With a length of more than 120 km, high elevation gains and time limits: without doubt, a Gran Fondo is the most popular type race among amateur road cyclists. Today, the program of international events is very extensive with many races held every weekend from May to September, coinciding with the peak of the cycling season in Europe. The origin of the Gran Fondo goes back to early morning of 5 May 1971 when a group of 17 friends left the Bar del Corso in Cesenatico at 5am to tackle the Nove Colli, a route which would become known as the first Gran Fondo. Soon after, Gran Fondos became very popular in Italy among racing bike enthusiasts and today, various events of this kind are organised in each region. Experiencing an Italian Gran Fondo means immersing oneself in the real cycling culture of this country. From North to South, Gran Fondos attract a huge number of cyclists with an immense passion for this sport who cannot wait to ride along some of the most wonderful roads and climbs of the Italian peninsula. Below, you will find a list of the 7 most famous Gran Fondos in Italy, races in which every road cycling enthusiast should participate at least once in their lifetime.
Gran Fondo literally means “long distance” – but it is not just that. Besides featuring a length of at least 120 km, the course of a Gran Fondo features a high elevation gain, often greater than 3500‑4000 metres. Not just a competition against other riders, an Italian Gran Fondo is first of all a way to test one’s limits. To participate in an Italian event, it is compulsory to have a sporting medical certificate which certifies that you are fit to practise the sport of cycling at a competitive level.
Nove Colli – Adriatic Coast
The Nove Colli is the most famous Gran Fondo in the world and the one which best represents amateur Italian road cycling races. Featuring a circular route and an elevation gain of 3840m, the race starts from the Port of Leonardo in Cesenatico and continues inland through the hills of the provinces of Forlì and Cesena. During the race, riders have to tackle exactly 9 hills. Barbotto, Polenta and Tiffi are some of the most challenging climbs with gradients reaching 18%. There is also a medium route of the Nove Colli with a length of 130 km and an elevation gain of 1871m.
Maratona delle Dolomiti – Dolomites
The Maratona delle Dolomiti is a Gran Fondo with a length of 138 km and a total elevation gain of 4230m which goes through the passes of Campolongo, Gardena, Pordoi, Sella, Giau and Falzarego. The race starts and ends in Corvara, always surrounded by the spectacular scenery of the Dolomites with breathtaking views of mountains which are unique in the world and part of UNESCO’s world heritage. If you want to live this experience without having to tackle the historic climbs of this area, you have the option to go for one of the two shorter routes of 106 and 55 km.
Gran Fondo Strade Bianche – Tuscany
The Strade Bianche is regarded as one of the most spectacular races in the world of professional cycling – no one will ever forget the breakaway of Mathieu van der Poel on the climb to Piazza del Campo in 2021. This race (also known as “Europe’s most southern northern classic”) is included in the UCI World Tour, but there is also a simpler version for amateurs: the Gran Fondo Strade Bianche. The route starts and ends in Siena and follows the course of the women’s elite road race: a length of 139 km with 31 km of dirt road – Tuscany’s famous dirt tracks. There is also a medium version of 86 km with 26 km of dirt road.
Gran Fondo Stelvio Santini – Bormio
The Gran Fondo Stelvio Santini offers you the unique opportunity to test yourself on two of the hardest and most famous climbs in the history of cycling: Stelvio and Mortirolo. With a length of 151 km and an elevation gain of more than 4000m, this Gran Fondo would be extremely challenging for any rider and is reserved only for the best climbers. Starting from Bormio, this race requires riders not only to tackle the 48 hairpin bends of the Stelvio before they can reach the finishing line, but also to deal with the 12 km ascent of the Mortirolo Pass with deadly climbs and gradients of up to 18%. Less trained riders who still want to experience the thrill of crossing the finishing line of the Stelvio can take either the short or medium route of 60 and 138 km, avoiding the climbs of Mortirolo and Teglio (the latter being part of the medium route).
Gran Fondo Milano Sanremo – Liguria
Have you ever dreamt of crossing the famous finishing line of Via Roma in Sanremo? The Gran Fondo Milano-Sanremo is the opportunity you were waiting for! The course of this 296 km route is identical to the Classica di Primavera race, it goes from Milan to the renowned “City of Flowers” and features the climbs of Cipressa and Poggio. It is here that the winner is chosen, two short climbs which need to be tackled with strategy and speed in order to race towards the final descent before the finishing line.
Gran Fondo Pinarello – Veneto
The Gran Fondo Pinarello is an event organised by the famous Italian bike brand and consists of a 152 km route which starts from Treviso and winds through the hills of Prosecco (a UNESCO’s world heritage site) and some of the sites of the Great War. There are of course many climbs such as the Wall of Cà del Poggio, a historic climb of the Giro d’Italia with a length of 1.3 km and an average gradient of 15% – the only climb certified by the Italian Cycling Federation. Less trained cyclists can opt for the medium route of 113 km.
Gran Fondo Colnago – Garda Lake
Lake Garda and its hills are the beautiful setting of the Gran Fondo Colnago, an event organised by the renowned bike brand based on Cavenago. The race starts and ends in Desenzano del Garda on the lakeshore, it features a length of 145 km and an elevation gain of 2130m. Riders have to tackle some of the most well-known climbs among cyclists of the area such as Valvestino with a length of 8.3 km and an average gradient of 6.5% (with peaks at 13%). And of course a medium route too: 110 km and 1384m elevation gain.
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