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I’m timed but I’m not a race. What am I?

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

A gran fondo!

If you are a cyclist and you are over thirty, I’m sure you have participated in a gran fondo by now. Even though they only really hit North America about five years ago, there now seems to be at least a dozen gran fondos taking place each weekend somewhere on the continent. If you have ridden a gran fondo, I’m willing to bet you rode it as hard as you could. And hands up if you went online to look up your result that same day. Even though you knew exactly how long it took you to finish, I’m sure you went to the event’s website or looked through the Strava segments to see how you compared against everyone else. Then you filtered it by sex and then by age. You raced it.

But a gran fondo is “not a race”. You’ve heard it time and again. You may have even heard it said during the riders’ briefing at the start, followed by simultaneous chuckles. A smile and an eye roll to the complete stranger next to you is returned with a nod of solidarity. Everyone gets the joke. As with any sporting event, it’s a race and you know it.

Racing to Whistler Photo: Den Sweeney

Racing to Whistler                    Photo: Den Sweeney

But they’re not really races. Here’s the deal. A “race” in cycling is different. A race in cycling is sanctioned by the national sport governing body. It follows a set of regulations set out by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). Among other things, a cycling race will have rules on allowable bike specifications, it will have licensed commissairs or officials on course, the participants will also be licensed and accredited points will be awarded to top finishers. That is a cycling race. But this doesn’t mean you can’t race a gran fondo.

A gran fondo is to cyclists what marathons are to runners – a long distance challenge. Because it’s not a race, the number of participants will be higher. Many are just looking to complete the distance. But most are trying to complete the distance as fast as they can and faster than the average of everyone else in their age group.


Lindsay Carswell
Founder, Bicycle Sportive Tours International

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