Fondo-mania; a Gran day out

7 10 2011

I think I’ve caught the Fondo bug.

As I teetered towards the finish line in Saturday’s Levi Leipheimer King Ridge Gran Fondo, the lactic acid burning my legs, I was content to end my riding season right there. By the time I’d retrieved my complimentary Fat Tire Ale, I was already discussing with Katie where we could travel for my next Fondo challenge.

The King Ridge Fondo experience was that good.

First off, the setting was magnificent, the cycling sublime. From its fast, congested start to its relieving finish, the challenges just kept coming; pack riding, gruelling climbs, technical descents, wide closed roads, narrow twisting lanes pocked with cow patties, canopies of dewey redwoods, exposed windswept ridges, the sea, the sky.

Levi's Gran Fondo offers a fearsome challenge in a beautiful setting.

Secondly, the organization was top-notch. Aside from the computer glitches that frustrated the first day of registration, everything from then on out went smoothly and efficiently. Out on the course, the marshals were plentiful, the police escorts cheerful and attentive, the volunteers helpful and encouraging. The rest stops came at just the right times, and were well-stocked with all kinds of great, tasty provisions from sweet to salty to substantive. Most stops also had mechanical assistance to execute minor repairs and adjustments to bikes.

Third, the celebrity cachet is a nice bonus. That Levi Leipheimer is all over his signature event is a given; it’s clear he has a great affection for his adopted community and vice-versa. But keeping an eye out for Hollywood stars like Patrick Dempsey, Ethan Suplee and Mark-Patrick Gosselar gave the ride a real California appeal; out on the road, we’re all just cyclists.

Levi is everywhere at his signature Gran Fondo!

Katie has her McDreamy moment!

Fourth, the post-race meal was awesome! Listen up Whistler Gran Fondo organizers; after slogging our way up and down for 100+ kilometres, we deserve a free beer and free grub! That’s what sponsors are there for! And the King Ridge sponsors didn’t skimp; Fat Tire Ale and delicious, authentic paella (amongst other choices, but the paella was clearly the overwhelming favourite) included with our registration fee!

The post-ride paealla hit the spot!


New fondos seem to be popping up on a weekly basis, as event organizers look to cash in on the boom in road cycling. Some of them are linked to pro cyclists present and past, some are just vague promises.

It was great to see the Whistler/Kelowna organizers at the King Ridge event, no doubt  taking notes to improve their own fondos, perhaps share some of their own tips with Levi’s people. One might be to add live music to the post-fondo festival; a Q&A with Patrick Dempsey and Levi just isn’t that festive.

But as these events grow in popularity and frequency, we have to be wary not to kill the goose responsible for this golden egg.

Fondos aren’t cheap. And a well-run once isn’t cheap to organize and put on. But as long as cyclists support them and organizers give us value with a good experience, they’ll help the sport grow. But it just takes one bad fondo to leave a sour taste.

This year’s King Ridge Fondo was only its third, but it’s already a veteran in the Fondo game in North America.

In BC, fondos have gone from zero to four in two years, with at least one more in the works for next year. Roadies may be a desirable demographic, but we’re definitely not suckers for quick-buck artists. And the more fondos grow in popularity, the more likely an inexperienced promoter will jump into the fray, looking to make a few bucks buck lacking the chops to give cyclists a good return for their registration fee: after all, we don’t have to pay $160-200 to be able to ride a 100-160km route with a stop along the way for lunch.

As for next year’s fondo challenge? Registration for the lottery to get into the Maritona dies Dolomiti, the queen of all the fondus, opens next week; I’m thinking about it.