A Tale of Two Gran Fondos

I just ran across a new race (for me) today and thought I’d take a look. A few clicks later I exited the site, scratching my head. Here’s why.

CaptureI am entered in a race in April called a ‘Gran Fondo’, a name that means ‘cyclosportive, but in Italian, so cooler’. Here are the basics of my Gran Fondo:

  • Place: St. Tropez, France 
  • