Gran Fondo Focus: Bucket List Events


, by Max Leonard

One of the iconic sportives on the calendar, the 2024 L’Etape du Tour will take place in the mountains behind Nice. Photography by: A.S.O./Benjamin Becker

Fondos – also known as ‘sportives’ – are a great way of enjoying a cycling challenge. These mass-participation events typically present a choice of routes of different lengths, offering cyclists a challenging ride with a community vibe – and, while they are generally not races, there’s more than a little bit of competition too.

They’re also a great way of establishing a marker – whether that’s setting a training goal or putting a flag in the calendar for a trip to ride somewhere exotic and mountainous.

Some big summer sportives sell out the winter before, but there are still places at some of the best rides around in 2024. Here’s a choice few – from road to gravel to mountain bike, and from the heights of the Alps to the wilds of South Africa.

Levi’s GranFondo (California, USA, April)

One of the original and best gran fondos in North America, Levi’s GranFondo was set up by the ex-pro cyclist to showcase the incredible roads and scenery of Sonoma, the wine-producing region north of San Francisco in California that he calls home.  One of those, the King Ridge is one of California’s most celebrated roads – and Leipheimer has the KOM, of course.

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The Growler is the newest and longest of the routes available, 138 mi / 222km long with 13,598ft / 1.094m elevation, while the Gran comes in at 120 mi / 193km and 10,331 ft / 3,149m. The 10.6 mi / 17km Family route, meanwhile, is free to enter.

Eroica South Africa (April)

The Tuscan Eroica gran fondo is well known: it winds its way through the olive groves and vineyards of Tuscany along the region’s famous strade bianche or white gravel roads, and it gave rise to the phenomenally exciting Strade Bianche men’s and women’s pro races, which take place in March.

But in the amateur fondo there’s a USP: all riders have to be on pre-1987 bicycles, wearing kit to match. That leads to a festival of cycling and a glorious day out in beautiful countryside with gourmet food stops. The Eroica has now franchised across Europe, the US and the world, including Japan and South Africa. There, the ride is based in the town of Montagu, where it explores the dirt roads of the Klein Karoo region and climbs the Ouberg Pass during its 68km / 42 mi parcours.

La Traka (Spain, May)

The town of Girona, in the heart of Catalonia, lives and breathes cycling, and as much as it’s known for all the pro road cyclists who live there, it’s also a hotspot for gravel riding. There are plenty of events here year-round, including Sea Otter Europe in September, where several different rides take place around the bike show, but the one that takes our fancy is La Traka, which happens at the start of May.

The longest route is the 560km / 348 mi Adventure – which covers over 10,000m / 3,300 ft of ascent and has a time limit of 3 days, 12 hours – is only open to those with ultra cycling experience, but you can choose shorter distances along many of the same gravel roads and trails in this beautiful region.

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On the 360km / 223 mi and 200km / 124 mi events, you’ll be taking to the start line with the pros racing the Gravel Earth Series. Or opt for the 100km / 62 mi or 50km / 31 mi versions and take some time to kick back and experience the history and gastronomy of the old walled city. Routes yet to be released!

Nove Colli (Italy, May)

The Nove Colli gran fondo has taken place since 1971 and explores in the mountains behind the seaside town of Cesenatico, once the haunt of Marco Pantani, one of cycling’s greatest ever climbers.

As the name suggests, it covers nine passes (in 195km / 121 mi). Though not particularly high by Alpine standards – the highest climb, the Pugliano, tops out at 791m / 2,595 ft – they still add up to a combined elevation of 3,880m / 12,730 ft. For a challenging ride in a lesser-known region of Italy, one rich in beautiful landscapes and history, and with a fanatical local cycling population, try the Nove Colli.

ROUTE PLANNER: Plan your next ride or run on Strava

La Marmotte (France, June)

Is the Marmotte the original super-sportive? Based in the town of Bourg d’Oisans, near Grenoble in the French Alps, it challenges riders to a 177km / 110 mi course with more than 5,000m / 16,400 ft of elevation over four cols. And these are not just any mountain passes: first the Col du Glandon, 1,372m / 4,500 ft of elevation over 26km / 16.1 mi; then the classic combo of the Télégraphe and Galibier, with over 2,000m / 6,500 ft of elevation over 35k / 22 mi. And if that’s not enough, the finish is on Alpe d’Huez – with its 21 hairpin bends perhaps the most famous climb in cycling. If you want to pedal in the tire tracks of giants, and see all the glory of the roads of the Tour de France, this is perhaps the ride for you.

Étape du Tour (France, July)

We couldn’t write about sportives without mentioning the Étape du Tour 2024. This is the event that closes the roads along a stage of that particular year’s Tour de France and invites amateur riders to test themselves on the very course that will be ridden by the best cyclists in the world only a week or two later. This year it the mountains behind Nice that get to host the Étape. Many of these climbs, including the 1,002m / 3,287 ft Col de Braus with its picture-perfect hairpins, and the 25 kilometre / 15.5 mile-long Turini featured regularly in the Tour before the Second World War but have been neglected since, so it will be a beautiful, historic – and hard – day out under the Mediterranean sun. The course covers 138km / 85.7 mi, with more than 4,600m / 15,000 ft of ascent, and there are still places to be had if you book a travel package.

MORE FROM MAX: Tour de France 2024 Route Preview: It’s Climby!

Leadville Silver Rush 50 MTB (Colorado, USA, August)

Only the toughest of elite mountain bikers take on the infamous Leadville Trail 100 MTB, but for us mortals there are other options. While not strictly a fondo, the Silver Rush 50 MTB race is, at 48.4 mi / 77.9km, the longest of those. Its 7,503 ft / 2,287m of total ascent gives it, according to the organizers, more punch per mile than the 100. Straight from the gun racers are faced with a demanding 10 mi / 16km climb up to the high point of 12,024ft / 3,664 m, before descending and climbing to over 12,000ft / 3,650m again. The wicked out-and-back format means you’ll know exactly what you face coming out of the turn, and it’s also run as a trail race, if you prefer the challenge of an ultra trail run among the breathtaking – and lungbusting – panoramas of these 14,000ft / 4,250m peaks.

None of these quite the one for you? Keep looking! There’s fondos happening every weekend from now till winter – or join one of Strava’s monthly Gran Fondo challenges.

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