Your challenge for 2018: Choose the Gran Fondo that suits you

The number of Gran Fondo events on offer is growing all the time, with the leading sportives (L’Étape du Tour, Gran Fondo New York, Haute Route) all organizing parallel events around the world. Here’s a guide to what’s happening in 2018.

If you fancy a spectacular weekend in the mountains. Having pioneered the idea of prestigious, week-long sportives since 2012, Haute Route is now diversifying into three-day weekend events, in the mountains, of course. Eight are being offered in 2018. In Europe, we’d recommend the event being staged at Bormio, at the foot of the Stelvio Pass in the Italian Dolomites in early June. At $655 (excluding travel and accommodation, but including numerous ancillary services), it’s an ideal way to start the summer, if you have the resources (both physical and financial).

San Francisco in April; Asheville, North Carolina in May; L’Alpe d’Huez in July; Norway in August; Utah and back to the Dolomites in September; and the Mont Ventoux in October complete the Haute Route long-weekend offer. For those more interested in the weekly sportives, the Rocky Mountains, French Alps and Pyrenees are all there waiting for you…

If you want to be like the Tour de France riders. For the first time, the Tour de France will take the peloton on a gravel section – lasting just two kilometers – as it crosses the Glières plateau in Haute-Savoie. It will also feature in this year’s L’Étape du Tour on July 8. The stage is a tough one: 160 kilometers (100 miles), 3,500 meters of elevation, four mountain passes in Haute-Savoie – all with a broadly similar profile. The Croix-Fry, Glières, Romme and La Colombière aren’t particularly long (7 to 12 kilometers each), but they’re all very steep – with a 15% gradient at Glières.

There are still a few dozen places available for L’Étape among the official tour operators, such as Ronan Pensec Travel. To get an idea of what lies in store, have a look at the video of Franck Schleck and Team Movic reconnoitering the stage in October. For those living far from the French Alps, ASO is developing its “L’Étape by Le Tour” concept even further afield, creating about a dozen events from Central America to South East Asia.

If your dream would be to do the Gran Fondo New York… in Jerusalem. The Campagnolo GFNY Championship in New York City has become a highlight fixture in mass participation cycling. This year’s edition, to be held May 20, starts as usual from the Washington Bridge, before heading over to New Jersey and on to Bear Mountain, north of the Big Apple. There and back is a demanding 100-mile round trip. Registration is open until January 31, for $299, which includes a GFNY fluorescent green race jersey.

What’s new about the GFNY is the number of licensed franchise events around the world – 14 of them in 2018 – from Bali in February to Chile in December. And on April 27, the GFNY will be in Jerusalem. To choose the event that might suit you, check out this video.

If you have your eye on a rainbow shirt. The International Cycling Union couldn’t bear to get left behind by the Grand Fondo phenomenon, and has come up with its own UCI World Series circuit, featuring 20 events on all five continents. The series draws to a close with a finale at Varese, Italy in early September and a rainbow jersey will be given to the winner of each category. Is that the kind of challenge you’re looking for?

If you’re willing to spend some serious money… Then maybe the World Association of Cycling Events (WACE) Tour is the one for you. It features six major events – including the Cape Town Cycle Tour, the Five Boro Bike Tour of New York, the Prudential Ride London and L’Étape du Tour – but you have to ride all six (and finish them) to appear in the final classification. Based on a minimum budget for travel and accommodation, you’ll need to spend about $12,000.

Or if you’re on a very tight budget… and you’re coming out of the European winter in fairly good shape, how about the famous cobbled roads of Flanders (We Ride Flanders, March 31) or the Paris-Roubaix (April 7)? Allow up to €60 for the registration fees. Alternatively, you could try the fresh air (and all the challenges) of the Swiss Alps with the multi-format Tour des Stations in the Valais region on August 11, part of which is included in the Look Marmotte Gran Fondo Series. Another Swiss option is the scenic Alpenbrevet cycle race on August 25. The start line at Meiringen is less than an hour’s drive south of Berne and Zurich.