The Gran Fondo Arrives in Asheville

Elizabeth Wegmann
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Bicycling magazine calls gran fondo racing the “fastest growing group ride phenomenon.” Imported from Italy, this type of race that roughly translates to ‘great foundation’ is something between a century and a group ride. It’s electronically timed and supported, but it’s really open to anyone. A gran fondo brings thousands of riders together for an epic race, often in mountainous terrain. And as much as gran fondos are known for their epic courses, they’re also known for the epic parties that take place at the finish line.

In the United States, the Gran Fondo National Championship Series (GFNCS), has seven East Coast events this year, the last of which takes place in Asheville this weekend, on September 7, 2014. The event will benefit Friends of the Smokies, which is a nonprofit that helps maintain Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Elizabeth Wegmann

Every GFNCS race has 32, 62, and 100-mile routes. In 100-mile events, there are four chip-timed sections. The lowest cumulative time of all four sections decides the day’s winner across any of 10 categories, which include junior men (14-18) to “Super Senior” women (55 and up). The race is capped at 500 participants. Racers who attend at least three events can qualify for a series title. But many who will participate do so just for the challenge of trying to complete the course.

Considering the mountainous terrain, Asheville is perfectly suited for a gran fondo. This ride will start downtown at Pack Square Park. The 110-mile “gran” course will go from downtown out Riverside drive, across the French Broad and into Leicester; then all the way up into Madison County near Hot Springs before looping back through Weaverville, onto the Parkway and back into downtown. The 55-mile “medio” loop is a tighter version of the same route, keeping closer to Marshall and Weaverville. The 30-mile “piccolo” loop stays close to the river and doesn’t extend to the Parkway in Weaverville. There are plenty of aid stations along each route. While the 100-mile course clearly has the highest gains in elevation, the 30-mile course is not without its challenges.

Grant Glover

For the “gran” route, age group winners each receive a jersey and cash prize. Medio and piccolo winners receive various awards and prizes. No racing license is required for the gran fondo.

At the finish line, riders will join in Organicfest, Asheville’s annual celebration of all things organic and sustainable. Vendors such as Katuah Market, Earth Fare, Greenlife and the Hop ice cream will be on hand to supply food and treats, while Pisgah Brewing will supply the beer. There will also be bodywork providers on hand, as well as live music from a variety of entertainers including singer-songwriter Chris Rosser and rock-folk duo Mirror Image.

For registration information, go here. It sure to be a grand time that you won't want to miss!

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