2022 UCI Gran Fondo World Championships Review
Sportive Breaks’ own Chris Breckon qualified for the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships and took part in Trento recently. Here’s his report on how he got on.
On September 13th I travelled to Trento, Italy to take part in the 2022 UCI Gran Fondo World Championships and I chose to book the trip with Sportive Breaks as the Tour Operator and support team. After returning back to England with weary legs and enough event-related cycling stories to last me through the winter season it’s a good time to write a review of the trip and record the thoughts and share some of the experience and hopefully inspire or inform other cyclists looking for their next challenge or goal for 2023….
The story behind the “UCI Gran Fondo series”
As a brief background for those who are not aware of the Gran Fondo style of event, or who did not know about the UCI Gran Fondo series, it can be summarised fairly easily. The Gran Fondo name comes from Italian and is essentially the same as the Sportive from the French or the Century ride from other countries. Gran Fondo events are usually single day mass participation events that take place on closed roads, are fully timed on a challenging route. Most events are designed to be a test for even the fittest and most experienced road cyclist racer, but they are also open to the beginner or less experienced cyclists who want to ride to complete rather than ride to compete.
Other popular cycling events that share the Gran Fondo style of racing are Gran Fondo Nove Colli, the Marmotte, the Etape du Tour etc. Check out all Sportives and Gran Fondo events that are available with Sportive Breaks here -> Sportives – Sportive Breaks
With a fully timed route, no neutralised descents, no untimed feed zones, and a podium with reasonable prize amounts the Gran Fondo race circuit in Europe is very strong. Many well-known ex-Pros choose to continue their race days and benefit from the financial winnings. These events are pure bike racing, everyone rides from the moment the gun goes off, no timing chip delays for the rear of the pen. You are racing from the first minute for as long as you choose to hang on!
The UCI Gran Fondo World Series and Championships
The UCI is the governing association of cycling and in 2011 they created the UCI Gran Fondo World Series. The idea is to unite a range of Gran Fondo or amateur one day road bike races all over the world into a series of UCI sanctioned events. The best 20% finishers in each age group from each qualifying event are then invited to compete in the annual World Championship Gran Fondo. The location of this event moves around every year. Similar to how the Elite Professional Road race World Championships are organised.
In August 2023 the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships will be held in Glasgow and is set to be unique as this will be the first time the UCI has held 12 different cycling categories in one location. The amateur world championships for Road and Time Trial will be held in the same period and same locations as the Pro Elite World Championships. To have all these UCI cycling races organised together is going to be an amazing event and definitely one to put in the calendar for any bike racing fan or competitor.
The Qualifying Events and how to plan for your best chance to represent your country
Back at the end of 2021 when the announcement was made by the UCI that this year’s Gran Fondo World Championships would be held in Trento, Italy I knew I had to be there. I had previously done the “Gran Fondo Charly Gaul” in Trento which the event would be very similar to, so I knew the climbs, I knew the town, and I knew what a great place it would be to spend a few days acclimatising and enjoying the Italian atmosphere and food!
As someone more suited to climbing I looked through the UCI Gran Fondo qualification events and saw that the hilly Gran Fondo Cyprus was probably more my type of route than something like the flat Tour of Cambridgeshire or the Spinneys Dubai. The good thing is there is quite likely to be a qualifying event in the calendar that will suit most types of riders, from fast groups riding and sprinting that is normal at the flatter events, or the long climbs and fast technical descents that I found in Cyprus.
So with my top 20% age group qualification secured at the Gran Fondo Cyprus in early April I was safe to count down the days and look forward to the Italian event in September!
Check out all qualifying events here – www.ucigranfondoworldseries.com
Go with a Tour Operator and take the hassle out, but also enjoy the surprising benefits
As with many previous bike events I have booked I knew right away that going with a Tour Operator has massive advantages and is always well worth the extra financial expense compares to trying to arrange things yourself and self-manage the trip. I had ridden the Etape du Tour with Sportive Breaks so I knew they were experienced and very familiar with how these events operate and what the competitors will need from a support team.
For us on the Sportive Breaks Trento trip we had the incredible privilege of our tour group leader being Andrea Ferrigato. Andrea is an Italian ex-Pro and a winner of a stage of the Giro d’Italia in the mid 90’s. Not only that Andrea is also local to this area, so he knew the roads and area perfectly. Andrea brought his own team of mechanics to support the group, who were themselves Italian national team mechanics. These guys have worked with the likes of Filippo Ganna and many other current top riders. We had two-time Giro d’Italia winner Gilberto Simoni randomly walk into the hotel and say hello to our group at dinner one evening.
