I rode the Tour of Cambridgeshire Gran Fondo last year, it was my first closed road event and my introduction to the Gran Fondo concept. Last year’s event was a huge success, with Saturday’s Time Trial a sell out and the Gran Fondo having over six thousand riders attempt the 129 kilometre route.
The Tour of Cambridgeshire is a two day weekend of cycling and is part of the UCI Gran Fondo World Series. As well as the headline Time Trial and Gran Fondo events there is a cycling Expo, family entertainment and youth cycling events taking place. The event is based in the Peterborough Arena and Showground, with plenty of facilities and parking.
The UCI Gran Fondo World Series is a series of eleven events taking place all over the world. Each one is made up of a Chrono (time trial) event and a road race/Gran Fondo. The top 25% finishers in each age category qualify for a place to race at the series finale, the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships; held this year in Perth Western Australia.
The UCI Gran Fondo World Series is aimed at the growing number of riders taking part in mass participation events – sportives/Gran Fondo – rather than traditional road racing, with the final race giving riders the chance to ride in an age related world championship final and walk away with a world champion’s jersey!
I rode the Tour of Cambridgeshire last year (read about it here) and was blown away by the organisation and logistics involved in such a huge event. Closed public roads are not something I get a chance to ride on much and the cheering crowds in the villages and towns we passed through were incredible, it was the closest I will ever get to being a pro!
The Gran Fondo format is new to the UK and is, I think a great idea. The Gran Fondo is split into two parts, first off is the Race part of the Fondo. This year’s start has been tweaked, with riders being grouped into age related pens. Each age group will have it’s own male and female winner. Once the Race category is safely off, the Sport, Challenge and Leisure groups will go off, riding the route as a sportive for the fun and challenge.
The Tour of Cambridgeshire route is 129 kilometres and although not hilly, has the potential to be a tough course if the dreaded winds the Fens are famous for, decide to blow. Last year we were lucky and had sunny skies and no wind to speak of, but locals warn us that this isn’t always the case, so practice your echelons!
And practice is the word if you intend taking part in the race section of the Gran Fondo. Although the parcours is not particularly hilly or long, riding in a bunch requires skills that many sportive riders may be unused to. I would strongly recommend those of you that haven’t raced before, to get down to your local club and get a couple of races under your belt. This is particularly important if you are hoping to qualify for the world championships, I rode last year’s worlds in Denmark (read about it here) and it was a real eye opener. My age group; the 50-54s had over 250 riders and at times was travelling at 50kph over some tricky urban roads and required all my concentration and experience. Take a look at either the LVRC, TLI or BC for details of how to get racing.
On the Saturday before the Gran Fond, eight hundred riders will compete in the Chrono part of the weekend. Riders will cover 26 kilometres setting of at 30 second intervals from an indoor start ramp. As with the Gran Fondo riders will have the comfort and security of riding on a closed road circuit, so can concentrate on their ride. As with Sunday’s Gran Fondo competitors will be classed by age and sex, with the top 25% qualifying for the World Championships. As I write the Chrono is full, but the organisers have set up a reserve list, so you could still get a ride.
Recently added to the programme is the Tour of Colour, this 5K fun run takes place on the Friday before the serious racing gets underway and is a chance for family and friends – although I’m sure a few cyclists might well have a go – to tackle a short run while being bombarded with paint!
Runners will pass through colour zones on the run and will have their event T-shirts and themselves, covered in paint, which they can then compare at the after party. A huge sound system and effects will keep them dancing and hopefully happy enough not to mind you disappearing the next day for the Tour of Cambridgeshire!
I’ll be riding the Tour of Cambridgeshire Gran Fondo again this year and am looking forward to seeing how the new start grid systems works. It looks like it will be a bit fairer and will mean you have a better chance of competing against your own category, which better mirrors what will happen if you go to the World Championships. It should also mean not having to get to the start so early, as last year the bunch was so big riders at the back were at a massive disadvantage. I’ll be in my Handsling Racing kit, so if you see me say hello, or even better, let me sit on your wheel!
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