Gran Fondos, or, “great rides,” as they’re known in Italy, continue to gain popularity with more and more riders (and licensed racers) participating. And with good reason. As traditional road races disappear faster than watermelon in the hands of Gallagher, gran fondos are popular because they offer a unique combination of cool venues, safety in numbers, spectacular scenery, challenging courses, exciting media coverage, superb organization, and grassroots competition for everyone. With the grueling job of riding, reviewing and writing about road events, I have the opportunity to experience many, especially in my backyard – Western USA and Canada. Here are my top picks for 2019’s Best of The West Gran Fondos. You can’t go wrong adding one (or three BICYCLIST Challenges*) to your 2019 bucket list.

Golden Gran Fondo

Golden, Colorado

June 9, 2019
91 miles, 11,000’
WEBSITE

Just a stone’s throw from Denver, Golden is a hip little town with plenty of brew pubs, restaurants and activities to keep companions happy while this course kicks your tail feathers. With a shark-tooth profile that climbs up into the Front Range on paved and a few dirt roads, this course thrills every minute, and every mile. Well exceeding the 1:100 miles to climbing feet required for a BICYCLIST CHALLENGE, this beast of a ride is waiting for you on the western slopes of the Rockies.

Golden Gran Fondo in Golden, Colorado. Credit: Golden Gran Fondo

Desperado Duel

Panguitch, UT

July 27, 2019
104 miles, 3,200’
WEBSITE

Offering the best of Southern Utah via bike, this event is a real treat. Hoodoos, gradual climbs, fun descents, and a wonderful bike path make it perfect for riders of all abilities. Expect the pointy end of the pack to average ~25mph, but with great aid stations and many picture-perfect views, riders often take time to savor Southern Utah.

Desperado Duel. Credit: John Woodson

Tour de Big Bear

Big Bear Lake, California

August, 2019
107 miles, 9,000’ (HC 125 miles | 12,000′)
WEBSITE

SoCal gran fondo-ing doesn’t get much better than riding at 7000’ in the cool air of the San Bernardino National Forest in August. If you train at sea level, don’t be surprised if it feels like you are breathing through a straw and can’t generate power, you can’t. Without acclimatizing power is down by 15-20%, so don’t over-do it. Sign up for the HC version at 125 miles with 12,000’ climbing if you think the regular gran fondo is just too easy.

Starting line of Tour de Big Bear. Credit: Tour de Big Bear

Mammoth Gran Fondo

Mammoth Lakes, California

September 7, 2019
102 miles, 6,600’
WEBSITE

Located on the peaceful and stunning eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada far from urban jungles, Mammoth is simply amazing. Not only are the views Ansel Adams postcard-worthy, you’ll enjoy 75 miles on roads closed to traffic. Yes, that means NO cars. If that’s not enough, aid stops offer hard-to-pass-up delicacies like chocolate-covered bacon and chocolate-covered espresso beans. Hanging with the front group of licensed racers is easy for the first few miles. It’s downhill after that, and all bets are off.

Mammoth Lakes, Mammoth Gran Fondo. Credit: YouTube

West Elk Bicycle Classic

Crested Butte Colorado

September 2, 2019
134 miles, 11,000′
WEBSITE

After skipping 2017, the WEBC came back to life for 2018. With wonderful Southern Colorado as a backdrop, rural roads, challenging climbing (Kebler Pass) and a roaring party in Crested Butte to finish things off, this event gives new meaning to the term “epic ride.” Plus see how you stack-up against the “old man”, six-time Leadville champ and Pro Dave Wiens who usually wins and takes home the custom elk antler trophy. This event is worth making the distance to ride Gunnison to Crested Butte.

Winding roads on the West Elk Bicycle Classic. Credit: West Elk Bicycle Classic

El Tour de Tucson

Tucson, AZ

November, 2019
102 miles, 3,500’
WEBSITE

A perfect way to end the season in sunny, warm Tucson. With close to 10000 riders, this cycling friendly town rolls out the red carpet. If you want to start up front better be a licensed Cat 1/2, Pro or somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody. The front group races aggressively while everyone else enjoys riding past Saguaro cactus and working with new friends. Expect an arroyo crossing or two to make things interesting – especially if it’s raining.

Cacti spotted on the El Tour de Tucson. Credit: El Tour de Tucson

Tour de Acoma

Acoma, NM

September, 2019
100 miles, 2,500’
WEBSITE

Showcasing The Land of Enchantment, this event takes riders back in time through historical pueblo lands, up sheer walled mesas and past stunning cities perched atop monoliths. Win and take home one of the coolest cycling trophies in the USA – custom handmade Acoma pottery.

Landmark Monoliths like Kadzima are hard to hard to miss at the Tour de Acoma. Credit: Tour de Acoma

The Canada Extra Credit

RBC GranFondo Whistler

Vancouver, BC, Canada

September 7, 2019
76 miles, 6,200′
WEBSITE

Full disclosure – I’ve not ridden this one, but it’s on my list. Several trusted friends swear it’s “bucket list worthy” to start at the Pacific Ocean and finish high in the sky atop Whistler. Plus, I hear Vancouver is a happening place to v isit. The 2019 event i s a qualifier for the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships to be held in Vancouver on the same course in 2020. See Issue #153/154 for more info.

Credit: RBC GranFondo Whistler

Kooteney Rockies Gran Fondo

Cranbrook, BC, Canada

September 7, 2019
98 miles, 4,300′
WEBSITE

Starting and finishing at the beautiful old St. Eugene Resort with breathtaking mountain views in every direction as well as a golf course, casino and spa this gran fondo really delivers, both on and off the bike. Enjoy rolling out on the North Star Rails 2 Trails path as it winds 17 miles through old growth Canadian forests to Kimberly’s wonderful Bavarian Platzl.

Credit: Kootenay Rockies Gran Fondo

BICYCLIST Picks

Malibu Gran Fondo

Westlake Village

March 16, 2019
93 miles, 5,800’
WEBSITE

The Malibu Gran Fondo has been a consistent provider of the experience of luxury cycling beginning and ending at the Four Seasons in Westlake Village. Organizers pull out all the stops in providing amenities for a challenging ride through the roads of Malibu, Agoura Hills and Westlake Village. Also part of the Gran Fondo National Series, the event provides an exemplary fondo experience on the California coast, just a 30-minute Uber ride from LAX for those visiting. Yes, it is worth flying in for.

Phil’s Cookie Fondo

Malibu, California

October, 2019
88 miles, 8,469′ (Double Fudge 133 miles, 11,396′)
WEBSITE

Phil Gaimon, former professional racer, has spent his retirement plotting and planning various excursions in the media landscape, his most significant contribution to the community of cycling is the ‘Cookie Fondo’, an excursion expertly curated using the multitude of roads and climbs making up the Malibu highlands. Looking to go the distance? The ‘Double Fudge’ will satisfy, just crossing the 1:100 ratio of miles to climbing feet required for inclusion as a BICYCLIST CHALLENGE. Giddy-up!

BICYCLIST CHALLENGE: RIDE. WIN. BE FAMOUS.

*The BICYCLIST Challenge provides a selected list of accredited routes that meet specific criteria, including the following:

  • Routes 125+ miles
  • Routes 100+ miles with 100% of route at elevation over 6,000’
  • Routes 85+ miles with 1:60 miles to climbing feet
  • Routes 75+ miles outside the USA (See Canada Extra Credit)
  • Routes 65+ miles with 1:100 miles to climbing feet

After completing a BICYCLIST Challenge, submit your GPS link to record your effort and gain entry to the Challenge Board. Complete three challenges in 365 days to receive the BICYCLIST Challenge patch. The rider with the most submitted BICYCLIST challenges will WIN A BIKE and be profiled in a future issue of BICYCLIST Magazine, and the BICYCLIST Experience podcast. If you have a route you think should be a BICYCLIST Challenge, let us know!