Roughly translated as “Big Ride,” a Gran Fondo is a long-distance road cycling event dating back to 1970s Italy. According to the Italian Cycling Federation, Fondos are mass-participation cycling events on scenic courses featuring multiple cyclists ranging from professionals to beginners.
Participants across Europe and Asia have participated, and now Tucson is getting its own.
The Tucson Gran Fondo is hosted by Ten55 Brewing and Sausage House, in conjunction with the Greater Arizona Bicycling Association, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the American Diabetes Association. In keeping with the traditional theme of being non-timed and non-competitive, cyclists can choose between three different course lengths: the 74-mile “Gran”, the-50 mile “Medio” or the 29 mile “Piccolo”.
“This is something we’ve always wanted to do,” said JP Vyborny, co-owner of Ten55. “It’s an event that reflects the Tucson community. There’s a lot of beer lovers here, as well as a lot of cyclists, and a lot of beer-loving cyclists.”
But in a city already known for its cycling, as well as hosting one of the largest road cycling events in the country, El Tour de Tucson, how is the Tucson Gran Fondo differentiating itself?
“The biggest difference is the casualness,” Vyborny said. “It’s not a race. It’s organized very much the same, but there’s less pressure.”
Ten55 created the Tucson Gran Fondo to bring together the local cyclist community and to celebrate downtown’s recent rebirth. While the cycling routes go alongside the I-10 and as far north as Oro Valley, the Gran Fondo also includes a block party on Scott Avenue, where the cyclists begin and end their rides.
Describing the block party as “Family, pet and craft beer fan friendly,” Ten55 will be selling their specialty old world beer selections and craft sausages.
“The starting line is essentially a big beer fest,” Vyborny said.
The “Gran” route is the longest, and also the most difficult. Over its 74 miles, it goes up north along the I-10, before cutting west on Tangerine Road toward Oro Valley and back South on North La Cañada Drive. Heading to and from the foothills means nearly 2,000 feet of altitude change. The 51-mile “Medio” covers roughly the same areas in only 50 miles, with 1,200 feet of altitude change. And the 29-mile “Piccolo” route stays south of the Rillito River wash, only experiencing 500 feet of altitude change.
Ten55 has planned Tucson Gran Fondo since early last year, and reached out to the Greater Arizona Bicycling Association to collaborate.
“Since it’s the first time we’re running an event like this, we teamed up with GABA, who have a lot of experience with these kinds of events,” Vyborny said.
The non-profit GABA hosts multiple cycling events around Tucson throughout the year, but the Tucson Gran Fondo is providing firsts for them.
“This is our first event where we have a beneficiary,” said Wayne Cullop of GABA. “We wanted to put on a ride, and hoped to put on a charity event as well.”
When the Tucson Tour de Cure, hosted by the American Diabetes Association, was cancelled, GABA saw their opportunity. Now, a portion of the proceeds benefit ADA.
“So far, it’s working out really well between us,” Cullop said.
Ten55 even commissioned special Gran Fondo cycling jerseys in commemoration of the big day. Though this is nothing new for the brewery, which has crafted a specialty American Amber Ale for the past few years: the Gran Fondo ale. Vyborny says he’s especially excited to finally pour the beer at a Gran Fondo event.
The Tucson Gran Fondo Block Party lasts from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, March 10, on Scott Ave, between Congress and Broadway. The block party is free to attend, with food and drinks available for purchase. For more information, and to register for the Tucson Gran Fondo ride, visit bikegaba.org.