For the fourth year in a row, cyclists from all across the nation will make the trek to Pasco County to ride in the Gran Fondo Florida racing event on March 26.
The race begins — and ends — in downtown San Antonio.
It is one of eight events across the country as part of the Gran Fondo National Championship Series.
The cycling route is 100 miles, but there are also 35-mile and 55-mile routes for less avid riders.
While much of Florida is synonymous with flat roads, the bike race travels along Pasco County’s rural rolling hills, with cyclists riding by horse farms and clear springs throughout the scenic route.
The 100-mile course has nearly 3,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain, according to Reuben Kline, president and race director of the Gran Fondo National Championship Series.
“The rolling back roads are beautiful, but also very challenging,” Kline said. “The area around Pasco County and even up into Hernando County — it offers amazing riding for any perspective. It’s a great area to ride— a lot of back roads, low traffic.”
The gran fondo format differs from other bike races, because it’s not a “start to finish” race. Instead, there are timed segments throughout the courses, which are used to calculate a rider’s competitive time.
In the 100-mile course, for example, there might be a chip-timed session from mile 17 to mile 20, and again from mile 42 to mile 47.
“It’s really a unique style of race. The Gran Fondo is really becoming popular,” said Ed Caum, tourism director for Pasco County. “You casually ride for part of it, and then when you hit your sections where you’re timed, then that’s where you do your sprint. Then, you’re back down to cycling through beautiful Pasco countryside until you get to your next timed section.”
Kline noted the gran fondo format is “less contentious” than other road races, because it eliminates the “peloton dependency,” where cyclists ride in a tight group, drafting off one another to conserve energy.
“Historically, bicycling hasn’t been a very user-friendly discipline when it comes to a competitive environment because of the need to draft in a large group of people. The atmosphere is often contentious because of the dynamics of it, and because of the safety, or lack of safety involved,” Kline explained. “There’s not a lot of closeness among competitors, because you’re always like ‘I’m going to have to use you to win.’
“What we saw with this gran fondo format was an opportunity to make something that people could both enjoy and (also) be competitive,” he said.
According to Kline, the gran fondo-racing format has only been around in the United States for “no more than six or seven years.”
“It’s a new discipline, and a lot of people don’t understand, ‘what is a gran fondo and how does it work?’”
Gran fondo events, which originated in Italy, provide a cycling outlet for everyone from beginners to elite cyclists, he said.
“It’s very much like a marathon. How many people enter a marathon thinking they’re going to win? Not many, but some do,” the race director said. “The atmosphere is such that those people are showing up to compete, because it inspires the other people to compete. People might enter to either finish the race, finish atop their age group or finish at the top of the overall standings.
“It does provide an opportunity to be competitive, and not only competitive with a whole bunch of people, but also with their friends and teammates.”
Last year, the race drew 297 riders — a 70 percent increase from 2014, and a 140 percent from 2013 — reports show.
Additionally, only 26 of those riders lived in Pasco County, with the majority coming from all across Florida.
There were also participants from a dozen other states — Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
A 2015 post-event report shows an economic impact of $44, 878, based on the total number of room nights booked by participants and spectators.
“They come from across North America, and then you’ll have some people that are down here—snowbirds and all— that ride the (gran fondo) races…throughout the circuit,” Pasco County’s tourism director said. “Some people travel specifically to participate in the event.
“As people come here and ride, they’ll want to come back, because it’s so beautiful out there in San Antonio and St. Joseph, and Dade City.”
Kline has been pleased with the event’s “very sizable growth” since it’s inception, and plans to bring it back to Pasco County.
“We intend to continue holding the event in Pasco County. We’ve enjoyed working with the representatives in Pasco County,” he said.
Gran Fondo Florida
What: A bike racing event for everyone from beginners to elite cyclists. There are 35-mile, 55-mile and 100-mile routes, each with chip-timed sections.
When: March 26 at 8 a.m.
Where: Local Public House & Provisions, 32750 Pennsylvania Ave., San Antonio
For more information, visit GranFondoNationalChampionshipSeries.com.
Published March 16, 2016