The Gran Fondo National Series (GFNS) comprises twelve exciting events held nationwide, taking the idea of the Gran Fondo and making it bigger, better, and more accessible than ever. The events are fast-filling with limited spots to ensure all riders get the best experience. The GFNS is nationwide, and while each event is its own unique experience, all events are united under the banner of the Gran Fondo National Series.
Riders can participate in any GFNS event with prizes awarded for the lowest cumulative time through a series of timed segments. Riders who compete in each fondo also earn points toward a shot at winning the title of the best overall GFNS rider.
Each GFNS event offers three distances: the Piccolo (~30 miles), the Medio, (~60 miles) and the Gran (~100 miles), providing experiences for first-timers, enthusiasts, and competitors.
Below: we take some time to ask Reuben Kline, director of all the GFNS events, a few questions about this incredible series of events.
What is the Gran Fondo National Series and how long has it been running?
We kicked off the Series in 2012 with our first event, the Gran Fondo National Championship, held in Frederick, Maryland, where we introduce our competitive four-timed-segment format. The following year, in 2013 we held six events and established the Series. The Series is a group of events that offer both a competitive and recreational experience, where cyclist of all abilities can compete at a level that matches their abilities and competitive goals. Series events are also very challenging and use beautiful routes that provide a sense of exploration for our riders. The Series competition is measured by a rider’s best three finishes across all the events in the Series; we recognize the Series winners by age-group.
How did the Gran Fondo National Series start?
At the time we started the series there were less than a half-dozen event that used the term gran fondo, all of which focused on competition in a King of the Mountains (KOM) type capacity. At the time I was working as a race director, producing more than a dozen multi-sport events, mostly triathlons. As a pure cyclist myself, admittedly I can’t swim and I don’t run, I saw a disparity that existed in competitive road cycling and excluded many people. Historically, competitive cycling in the USA has not been a user-friendly sport. Bicycle road racing has not provided an opportunity for the general population to participate. A need existed for a user-friendly road cycling outlet that was accessible to the general population and also fulfilled the competitive desires of cyclists. Over recent decades, multisport events such as triathlon, duathlon, and marathons have grown tremendously, while competitive cycling has not. These multisport events have provided a much more user-friendly competition and welcomed the general population to participate in a way cycling had not. There is no doubt a correlation between the participation growth we’ve seen in triathlons and marathons, and the user-friendly environment these sports provide. It was this perspective that inspired us to launch the Series. I started calling cycling friends around the country, who I knew shared the passion for the sport as well as the passion to seek out exceptional riding. A handful of us connected over the shared vision and started working to make it happen.
What are the primary locations where the rides will take place this year, and how were these spots chosen?
For 2018 the Gran Fondo National Series will include the seven core event that founded the Series, as well as five additional partner events. The seven core event in the Series were chosen based on the quality of riding in the location along with a personal connection to a person in the area who was inspired to share the sport they love. The five partnered events were chosen in pretty much the same way. The quality and uniqueness of terrain is a key element for our events. Our time section format allows us to take riders on an exploratory experience, to utilize roads and terrain that inspire our riders to embrace the challenge presented. This season our locations include:
- March 3-4: Malibu Gran Fondo*, Malibu
- March 24-25 :Gran Fondo Florida, San Antonio, FL
- May 5-6: Tour of Georgia Gran Fondo, Helen, GA
- June 2: Fast Freddie Challenge*, San Sebastopol, CA
- June 3: Highlands Gran Fondo, Butler, NJ
- July 22: Gran Fondo Asheville, Asheville, NC
- August 4: Boone Gran Fondo, Boone, NC
- August 4: Tour de Big Bear HC Gran Fondo*, CA
- August 5: Blue Water International Gran Fondo*, Sarnia, Ontario, Canada
- August 16-19: Vermont Challenge*, Manchester, Bondville & Sunderland, VT
- August 26: Golden Gran Fondo, Golden, CO
- September 23: Gran Fondo Maryland, Frederick, MD (Gran Fondo National Championship)
(*Indicates a GFNS partner event)
How do you divide up responsibilities for such a large series? Are there individual event directors for each ride?
I manage the seven core events in the Series directly, which is more than enough work. Fortunately, I’ve had great support from friends, family, and people who share the passion to help construct and produce these events and make them great! The core Series events were established with a personal cycling friend local to each area. This season we’ve partnered with Haute Route, the world’s most prestigious multi-day event series for amateur cycling. This strategic partnership has helped us expand the series and coordinate shared benefits for our riders across all Series events. Partnered events were established independently and are directed by the people who have produced them in the past. We collaborate with and share ideas and focus on our common goal to promote the sport we love, and to define elements for the integration of the events to count as points events in the Series.
How do you ensure the quality and consistency that your participants have come to expect across your series?
The concern for this consistency is the primary reason we created the seven core events in the Series from scratch. Had we partnered with events from the start, it would have been more difficult to establish the defining elements and unique character of the Gran Fondo National Series. Throughout the Series’ past five seasons, we’ve maintained a consistent event-staff who have built personal relationship with our riders and with each other. It’s created a bit of a central family which has also helped create a synergy and energy unique to the events. Along with the assessment of the demographic, terrain, and quality of production, part of the vetting process for partnered events has been to assess how professionally the events are conducted, and to learn about the philosophy behind the events’ creation.
