Echelon Gran Fondo host five challenging mass-start rides

Fort Collins event serves as UCI Amateur World Championship qualifier

Echelon Gran Fondo is quickly becoming one of the largest of mass-start group ride series in the US. The third round of the five-round series — held in Fort Collins, CO — includes qualification races for the International Cycling Union (UCI) Amateur Road and Time Trial World Championships.

The 2011 amateur championships will be held 9-11 September in Belgium on parts of the famed Liege-Bastogne-Liege route.

“I’m trying to give people the experience of riding in a European tour, such as the Tour de France with all the fanfare and frivolity that you see at those events,” said Hunter Ziesing, who founded of the Echelon Gran Fondo series in 2009. “We serve really good food with sandwiches and freshly made pastries at the rest stops and we have a 10 to 15-mile rolling enclosure.”

This year each event offers three challenging routes of varying distances — 48km, 100km or 160km — where each will include plenty of climbing for the avid cyclist and generally one timed climb per event. “It is not a race but we have helicopters above, police escorts and a semi-closed road,” Ziesing told BikeRadar.

The series is set to kick off at the Napa Gran Fondo in California on May 21where cyclists will ride through the scenic vineyards along the Silverado Trail and over Pope Valley toward the final climb of the day up Ink Grade. Next up is the Seattle Gran Fondo held in Washington on July 23; this event also includes a Super Gran Fondo Course that finishes up a 5,500ft climb.

The series continues at the Fort Collins Festival and Gran Fondo in Colorado on August 19-21. The three-day event will begin with an UCI-sanctioned road race and time trial for the most serious competitors; the event offers nine separate age categories. The sanctioned races act as qualifiers for the (UCI) Amateur Road and Time Trial World Championships in September.

Throughout the 2011 season the UCI World Cycling Tour (UWCT) offers 15 UCI-sanctioned qualifiers held in seven different countries. The top 10 percent of each qualifier will have an automatic spot to compete in the (UCI) Amateur Road and Time Trial World Championships. “We are sticking to the pure race format for the qualifier with a full race course and each category will race separately,” Ziesing. “It is a cool idea and it is brand new. The qualifier is not a part of the Gran Fondo but it is run separately.”

The Fort Collins routes include the qualifiers, made up of the 28km Raw Hide Time Trial on Friday followed by the challenging 113km Rist Canyon Road Race on Sunday.

The weekend concludes with the Echelon Gran Fondo that will bring riders over notorious Rist Canyon.

The penultimate event is the Palo Alto Challenge and Gran Fondo, which will be held in California on September 17. This event offers the standard three routes, as well as a short circuit open for 12 hours and for cyclists of all types.

The series concludes at the Hood River Gran Fondo in Oregon on September 24 where riders will climb up and over Mt. Hood and pass views of the River Gorge. Next spring, a sixth event in Tucson, Arizona will kick off the series.

Echelon Gran Fondo is partnered with Livestrong and local cancer institutes to raise funds for cancer survivors, treatment and research. In addition, each event location benefits a local charity.

“The cause is one of the biggest attractions,” Ziesing said. “The participants really love it because they can fund raise for their local cancer centers.”

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