Inaugural Gran Fondo Philadelphia a ‘mass’-ive success

Good weather and excellent attendance

The inaugural Gran Fondo Colnago Philadelphia can be deemed a success. Some 1,700 cyclists took on the Italian-style mass-start group ride that kicked off in the heart of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Sunday.

“I try to maintain a conservative expectation but I have to say that all of our expectations were exceeded yesterday,” said co-founder Rob Klingensmith. “The weather was perfect, we had more entries than we had anticipated and it can be viewed as a huge success. It really shows how strong the cycling community is and their desire to have something that falls between a century ride and a race.”

The mass-start event was designed to bring together cyclist of all ability for three challenging routes: Gran Fondo 102 km, Medio Fondo 92 km and Piccolo Fondo 50 km.

All three groups gathered at the base of the stairs to the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Benjamin Franklin Boulevard and were lead on course by three Ferrari sports cars down River Drive and toward the Valley Forge National Park. The riders set off to the tune of Nessun Dorma by Pavarotti, the former anthem of the Giro d’Italia and a tradition adopted from the Prosecco Cycling Classic in Italy.

“One of the most gratifying was the start,” Klingensmith said. “To see 1700 cyclists lined up on closed streets in front of the Art Museum, lead by Ferraris and Agusta motorcycles with helicopters hovering over the field was just amazing. You had to pinch yourself that it was happening in downtown Philadelphia.”

“The Prosecco Cycling Classic director is a good friend of ours and while visiting his events we noticed that as Pavarotti’s voice rises and the gun goes off it is just so exciting and it underscores our Italian theme. With his blessing we adopted that and can add it to our events which we hope will become our Gran Fondo USA signature to have a mass-group, Ferrari lead-out, operatic start.”

There was a maximum of 7,000 feet of climbing with a King (and Queen) of the Mountain ascents located roughly 50 kms on the medium and long routes. The climb was just under two kilometres in length with grades that varied between 9 and to 11 percent totaling 367 vertical feet.

Ben Popper was presented with the King of the Mountain award for completing the ascent in a time of 4:13 minutes followed by runner up Bryan Sorrell with a time of 4:26 and James Laird in third place with a time of 4:28.

Sue Croswell won the Queen of the Mountain competition after riding the climb in 5:15 minutes followed by Kristin Patchell with a time of 5:20 and Cassandra King who reached the top in 5:29.

“Judging from the reactions and comments from the riders, we presented them with a very challenging course,” Klingensmith said. “One of the most consistently heard comments was, ‘oh my God, I didn’t know Philadelphia had so many hills.’ The Gran Fondo had so much climbing and that was unbelievable for people who are not from the area. There wasn’t one long climb but a succession of little, punchy uphills. It was really a tough course.”

Gran Fondo USA hosts three Italian-style group rides that kicked off at the Gran Fondo Colnago San Diego on March 7. Its success sparked the creation of two additional events with the Gran Fondo Colnago Philadelphia on August 8 and the Gran Fondo Colnago Los Angeles that will be held in early 2011.

“One of the city representatives was at the starting line and she said that there was clearly a significant economic impact and once they study that impact they will be hopeful that we will be back again next year,” Klingensmith said. “From our point of view, if the city will have us we will commit to coming back now because this was really a special venue.”

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