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24-05-2022 | Frank Jansen

Gran fondo or sportive? Of these events we don't know (for sure) either.

At CycloWorld, we too regularly break our heads over certain events. Is it a gran fondo or a sportive? Or maybe an ultra?

What's what?

The definitions we use are clear in themselves. For a gran fondo (sometimes called cyclo, the French word), we use the following criteria:

  • Amateur race with award ceremony, classification and results
  • Time measurement over at least 50% of the course
  • Signage
  • Mass start (starting in pens after each other is allowed)

Everything that does not meet one or more of these criteria is not a gran fondo and therefore something else. Mostly a sportive:

  • Casual riding (no race), no results and no prize ceremony
  • No time registration
  • Signage and/or GPX navigation
  • No mass start

In addition, we have the category of ultra. This is a bit of a catch-all term, as we use it for several types of events. With or without race character. With or without supply or signposting. In any case, it is always a ride of at least 200 km, with no shorter distances possible.

However good your definitions are, there are always doubtful cases. We share a number of them with you. And also tell how we came to our final verdict.

1. Alpenbrevet 

The Alpenbrevet is one of the most famous tours in Switzerland. The event has a mass start, time measurement over the entire course and there is also a list of results. More precisely, you can look up your time on the website after the event. The event is signposted. But that's where it ends. There are no winners, no rankings and no award ceremony.

CycloWorld's verdict The reason there is no prize-giving ceremony is that the authorities do not want the event to have too much of a competitive character. They are afraid of pro-like behaviour, with the accompanying dangerous situations. Because it has all the characteristics of a gran fondo, we have appointed it as such. For that matter, exactly the same applies to the Tour du Mont Blanc.

Styrkeprøven (Trondheim-Oslo).

One of the most famous and toughest rides in the world. According to the organization, it is the oldest tour in the world (first organized in 1967). This is an amateur race and not a sportive, so with time measurement and classification. However, there is no mass start, because you start in groups. A staggering 568 km have to be covered, and also 3627 meters of climbing. You ride from Trondheim south to Olso, which immediately explains the alternative name of this event ("Trondheim-Oslo"). You can participate individually, but most riders choose to sign up as a team.

CycloWorld's verdict This event presents itself as a race. It is also part of the Gran Fondo WorldTour. Yet it does not meet all the criteria. There is no mass start, there are starting times. Moreover, most participants ride in teams, which is not usual in gran fondos. Both the race character and the accomplishment of long distances are central, and therefore we find it very difficult to choose between gran fondo and ultra. Instinctively, we tend more towards gran fondo, and that is therefore the choice fallen on.

3. Chasing Cancellara Flanders

An emerging type of event is a sportive where certain hills are timed. In this event that is also the case. The times on 6 hills are measured and added up to create a day winner. The starting procedure is somewhat different. Riders are given a certain starting time. The route is signposted.

CycloWorld's verdict? This event is the closest to a sportive, and also attracts a similar crowd. The event's focus is casual riding, the small competition element that there is, is a bonus. The 50% criterion is far from being achieved and there is no real mass start. That is why we have put this event in the calendar as a sportive.

4. Volta als Ports d'Andorra

The situation here is again slightly different than Chasing Cancellara Flanders. Here too, the time registration is limited to a selected number of hills, but in this case it concerns 5 longer hills which in total cover about 40% of the race route. Unlike the event above, there is a mass start, and there are also brevets (gold-silver-bronze).

CycloWorld's verdict Despite the fact that timekeeping is not achieved on 50% of the course, we still classify it as a gran fondo. Unlike Chasing Cancellara Flanders, the competition element is central here. More than 50% of the time you spend on the bike will be measured.

5. Chasing Cancellara Bern-Andermatt

This is a special event. You ride alone or in pairs from Bern to Andermatt. There is an element of competition, timekeeping and a result but there is no mass start. You could say that it is a time trial, because drafting is not allowed. Yet the event presents itself much more as a gran fondo than as a time trial. We know from experience that groups do form and that the organization does not make it difficult to do so.

CycloWorld's verdict This is a very tricky one. For now the event is in our calendar as a time trial but it remains debatable, because the event profiles itself much more as a gran fondo. Even an ultra would be possible, although that would be tricky since there is also a short course.

6. Kuurne Brussels Kuurne Cyclo, Gent-Wevelgem Cyclo, Ronde van Vlaanderen Cyclo, Gran Fondo Rosa, Gran Fondo Drenthe, Gran Fondo Brabant, and so on.

We don't need to discuss this at length. It's nice that these events have the word "cyclo" or "gran fondo" in their name, but they have no characteristics of a real gran fondo. So we don't even have to argue about this, we'll put them in the calendar as a sportive.

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