Cyclosportive / Gran Fondo: Definitions and Tips
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Gran Fondo, Ultra Distance, Ultra-cycling, Cyclosportive or simply "sportive"... You've heard these terms before, but you're under the impression that they mean more or less the same thing. In all cases, you need a bike, it lasts a long time, it's difficult, and it's in a variety of road racing formats that are becoming increasingly popular in Europe and the rest of the world.
But beyond these commonalities, there's a very special between cyclosportive and gran fondo. What exactly is a gran fondo? What is the definition of a cyclosportive? How to prepare for a gran fondo or cyclosportive ? We explain everything you need to know. As a bonus, we give you our tips and tricks for taking part (and shine!). Whether you're a beginner or an experienced rider, this article will teach you how to live your passion for cycling in long-distance mode.
What is a cyclosportive and a gran fondo?
When you do a cyclosportive you're not competing, but you're not really touring. The basic idea was to offer amateurs the chance to take part in an unlicensed race on a marked and timed course including one or more refreshment points. Today, many competitive cyclists also take part in cyclosportives.
Organized mostly by local or regional clubs, cyclosportives offer several routes with different mileages and gradients. This attracts both beginners testing their skills on their first cyclo and more seasoned cyclists.
Gran fondo originally comes from Italy. Literally, it could be translated as "Big Race". It's a long-distance race, longer than a cyclosportive. Although there is no official definition of a gran fondo, in general events are only no less than 120 km. In terms of positive elevation, we're on a different level here too, with positive vertical climbing often exceeding 2,000 m.
Given these conditions, it's hardly surprising that only very well-trained cyclists take part. Even if purists believe that a gran fondo is "inevitably held in Italy", the concept has been exported all over the world. In fact, the French mountains are the scene of numerous gran fondo races.
Note that the Granfondo has its own UCI World Championship !
Cycle Touring and Ultra-Cycling
For the sake of completeness, we should also mention the differences between touring cycling and cyclosportive. In fact, the former simply refers to amateur cycling, not supervised by any particular organization.
And Ultra-Distance is clearly a discipline for those who like to go beyond all limits. The courses are well over 500 km in length, and sometimes reach thousands of km! It goes without saying that Ultra requires a great deal of preparation...
👉 Do you dream of finally breaking the 100 km barrier? Check out our pro tips for your first long outing!
What are the differences between a cyclosportive and a gran fondo?
To this question, we'd be tempted to answer simply that the latter is merely an enhanced version of the former. The gran fondo, as we have seen, is more demanding in terms of elevation and distance, but also because of the higher level of its participants and the absence of courses for different levels. But the differences don't stop there.
Because they don't attract exactly the same public as gran fondos, cyclosportives generally have a more convivial, festive and family atmosphere. They place greater emphasis on the pleasure of cycling and solidarity between cyclists.
While they remain a great moment of camaraderie between enthusiasts, gran fondos are more focused on competition and performance.
The example of the Vélostar 91 cyclosportive is particularly telling: this year, for example, the event offered "high-quality refreshments with terrines on toast, verrines, cheese, fruit, petits fours accompanied by water, fruit juice and fine wine" ... Even if this is obviously exceptional, it's a far cry from the food of gran fondo enthusiasts!
Number of participants and organization
With the exception of the most famous races (we'll come back to that later), cyclosportives are generally limited to a few hundred participants. As we've said, it's often the clubs (or associations) that take care of all the organization, from publicity to route marking and safety. Registration fees for a sportive vary, but are generally around ten euros.
Gran fondo are much bigger events, bringing together tens of thousands of cyclists. They are organized by federations or national companies. The price of a race number is often in excess of 50 or even 100 euros.
How to prepare for a cyclosportive or gran fondo?
Taking part in a cyclosportive or gran fondo is an enriching experience, but also a demanding one. So you need to prepare seriously to get the most out of it on the big day. Some time ago, we already gave you some tips on how to prepare for a cyclosportive or gran fondo.
An endurance bike for a long ride
The basics are a bike you feel comfortable on. You're about to embark on a 4 or 5-hour effort, or even longer. So comfort must be an essential criterion when choosing your bike.
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These bikes are particularly suited to long-distance efforts, they favor a more upright posture and are more resistant than a conventional road bike.
Before you set off for hours away from home, remember to check your bike thoroughly. Don't hesitate to schedule a routine check-up at your favorite bike store. Being pampered by a professional mechanic won't do it any harm. 😉
Physical preparation for a first cyclosportive
Start with the date of the event and work out your retroplanning. Your training should be progressive (you build up power little by little) and regular (yes, you'll have to go out even when the weather's not so good...). You also need to adapt your outings to your objective: distance, altitude difference, etc.
The ideal way to prepare for a gran fondo is to alternate strength, endurance, speed and recovery sessions.
A healthy lifestyle for a successful gran fondo
Without falling into asceticism and continual deprivation, you're going to have to ease off on the burgers and sausage-chips... In the weeks leading up to the cyclo, focus on a balanced diet rich in carbohydrates, proteins and fats to store energy. You should also drink enough waterit's really essential.
One last point about food: test different energy products to find out which ones suit you best. You need to put everything on your side on D-day.
🍴 To find out more about this subject, read the tips from Cédrine Kerbaol, white jersey winner on the 2023 Tour de France.
Another decisive factor: sleep! You need to get enough regular sleep to promote recovery and performance. Avoid sources of stress or excitement before bedtime, such as screens, coffee or sports. Listen to your biological rhythms and impose a certain discipline on yourself when you go to bed and when you wake up.
Register on time
It may sound silly, but it's a prerequisite for taking part, and sometimes the number of places is limited. Sometimes, the first people to register receive a small discount, so be on the ball!
And to stay on the administrative side of things: make sure you check the documents required to avoid being turned away on the day. For example, a medical certificate stating that you have no contraindications to taking part in a cycling event is often required.
Which cyclosportives and gran fondo are a must?
France's finest cyclosportives
The birthplace of cycling in the 70s, France is one of the best-endowed countries in the world. Of course, we can't list them all, but here they are five not-to-be-missed cyclosportives :
- L'Étape du Tour Probably the best known. It allows you to ride on the route of a stage of the Tour de France, one week before the professional peloton arrives in July. It's usually a particularly tough mountain stage. Each year, it attracts over 15,000 participants.
- La Marmotte Granfondo Alpes Also known as the Rando des Marmottes, this gran fondo is limited to 7,500 participants. It's famous beyond its borders, with a foreign participation rate of almost 90%! The Marmotte is not for everyone. There are five mythical cols to conquer: the Glandon, the Télégraphe, the Galibier, the Lautaret, and finally the final ascent to Alpe d'Huez. That's all there is to it! 🥵
- Les 3 Ballons : Close to home, this cyclo tour takes in the passes of the southern Vosges and ends with a climb up the fearsome Planche des Belles Filles. We invite you to (re)read our article on the most beautiful passes in Alsace.
- The Ariegeoise Perhaps the most beautiful of the Pyrenees. In its normal version (150 km and more than 3,000 m of D+!) or in its XXL version for the craziest (200 km and more than 4,000 m of D+!), the Ariégeoise is a mountain bike par excellence.
- The Paris-Roubaix Challenge The Paris-Roubaix Challenge: A change of style and region, as we take on the cobbled sectors of the north of France. Three courses ranging from 8 to 29 cobbled sectors, with a finish at the legendary Roubaix Velodrome. For this cyclosportive, we advise you to keep your pretty carbon wheels warm.
The world's best gran fondo
The gran fondo concept has conquered the world. Of course, some of the most prestigious Italian events are to be found here, but there are also a few that have earned their letters of nobility outside Italy.
- Gran Fondo Strade Bianche Italy's most popular gran fondo on the famous white roads of Tuscany. Every year, no fewer than 80,000 cyclists set off on the same roads as the pros to tackle the dust, the mud, the steep slopes...and admire the scenery.
- The Maratona in the Dolomites The Maratona dles Dolomites: At first glance, only 140 kilometers. A trifle for gran fondo regulars... 😏But a closer look reveals a vertical drop of over 4,200 m across the Dolomites. And that's not the same thing at all! 😮
- The Gran Fondo New York Sometimes referred to simply by its acronym, the GFNY is basically a race that takes in the roads of New York and New Jersey. Over time, it has also become a franchise that is exported all over the world.
At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what you call your event. The most important thing is to have fun, feel good on the bike and meet other enthusiasts from all over the world who have come to take up this sporting and personal challenge. We hope this article has inspired you to set off and discover the mythical roads and unique atmospheres that make cyclosportives so charming.
Have you already taken part in one of the cyclosportives we've mentioned? Tell us about your experience! We'd love to hear from you! 😊