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28-02-2024 | Marcel van Herten

Decoding gran fondo names, a guide (part 1)

The Kitzbüheler Radmarathon is a name that generally doesn't raise many questions or comments. But when I mentioned in the pub the other day that I was going to cycle the Danish gran fondo Tour de Aars it was, of course, hilarity at its finest. Not to mention the tongue twister Quebrantahuesos. In this diptych, we dive into the background of gran fondos names. In Part 1, we please the pigeonholers with unambiguous categories. Honorable mentions are covered in Part 2. This is just a sampling of the 750 gran fondos on the CycloWorld calendar, but these cycling facts always do well with drinks.

Categories make it easy

The cyclone names of our calendar can be divided into five categories. Nice and simple and conveniently arranged.

1. Geographical names

Maybe the most obvious category. The name refers to a place, mountain range, environment, water body, environmental feature. Anything goes in this category as long as the connection is geographical.

2. The number

When a gran fondo has a number or number, these usually refer to the distance, meters of elevation or amount of climbing. A few examples are:

  • The Mallorca 312, the popular gran fondo over just about the entire Spanish island with a length of 312 kilometers. You can read the report of the 2023 edition here.
  • The name of the oldest gran fondo in the world, the Italian Gran Fondo Nove Colli, says it all. The literal translation: cyclo of the Nine Hills. In fact, the Gran Fondo Dieci Colli in Bologna ticks off ten.
  • In the French Vosges Mountains, Les 3 Ballons is run. One of France's most famous gran fondos goes over the famous Ballons of the Vosges.
  • Desafio 132 in Murchante, Spain, literally means: a challenge through Navarre over 132 kilometers.
  • At the 5 Mila Marche you can pedal away five thousand meters of elevation in the La Marche region. One of the most unknown cycling regions in Italy.

3. The sponsor

Without sponsorship, there is no gran fondo. That's a fact. And we see this in the name of a number of gran fondos. Often the sponsors are cycling related, for example in terms of clothing, parts or bike brands. Well-known gran fondos in this category are Alé La Merckx (this year for the first time in Livigno), Sportful Dolomiti, Granfondo Colnago and Orbea Klasika Bilbao-Bizkaia. Respectively named after the clothing brands Alé, Sportful and bicycle brands Colnago and Orbea.

Sometimes there are sponsors from industries other than cycling who attach their names to a gran fondo. The best known is the French Cyclosportive La Vache Qui Rit. Of course in the Jura, where the cheeses with the laughing cow come from. This gran fondo also has the dubious honor of having the ugliest shirt on the gran fondo circuit.

4. The namesake

Mostly in France, Italy and Spain, there is a culture of honoring their (former) cycling greats. The (former) pro on duty usually rides the shortest distance himself and then takes an extensive photo with everyone afterwards. Famous examples: Gran Fondo Alberto Contador (CycloWorld was there in 2022), La Indurain and the Gran Fondo El Diablo, named after Claudio Chiapucci.

The La Lapébie honors the Lapébie cycling dynasty from southwestern France. In addition to its own gran fondo, the family name is associated with the cycling track in Bordeaux and a 57-kilometer cycling route ("voie verte") named after Tour winner Roger Lapédie (1937).

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Examples in other countries include the Vélomédiane Claudy Criquiélion (now a semi gran fondo, but still worthwhile) in Belgium, Levi's Granfondo (Levi Leipheimer) in California, Majka Gran Fondo in Poland and the Granfondo Andrey Amador in Costa Rica. The Alé La Merckx is a combination of the aforementioned Italian clothing sponsor with a Belgian cycling hero. Clearly there is a lot of respect in Italy for the Cannibal's achievements, this gran fondo even has a time trial segment named after him.

5. The pro race

Ride like a pro or Be a pro for a day. These terms are often used for various gran fondo events. Especially because for many, riding a gran fondo comes very close to real racing. Even more so when it is on the course of a pro race. The most famous example is of course the Tour de France. Every year, tour organizer A.S.O. designates a stage as a gran fondo, with an obvious name: L'Étape du Tour. This brand name has since been franchised and rolled out worldwide. But the only real one is the one in July in France.

Germany has a big advantage in terms of legislation. For sporting events, the public road must be completely closed. While this causes many problems in the Netherlands and Belgium, in Germany it all seems to go fine. Sufficient police deployment and very often a gran fondo for the pros. These so-called Jedermannrennen are unprecedentedly popular, super well organized and always entertaining. If you know the pro race, you know the name: Sparkassen Münsterland Giro, Rund um Köln, Škoda Velotour Eschborn-Frankfurt and the German version of L'Étape du Tour: the Cycling Tour. The latter takes place on Aug. 25 in Saarbrücken. Easily accessible and ideal to link to summer vacation plans.

And then there are the Italian spring and fall classics. Often a day before or after the pro race. The best-known are the Gran Fondo Strade Bianche, Milano-Sanremo (called Sanremo-Sanremo with finish on the Poggio), Tre Valli Varesine and Il Lombardia. New in this category is the American GFNY New York on May 19, 2024, where the pros will start 15 minutes before the gran fondo. Surely the beauty of the gran fondos in this category is: riding the course yourself, watching the pros and then comparing values, speeds and times. And then amaze yourself especially about the enormous power shown by the bread riders.

What about the specials?

From the five categories listed, of course, you can also make a nice bucket list: Ride a gran fondo in each category. Have you already checked off that list? Then let us know in a comment below.

Five categories and done you might think. But then there are the special cases. The cyclo's that you can't just put in a box or that deserve an honorable mention.

That's a nice subject for part 2 of this diptych about 'How do gran fondos get their names?

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