The Italian Gran Fondo: Our Picks of the Lesser Known Rides

Gran Fondo’s in Italy is a topic we have written about before but there is such a great depth to the number and diversity of events, that we thought we would share with you a chapter 2. Here we share a little more of what to expect from a Gran Fondo, a few that are on our radar for 2022 and why you might like to get involved.

Firstly, there are a huge number of Gran Fondo’s in Italy, with a handful of popular editions that make the lists of many cyclists’ ‘must do’s’. These generally include Granfondo Stelvio Santini, Maratona dles Dolomiti and Nove Colli, which was in fact the first Gran Fondo to kick off the craze in 1970. There are then a couple of Gran Fondo’s that are attached to professional races which are also really popular, including Milan San Remo and Strade Bianche.

However, the list doesn’t end there – with Gran Fondo rides in major towns and cities such as Rome and Florence, and national parks and regions like in the Gran Sasso d’Abruzzo, or which take in specific climbs such as Monte Zoncolan or a Passo Mortirolo-Gavia combination, the list is long.

What to Expect from a Gran Fondo in Italy

Our experience has shown us that with all of the Gran Fondo Italy events we have participated in, you can expect a well organised and safe event, with the event staff very helpful. You can expect your fellow riders to be friendly for the most part and given the language difference, you can expect that the “calls” riders give as warning on the road will be in Italian, and so the following translations may come in handy.

Car – auto or macchina
Left – sinistra
Right – destra
Stop – fermata
Pothole – la buca

Overall, Gran Fondo’s are a great experience, wherever you are in Italy.

Our 2022 Italian Gran Fondo Target List

While there are a couple of firm favourites on our Italian Calendar, namely La Fausto Coppi and L’Eroica, both of which we run sensational multi-day Italian cycling tours around in June and October each year, there are another 6 rides that we are aiming to be part of in 2022. Below are the names of these and the reason they make it to our short list, from over 90 to choose from.

1.Gravel del Prosciutto, San Daniele del Friuli, Veneto. April
Do we need to say any more? Gravel & Prosciutto. Or is that prosciutto and gravel? Not only do you roll through majestic and historic villages in the Veneto, but also along dirt roads, sheep tracks and single tracks with views up to the mountains and down to the valley, with the beautiful Tagliamento river flowing from the Alps to the Adriatic in clear view below. Finally, at the refreshment stops, there is prosciutto! We’re in.

2. Strade Bianche, Tuscany. March
This one needs no introduction. With the start in Siena, literally up the road from our Tuscan base, and a very healthy dose of gravel, this is one Gran Fondo that we just can’t wait to ride. Rolling hills dotted with cypress pines and stone villas as you climb, and olives groves and vineyards as you descend. This is what we call Tuscan perfection in the dust…. or maybe ‘in the mud’ in March. Either way it will be perfect.

3. La Matta, Puglia. June
We love riding along the quiet backroads in Puglia, with its warm calm Southern Italian feel, and that is why we run three tours here each year. La Matta Gran Fondo will see you take to the some of the gravel roads in Puglia’s Itria Valley, many of which our Puglia cycling tour doesn’t traverse, as it links the towns of Noci, Alberobello, Martina Franca and Locorotondo. Here, we’re really looking forward to riding a region we already love, but from a different perspective.

4. La Chianina Ciclostorica, Tuscany. June
This is a ride that was created by 4 friends in 2014 in the small village of Marciano della Chiana, in Tuscany’s Arezzo region. It is modelled on L’Eroica in that it is a requirement to use a pre 87 steel bike and is an event that pays homage to the famous Chianina cows that contribute to the iconic Bistecca Fiorentina. So not only is the honouring of the Bistecca a major drawcard for us, but having met the founders of the ride at L’Eroica in Gaiole in Chianti some years back with whom we shared many laughs, we have been looking forward to riding this one for some time.

5. La Lambrustorica, Emilia Romagna. March
La Lambrustorica is another vintage inspired ride, starting in the Emilia-Romagna town of Carpi and showcasing the wine and areas of Lambrusco that sit between the provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia. We both have an appreciation for the beautiful Italian made Lambrusco that accompanies nearly every meal in this standout gastronomic region of Italy, so on this weekend our passion for this delicious wine merges with our passion for cycling.

6. Gran Fondo Via Del Sale or the Salt Race, Emilia Romagna. October
This is a Gran Fondo starting and finishing in the resort town of Cervia on the Adriatic coast in Marco Pantani’s home region of Emilia Romagna. While the riding takes you through beech and pine forests and then up into the hills of Cesena and Forli, the upside is that there are so many things to see and do pre/post ride such as watching the flamingos in the surrounding salt pans, visiting incredible thermal baths or the nearby tiny republic of San Marino. Another option that we really like is the two rides in one location; ride the Gran Fondo one weekend then relax by the Adriatic sea for a week, while waiting for the Strade Bianche del Sale to arrive into town, the weekend after the Gran Fondo. Now we’re talking. 8-9 days of Emilia-Romagna bliss.

So, there they are – our top 6 Gran Fondo’s that we plan to ride in Italy in 2022. You may have noticed a theme around cycling, gravel and the celebration of good food and wine, and so on that note, we may just sneak one more onto the list; It’s Granfondo Gallo Nero, with Gallo Nero meaning “black rooster” and the icon that appears on every bottle of authentic Chianti Classico wine. It’s our ‘local’ Gran Fondo and an absolute must in our home region of Chianti, where the combination of great cycling, food and wine hits an all-time high in our books.

Finally, for those of you who love to climb and have it on your bucket list to ride the iconic Stelvio and Sella Ronda, then another couple of options that we must mention but which are not classed as Gran Fondo’s, and are worth considering are Stelvio Bike Day and/or Sella Ronda Bike Day. With roads closed to all cars and motorbikes, these two separate ride days see an influx of riders in their thousands descend into the surrounding towns to tackle the mountains in the quiet, and without the added traffic. Think cycling pilgrimage!

Why get involved in a Gran Fondo in Italy

One of the most obvious reasons to ride in a Gran Fondo in Italy, is the support – not just the mechanical and medical support, but the often sensational refreshment stops along the route ensure you don’t have to take much food and water with you to complete some of the longer distances and climbs. The 2nd reason is the camaraderie that you experience on the road when there is truly an international field of riders. When you combine these elements with the amazing landscape and riding challenge, you are guaranteed an unforgettable riding experience.

When planning your next Italian holiday and what to do before or after an Italian cycling tour, consider adding a stopover in a location that hosts a Gran Fondo, to see a previously unknown region from a unique perspective.

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