Having done many events over the last 15 years I can say the two mechanics we had were the most attentive and supportive I have ever seen. From offering to build the guests bikes from the boxes on arrival to daily washing and bike checks, they offered to assist where they could. Examples of the work they did was essential mechanic work like swapping cassettes for a bigger block, or in one case a tubeless tyre replacement at the side of the road whilst the rider was allowed to go to the cafe and relax! They had a mobile workshop set up outside the hotel every day and were constantly asking if everyone’s bikes needed any work, great thanks to Enrico and Tommi!
With such great mechanical support and with Andrea Ferrigato leading the recon rides that the group did in the days before it was like a training camp and event trip all in one week, the ideal situation and preparation, and I always recommend to everyone to allow two or three days riding at the location before a big event, if the time allows it. A few riders in our group found their bikes would need adjusting due to the course, so either a new larger cassette or new brake blocks fitted etc, it’s all part of the adjustment period that a longer trip with recon rides will allow for.
The Time Trial
As part of the UCI Gran Fondo events, there is also an Individual Time Trial event, usually of around 20km to 30km and flat. This event is suited to a regular Time Trial racer, and you can qualify by finishing in the top 20% in your age group at any of the UCI Time Trial Qualifying events. Doing so will reward you with an invite to race at the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships in the Time Trial event which is held a day or two before the Gran Fondo event.
In our Sportive Breaks party in Trento, we had a good group who qualified for the Time Trial but most of us who were riding the Gran Fondo event. We got to spend the day taking in the atmosphere and seeing the large start and finish area that the UCI had constructed. Our Italian support team was again set up at the start and ready to deal with any last-minute emergencies or panics. Someone forgot their transponder, so Andrea raced back through the town on his bike to collect it! All riders also benefitted from a private warm-up tent with Turbo Trainers and help with all the final preparations that might be needed.
Being part of a team
Even though there were riders from different nationalities in the group with Sportive Breaks, there was a great team spirit.
Another major advantage of being with the Tour Group is that you can enjoy all the social aspects. We had some riders with top results at the Time Trial in our group and we all celebrated together at the hotel over the evening dinner. The hotel included the evening meals, so it meant that we had a really good atmosphere every evening at the team table. The social element was really enjoyable in our group, new friends and new contacts from around the globe were made!
The Gran Fondo
The Gran Fondo World Championships route for Trento was a climber’s delight, 144km with 3900m elevation, so we were speculating a target time of sub 6 hours would be a good result. One aspect of the UCI Gran Fondo series that is worth noting is that women aged over 50 and men aged over 60 have to ride the “Medio Fondo” which in Trento was 87km and 2200m elevation. So for Trento all riders of all age groups had the exact same first 50km approximately, but the Medio Fondo riders then turned and headed to the finish line, whilst the Gran Fondo riders continued on for another loop around the mountain. I know some of the guys who were aged over 60 but would have ridden a very competitive Gran Fondo time but were not allowed to, which was a shame for them. Although from a personal point of view when I arrived at the 50km turning off point I would probably have chosen it if I was given the choice! The legs really starting to suffer and the sight of other riders turning to make the 10km downhill back to Trento is hard not to make you feel envious!
Personally, I loved the route, and my initial thoughts that I had back in 2021 about the course being a “must do” for me where well founded. The event featured a mass group start with the 150 other riders in my age group. All riders were wearing their national kit and colours on their jerseys. With a 3-minute gap between the next age group behind, we raced along from the start. No easy wheel following here as everyone was jostling for position at 50kmh. Riders were carving the corners on the route out of the town and into the long 10km valley road that led to the foot of the first major challenge, a 20km climb with at around 7% average but with several sections nearer to 10%.
What followed were a few incredible almost completely straight descents where, as a group we hit over 80kmh several times. After this there was a rolling section through pretty Italian country villages plus one last massive 18km climb to the summit of Monte Bondone before a final loop down and then up again. The joy of getting to the top of the last climb and turning for Trento with its 10km twisty technical but exhilaratingly fast descent was a great feeling and entering the final 200m finishing straight on my own with the crowd cheering on either side was brilliant!
See you all in Glasgow 2023
Everyone in our Sportive Breaks group had a great time, and we all enjoyed exchanging stories from the ride at the celebratory dinner on the Sunday evening at the Hotel. And as a sign of how good the trip was, we have all agreed to keep in touch and make plans for qualifying events for Glasgow 2023. Great fun and I really hope to see the other guys there. Obviously, the route in Glasgow will be different but I’m sure I will know a lot of familiar faces from the Trento 2022 trip.
Thanks to Andrea, Enrico, and Tommi for the help support and guidance over the week, hopefully we will all see you again on the road at some point, grazie mille ragazzi!