American roadies are accustomed to testing their fitness on centuries – 100-mile rides that can be as flat or hilly as the organizers decide – but, in principle, a Gran Fondo is a century ride on steroids, thanks to the big crowds and pageantry. The mass starts – 5,000 or more riders mount up at once – are wild and chaotic. Riders jostle each other and try to retain control as an announcer blasts jokes and race trivia over the P.A.

According to Gran Fondo New York organizers Lidia and Uli Fluhme, another key to the growing popularity of Gran Fondos is that they are events for the entire cycling community, from professional racers to weekend riders, working hard to fit in 50 to 75 miles a week. Gran Fondos also offer riders an excuse to explore new roads: Cyclists should be looking forward to the Echelon Fondo, which will tear along the Columbia River gorge outside Hood River, Oregon in September and the Levi’s Granfondo, which will roll along Occidental’s Coleman Valley Road in October.

These massive events give Americans a taste of Italy’s cycle-crazy community and an opportunity to race against stiff competition. Still, for the majority of riders, the goal remains simple: finish.

More information: Campagnolo Gran Fondo New York takes place on May 18. Registration costs $280 and must be finished prior to May 13. []

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