What’s with all these Gran Fondos?!! Gran Fondo this place; Gran Fondo that place; so-and-so’s (insert name of famous cyclist) Gran Fondo and of course, the Fondue Gran Fondo. Ok I made the last one up but if you’re into poetry you’ll notice that ‘Fondue’ produces a semantically disruptive half-rhyme with ‘Fondo’ as your brain battles with ‘fun do’. Cheesy move on my part but poetic experience nonetheless!

Cosimo Cavallaro, Cheese Room, installation 1999

Cosimo Cavallaro, Cheese Room, installation, 1999 (detail)

Speaking of cheesy fun, Fondos can provide it in gobs. Gran fondo denotes great endurance so a Gran Fondo is usually staged on a long, challenging cycling course. Some traverse  stages of famous races such as the Tour de France or the Giro d’Italia. They also highlight a region as a tourist destination; and they’re usually attached to charitable causes. Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge Gran Fondo, for example, takes place on one of the most stunning, arduous courses you can ever ride. It exposes you to  redwood-lined climbs, the airy vistas of ridge riding, and stretches of the well-known windswept terrain of California’s coastal highway. Importantly, it also supports local children’s cycling and farming organizations. Now Gran Fondos are rarely cheap. Leipheimer’s will cost you $135 for the day. Yes, you get a gift bag to make you feel like a small-dog-toting star (“Darling, your ‘cheedar’ gran fondo nail polish is fab! Your toes look like little grilled cheese sandwiches!”).

And yes you rightfully get to feel good for supporting groups in need. But the heart of the draw to a gran fondo is the idea of participating in–not so much a race, but a grand cycling event.

At the start of the RBC GranFondo Kelowna

We often think of events as singular happenings that occur outside the regular rhythm of our weekly schedules. We anticipate events in part for that reason: they offer a break from the repetitive nature of our routine. Increasingly, however, the relation between events and routines is harder to articulate. The impact of social networking here cannot be underestimated. You can routinely go online to see who’s there and what’s happening! The repetitive coding of computing machines routinely creates minor events that are embedded in many of our days. In this way, socializing through online networks amplifies the experience of just showing up to see who’s there. It also makes it much more repeatable, if not addictive for many. It is not surprising that I now enter my daily appointments as “events” in my online calendar!

Gran Fondos have profited from both online social networks and our familiarity with, and desire for, events. You research and register online. You don’t need a training routine to participate in a Gran Fondo. You just show up and participate in a “happening.” Bring some friends. Ride fast. Ride slow. Ride fast and slow. Help out a good cause. Enjoy the beautiful countryside. You can do them in a day so they minimize the disruption of your regular schedule!

Allan Kaprow, Yards (1961)

In the artworld, “happenings” are associated with the work of American artist Allan Kaprow in the late 1950s and 60s. Above is photo documentation of “Yards” (1961), what Kaprow called an “endlessly mutable environment” of tires, flickering lights, mannequins and mirrors. Visitors were invited to rearrange the tires as they pleased. When Kaprow first started, his happenings were scripted events. They became much more spontaneous. I wonder if the same will happen with Gran Fondos, if the development of social networking sites for cyclists will reduce the need for organizers of grand scale events? Maybe we’ll just go online and then see who shows up on Saturday?

Jeffrey Burt showing the temporary tatts to the nodding-in-approval New York crowd. We in Montreal aren't so sure but we'll give the fashionista Jarrid Adler final say on the subject

In the meantime, we experience Gran Fondos as more grandiose disruptions of our unfolding routines, and schedules, in effect, disruptions of our daily history. As events of historical disruption, Gran Fondos must offer us a substitute history to which we attach ourselves momentarily. These histories enrich our experience. This spring, TTS clients started buzzing about the Gran Fondo New York. They told me about some monstrously long course with several longer climbs which participants would be timed from bottom to top. Prizes were given to those whose cumulative time on three designated hills was fastest. Plus, everyone was going to be in New York for the weekend! I couldn’t go but next year I’m going to seriously consider it!!

Jarrid Adler hits the hills during the GFNY. Fashion forward!!

The GFNY took place on May 8th with more than 2,000 cyclists taking part. They rode a 100-mile course that started in New York City (they closed the George Washington Bridge for the start!) and climbed to Bear Mountain Park, with racers ending back in New Jersey’s Palisades Interstate Park.

Richard Kaplin and Susan Jones cruising along between climbs

Assuming that any Gran Fondo must peddle a story, hawk a memory or sell a history, which tale did the organizers of the GFNY choose? Event organizers claim they’re bringing part of Italian culture to New York. It’s a bit of a light brushstroke to colour the event, but I can swing with it. Gran Fondos are all the rage in Italy. The GFNY has also partnered with the organizers of the Giro d’Italia. I can also be reminded that the history of Italians in New York is thick and wonderful. And don’t forget that the original peddlers migrated from place to place by foot, and then by bicycle.

Italian Bread Peddlers in New York at the turn of the century

Notice how all these happenings involve mobility, transportation, moving peoples, crossing borders and in-between places? Gran Fondos point to an experience of this in-between place in our culture and history. We go there, we come together and we leave. The GFNY begins on a bridge!!!

David Cox ripping it on a downhill

No one can deny the historic importance of Italians to cycling! Ok ok. The GFNY brings together the history of Italian gran fondos with the happening of a modern cycling event. The old with the new like Bertelli Bici in New York.

See Bertelli Bici at www.bertellibici.com

So TTS clients ciao-ed down their pasta and rode the Gran Fondo in style! From all reports, the event was awesome!! Congrats to all who participated including TTS clients Richard Kaplin, Jarrid Adler, David Cox and Jeffrey Burt. A shout out to Montreal-ish-ers Gilles Benchaya, Glen Pepin, Alan Hunt, Didier Cojan and Michael Zakuta for getting to the final line. And a special congratulations to TTS clients Jimmy April (41st), Peter Kalichman (14th), Lorne Bienstock (7th!!) and Susan Jones (3rd!!!) for finishing so well in their respective categories that they qualified for the UCI Masters World Championships!!! Peter, Lorne and Jimmy were too cheap to buy photos from the event (they sent me tagged thumbnails!) so here’s a photo of all four of them: congrats to the three cheapskates and an awesome climber!

Who’s going next year?!!

About Scott Toguri McFarlane

Scott Toguri McFarlane is a former Elite racer, and the founder of Toguri Training Services. For more than a decade, his approach to training has helped aspiring professional racers, provincial team members, and recreational cyclists of all ages and ability achieve their goals, including gold medals at National and Provincial Championships.

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