HANCOCK — Having earned recognition as a top-level destination for cycling, organizers in Addison County look to expand offerings for cycling this summer with the Green Mountain State’s first fondo-style event.
A gran fondo – Italian for “big ride” – describes a cycling event where participants ride not for the sake of a podium finish, but for a personal challenge. Gran fondos can be found throughout the United States and on June 14, Addison County will have the first in the state.
“There’s a romance to Italian things,” says Alex Wolff, a Cornwall resident and writer for Sports Illustrated, explaining of the origin of the cycling events that are gaining popularity in the United States. “It’s a way of showing an appreciation for all the finer things in life in an event where you show off your endurance.”
And it is indeed a test of endurance.
Starting and finishing at the Middlebury College Snow Bowl, the inaugural ride has been organized into three rides of increasing difficulty. The three distances traverse two or four gaps with up to 7,600 feet of climbing back and forth across the spine of the Green Mountains. The Lincoln Gap features the steepest paved mile in the U.S. – a grueling 24 percent grade.
The route distances and ascents are:
• Piccolo Fondo, 46 miles/3,000 feet (Brandon and Middlebury gaps)
• Medio Fondo, 69 miles/6,100 feet (Lincoln and App gaps)
• Gran Fondo, 104 miles/7,600 feet (all four gaps)
Depending on their level of fitness and aggression, riders can expect to be in the saddle four to ten hours with refueling stops available every 25-30 miles. Two Vermont-based tour providers, VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations and Discovery Bicycle Tours, will provide mechanical and sag support.
Andrew Gardner, a Ripton resident and veteran rider with race experience all over the United States is another event organizer. Gardner says until now, rides in Vermont have typically fallen into one of two categories: races or extended tours. While the Lincoln, Appalachian, Middlebury and Brandon Gaps (known in acronym as L.A.M.B.) already hold prestige among regional cyclists, the fondo promises be a tough first event of its kind on an already legendary course.
“This is a formalized version of something that already happens,” says Gardner. “If you talk to anyone who’s tied to cycling, they know what a four gap ride is. It’s in the lexacon of cycling.”
Plus, he adds, cyclists are looking to try something new.
“People are raising the bar in terms of what’s considered a challenge,” he says. “First it was a century, then it was a gap ride. Now it’s a gap century. People are biting off more and more.”
The ride will run parallel to a weekend series of events titled “Cyclefest” that will feature a series of cultural events in Middlebury including a series of bike-related art installations, a screening of the documentary The Armstrong Lie and a talk by Reed Albergotti, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and co-author of the book Wheelmen, both of which discuss the downfall of disgraced cycling champion Lance Armstrong.
Sue Hoxie, advertising and marketing director for the Addison County Chamber of Commerce, says the ride is a good way to drive visitors to the area in a time when traffic to the area typically plateaus.
The expectation is that the ride will grow into a yearly event with people returning to Addison County every year to ride as well as visit year after year. The ride has been scheduled to not conflict with other local events.
“In the eyes of folks from outside of New England, Vermont is synonymous with integrity,” says Gregg Marston, president of Vermont Bicycling and Walking Vacations. “Vermont has a very appealing panache and people want to come here. It’s a panache that people want to touch. We’re doing it to promote cycling, but more importantly were doing it to promote Addison County as an active destination.”
While the Chamber is involved in organizing other athletic events like the Middlebury Maple Run Half Marathon (now in its sixth year), organizing the fondo has proven to be a much larger task. Organizers have received permission from the 14 towns on the routes as well as approval their police departments and first response groups. The Chamber has also filed for permits from the State Department of Transportation and the State Department Of Public Safety.
All they need now is the riders.
While the number of registered riders is still growing, organizers say they remain optimistic. Andrew Gardner says he expects the event to attract riders who also participate in other early-season rides as well as locals who come to ride the gaps in the summer.
“Some people that aren’t tied to cycling might be nervous, I think it bodes really well,” he said. “Especially with the late winter we’ve had, I’m blown away that we have the people signed up that we do.”
With just a little over a month to go, organizers are planning a major marketing push in bike shops across the Northeast, blasts of emails and inviting teams of riders and Gardner said he’s optimistic.
“If everyone that’s tangentially tied to this reaches out to their networks, it should be a really good premier event and then snowball,” he said.
Complete event details can be found on the event website, www.VermontGranFondo.com. The cost to participate is $75-$100 and participants can register via BikeReg.com.