What do you think brings riders back to your events year after year?
The Fun! We have a lot of repeat riders who return each year and participate in multiple events. We’ve had five riders complete the full Series, riding all events in the same season. We simply do our best and genuinely care about each rider. We strive to make our events better each year and to look at each rider as a partner integral to our success. We’re there to push our riders outside their comfort zones, while at the same time helping our riders accomplish their goals. I think the quality of our routes and the difficulty of our events lead to a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment to our finishers, and that leads them to not only return to events year after year but also try new Series events.
Do you have any advice for budding event directors looking to make their events larger, or looking to put on a series with lots of moving pieces?
Always look at your participants as your most important partners; always put them first. Constructing a series from scratch is a lot of work, and trying to control central elements with partners can also create challenges. Having a calendar full of event dates is complicated; make sure you know when other events are, but once you choose dates try to stick with them and not move them around thinking you’re going to find better ones. The focus needs to be clear and unique; while it’s important to be flexible, you really need to start with a clear plan.
Why did you decide to make the events gran fondos?
The term gran fondo has been used in various capacities, I define a gran fondo as a long distance cycling event that is both competitive and recreational, and our events are just that. The half-dozen events that used the term gran fondo at the time we established the Series were a basis for the concept.
When did you add in the timed sections? What has been the rider response to these ‘mini-races’ within your events?
It was the time segment format that inspired me to launch the series. Along with this was the advance in timing equipment to allow cyclists to be accurately timed at high speeds. I should note that we use electronic timing equipment to capture times; GPS times are simply not accurate or reliable. The timed segment break what I refer to as the “peloton-dependency of road racing”. Timed segment allow riders to compete against riders at their level while meeting and riding with riders of all abilities during the same event. You don’t need to be in the front group to compete. The time-segments are one of the defining elements of the experience and actually increase the social interaction between riders. The change of pace inspires riders to share stories and connect; the segments add fun to the event.
How did you decide on your 3 distances?
Our primary goal has been to create a format that is welcoming to riders of all abilities. To do this it was just natural to offer the three distances. Our tag line “Believe in the Bike” is a philosophy and personal realization for me; I can’t imagine my life without the great friends and experiences the bike has provided me. I want to share that opportunity with others, and offering the three distance and the time segment format is the best way I know how to do that.
Back in November you announced a partnership with Haute Route, tells us about this partnership.
Creating the Series is not something I could have accomplished alone. I’ve been the main person behind the Series, but so may other people have help make it possible. It really amazes me to think of all the people who have believed in me and supported me, help me organize, help me permit, help me execute events, and especially those who came out and rode with us. Those who’ve believed in my dream… to give riders an opportunity to go outside of their comfort zone and experience the best cycling has to offer. The relationship with Haute Route is the latest extension of this support.
After spending several days riding bikes together in France, I was at the top on Mount Ventoux with Alain Lambert, Chairman of Haute Route North America, and Alain noted something to the effect of, “It feels great to have someone identify with and confirm a passion that’s so central to one’s own vision.” It was a comment that spoke to how he felt as well as how I felt, and I believe exemplifies the relationship. It is with immense pride and admiration that I approach my new partnership with Haute Route. I have always wanted to take the GFNS further and provide an opportunity to riders who want more, who want to experience all cycling can be. This is a philosophy and perspective the crew at Haute Route also holds; together we will make cycling in America better! Working together creates a large scale effort to promote participation in competitive road cycling that has ever happened in North America. I’m excited to be part of that effort!
In addition to working together to grow the Series, the shared relationship with Haute Route has inspired two great benefits for all our riders.
- In a mutual effort to advocate for and promote youth cycling, GFNS and Haute Route have created a U23 campaign which allows any rider under 23 to register for any GFNS event for $23. Riders under 23 can register by using the coupon code U23@GFNS.
- Participants in 2018 GFNS events will have the option to credit their entire entry fee toward any 2018 Haute Route three-day or seven-day event worldwide. Likewise, all riders signed up for a 2018 Haute Route event can take advantage of a free entry into one 2018 GFNS event.
Can you tell us more about Haute Route?
Haute Route launched their first event, Haute Route Alps, in 2011; a seven day adventure through some of the most historically significant terrain in cycling. The company’s aim to provide amateur cyclists with a top-notch event experience has been embraced widely across Europe. Haute Route offers 7-day and 3-day events, and like GFNS events they focus on providing a competitive space for cyclists to challenge themselves and experience what it’s like to go big, step outside of their comfort zone, and see what they can personally accomplish. Last year, Haute Route launched their first event in North America with the Mavic Haute Route Rockies. This year they will host a total of four multiday road cycling events in the US, including San Francisco, Asheville, and Utah. During our conversations last year, I had the opportunity to participate in two Haute Route event: Rockies, and Mont Ventoux. The experience was great and the events were very well run. In fact, perhaps the only downside of working with Haute Route is that I will be working to produce events with them this season, and won’t get the chance to ride them myself!
To check out more regarding these great events, visit their event websites:
Thanks to Reuben, for the taking the time to answer our questions!