MSU Gran Fondo Keeps on Rolling in Year Two

While gran fondos have been major amateur recreational cycling events in Europe (most notably Italy) for decades that draw thousands of participants, the “gran fondo” or “big ride” is relatively new to the American cycling scene. But within the span of just a few years, gran fondos have sprung up across the United States, from New York to San Francisco – drawing thousands of cyclists with diverse backgrounds in the sport that range from racers, to club riders, to the casual two-wheel enthusiast.

The gran fondo has now found its way to Grand Rapids. Last year, West Michigan experienced its first gran fondo with the MSU Gran Fondo benefitting MSU College of Human Medicine’s skin cancer research. It also was one of the first gran fondos in the Midwest. The MSU Gran Fondo celebrates its second year June 28, 2014.

So what is a gran fondo? Not a race but far more than an organized ride or tour, a gran fondo offers cyclists a combination of competitiveness and camaraderie decided upon by each individual. These are mass-start events, like all cycling races except time-trials, where riders leave together from the start line at the starter’s whistle or gun. While riders start together, they select their routes based on fitness and desire and ride at their own pace – from leisurely to highest sustainable speed. Gran fondos often provide electronic timing that riders can use to suit their personal goals (tracking against a personal best, against other riders, etc.).

1,500 riders participated in the first year of the MSU Gran Fondo. Here they are staged for the starter’s whistle in front of the Van Andel Arena and The B.O.B. in downtown Grand Rapids.

But there is more to a gran fondo than the ride itself. Gran fondos are cycling events whose rewards come in the parties that take place at the conclusion. After all, the original template for the gran fondo was created in Italy – so there has to be a party waiting just past the finish line that consists of good food and drinks.

Regarding the MSU Gran Fondo, our expectations for the inaugural year were reasonable. We thought 500 riders would be a decent showing for a first-year event. But just as gran fondos have performed everywhere else, the demand exceeded expectations. The MSU Gran Fondo was off to a blistering start, drawing 1,500 riders to the start line. A surge in registrations in the last week capped the rider limit and left hundreds more wishing that they hadn’t waited to register until the last day.

Beautiful routes took full advantage of the rolling countryside between Grand Rapids and the Lake Michigan shoreline (the turnaround point for the 80-mile route), offering MSU Gran Fondo participants spectacular and scenic roads with beautiful weather, punctuated by a brief shower. It was completed in true gran fondo style with a celebratory outdoor party for riders in downtown Grand Rapids at The B.O.B., a restaurant / pub / entertainment complex. Another finishing touch was a ringside seat for the finale of the Herman Miller Brickyard Criterium, a bicycle race on the central city streets of Grand Rapids featuring professional cyclists. This event will once again be part of the MSU Gran Fondo experience in 2014.

Gran Fondo 80-mile cyclist Jim Verlinde was last year’s top MSU Gran Fondo fundraiser. His efforts to benefit skin cancer research by the MSU College of Human Medicine earned him this exquisite Italian racing bicycle.

The MSU Gran Fondo set a record in its first year by becoming the largest cycling event in West Michigan history – and promises to once again reach or exceed that milestone this year. While the rider limit has increased, anyone wishing to participate in the event should register early to avoid missing out. The entry fee is $70 until June 15 and $80 after. Participants must raise a minimum of $50 to ride, with 100 percent of fundraising going toward skin cancer awareness, prevention and research. An online Participant Center offers easy-to-use tools and tips and helps participants generate fundraising emails. A number of fundraising prizes are donated by sponsors to reward rider efforts to support the cause.

Improvements and fine-tuning of routes, “Superfood Stops,” support services and entertainment promise to make this year’s MSU Gran Fondo even “grander” than last year’s “big ride.” And there’s still time to get involved! Visit for more information about registration, volunteering and fundraising. Hope to see you out there at the big ride!

Marc Dettman
Guest Blogger
Marc is a member of the MSU Gran Fondo executive committee and Bissell Masters cycling club team. An avid cyclist and outdoorsman, he is active in promoting and participating in cycling events throughout the Midwest.

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