CyclingWEST nominates 4 granfondos in The WEST for UCI World Cycling Tour (UWCT)

Sunday, March 31st, 2013


Riders in the 2012 GranFondo Highwood Pass in the Canadian Rockies. This is one of four events CyclingWEST suggests would make a great UWCT-sanctioned event. (Photo: Granfondo Highwood Pass)

As announced in CyclingWEST this week, the UCI World Cycling Tour (UWCT) plans to sanction at least one granfondo/sportif cycling event in either the western U.S. or western Canada for the 2014 season.

This post outlines my opinion that such an event in The WEST is desirable. I am also providing my list of events that I think should be on UWCT’s short-list for consideration and negotiation. (Yes, negotiation is necessary because successful organizers may not want the UWCT interfering in their events.)

Riders in the 2012 Gran Fondo San Diego in the hills east of the city. (Photo: Campagnolo Gran Fondo San Diego)
The ultimate challenge

Basically, I believe a UWCT-sanctioned event in The WEST would bring the ultimate challenge of world-class competition to riders in our region who enter granfondo/sportif/century events to “race” their age group peers and/or to “race” for a personal best time.

Furthermore, well-organized UWCT-sanctioned events will still allow other riders — usually the majority — who are seeking a more recreational experience to meet their objectives. From my observations, beginners are intent on finishing their first events safely and with gusto. Then in successive events they move on to other objectives, such as personal bests, comparisons with their age group peers, and more challenging courses. Thus, the ultimate challenge of qualifying for the UWCT finals — and perhaps actually riding in the finals — can become a goal of today’s beginners.

However, it is clear that many endurance road cycling organizers (granfondos, sportifs or centuries) in The WEST don’t agree with me that racers and more laid-back riders can co-exist.

These anti-racing organizers make a point of describing their events as non-race festivals, probably for two reasons.

  • One, they believe their target market is intimidated by any association with “racing”.
  • Two, proper racing means keeping meticulous results, start-line seeding and effective route marshalling, all of which add expense and complexity for organizers.

Actually, I get a chuckle out of organizers who describe their events as granfondos and promote the connection with the Italian cycling culture of celebration, yet ignore the fact that real Italian granfondos also have a fiercely competitive component. You can “race” an authentic Italian granfondo or you can “ride” an Italian granfondo. In Italy, the pros and fast amateurs are seeded at the front, while others seed themselves depending on their objectives: race or ride.

Non-racing events can be fun

Yes, non-racing granfondos are a lot of fun and can be very challenging. My wife and I rode and very much enjoyed the Echelon event in Hood River, OR last September, which was not timed and was governed by “normal rules of the road” instead of closed roads and marshalled intersections. We finished the event riding through the busy downtown traffic and obeying traffic lights and stop signs.

There was no “finish line” or anything resembling fan-fare. We simply turned into a parking lot, then grabbed a cold beer and a great meal. Best of all was the challenging course through a maze of twisty, scenic, quiet roads that non-local riders might never discover on a visit to the area.

Racing events can be fun

However, timed events are no less fun. We also rode and enjoyed the Valley First GranFondo Axel Merckx Okanagan in Penticton, B.C. last July. Participants could race against their age group peers or just ride for enjoyment and personal accomplishment.

Unfortunately, this event frustrated racers — and probably reduced safety — by having the 2,000 participants in both the granfondo and mediofondo events start at the same time. The result was a logjam that persisted for several kilometres. Also, the fair racing component of the event was suspect because some racers received rolling support from feed cars, while others had no choice but to stand in long lines at water/feed stations.

Nevertheless, the finish was triumphant for all. As we rode under the arch across the finish line, we were identified by name by the race announcer, photographed and cheered by spectators. Then food, drink and story swapping.

Bottom line, great fun on a challenging, scenic and partially-closed and well-marshalled course.

My short list for UWCT sanction

GranFondo Highwood Pass, July 13: Gran Fondo Highwood Pass travels through the heart of the Rockies over the highest road pass in Canada. The ride begins in Longview, AB and finishes 146 kilometres north at Morley, AB. Both are short drives west of Calgary, AB and three-four hours southwest of Edmonton, AB.The point-to-point format presents some complications, but this format is handled by other UWCT events, including the world final in Trento, Italy.

The organizer is Calgary-based TransRockies Inc. and the event’s benefitting charities are the Canadian and Alberta Alpine ski teams.


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