Amazing Italians On two wheels

Gran Fondos are booming in Lombardy, and RCS played the bad boy

This Sunday, Lago di Como will finally have its own Gran Fondo. Ehm, actually two. And there was beef between them.

Today, Lago di Como provides the scenery for one of Italy’s most beautiful cycling events, the Race of the Falling Leaves – Il Lombardia. It’s one of cycling’s monuments (a label we give to the most important and most historic one-day races, i.e. Milan-San Remo, Ronde van Vlaanderen, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and Il Lombardia). Il Lombardia the only one of them that takes place in fall, as the other four are traditionally finished before even the Giro d’Italia starts in May. Traditionally, it’s the end of the season – except that now it’s maybe more the highlight of the three weeks of racing that are left after the World Championships.

Unlike many big Italian one-day races, Il Lombardia to this year went without a Gran Fondo. Milan – San Remo has one. Strade Bianchi has one. Even Tre Valle Varesine has one.

“What is a Gran Fondo? Gran Fondo is an Italian term which loosely translates to “Big Ride”. Gran Fondo’s are mass participation cycling events that have enjoyed incredible popularity in Europe for decades and have become popular in North America, Asia, Australia and increasingly, worldwide.” – From Gran Fondo Guide

Most of them publish a results list. So, they are races. Certainly at the front. For other people, they are more of a group ride on traffic-free roads.

On top of Gran Fondos which are connected with pro races, there is a large number of independent ones. Some of them attract hundreds of people even from abroad. In Lombardy, for instance, Bergamo hosts Gran Fondo Felice Gimondi. And even Milan just hosted its inaugural Granfondo two weeks ago – this one clearly positioned as a race-oriented event in the flats that constitute my training ground. It’s almost safe to say that any valley and any lake in the Italian Alps at some point over the year will be part of a Gran Fondo.

Any valley and any lake. But up to this year, there was one notable exception: Lago di Como.

Finally, some committed cyclists from Lecco (that’s a small town at the Southeastern end of Lago di Como) announced a Gran Fondo for the 8th of October, the day after Il Lombardia. The original route of the Don Guanella Gran Fondo had planned to go from Lecco towards Bellagio, then climb the Madonna di Ghisallo, continue with the Colma di Sormano, and then return to Lecco. Basically, it would have been a Gran Fondo taking the highlights of Il Lombardia on the weekend of Il Lombardia to celebrate Il Lombardia.

Then came Il Lombardia. Or better, RCS, the organizers of Il Lombardia, and announced their own Gran Fondo. The route would go from Como towards Bellagio, then climb the Madonna di Ghisallo, continue with the Colma di Sormano, and then return to Como.

Oh, and obviously, they picked the 8th of October.

To be clear here: This is understandable behavior from a business perspective, but it’s absolutely not in the spirit of sportsmanship. Sure, if there is to be a Gran Fondo on the route of Il Lombardia, you want it to be under your control, to carry your brand name, and to add to your profits. (Registration fees are typically high and compensate more than only the cost of hosting these events. That’s why they are booming, obviously.) I completely get that. But I think there would have been more collaborative ways in achieving that than apparently there have been. Italian cycling forums discuss this topic and RCS does not really get the sympathy bonus in this conflict.

But at the same time, I understand from the comments that the majority now will join RCS’s Gran Fondo Il Lombardia, because this one will actually go over the more meaningful route. So the move was successful. The GF Don Guanella instead lost out to the power and pressure of the RCS organization and developed a route on the Eastern shore of Lago di Como. It’s not a bad one. But I am thinking that at Lago di Como, the co-occurrence of both events on the same Sunday inevitably means that for some part of the day there is absolutely no space left to reach any place by car. I actually give credit to the local authorities that they accepted that.

I remain skeptical with regard to 2018. At this point, I have some doubts if the GF Don Guanella will survive beyond its inaugural edition. Certainly not at this date.

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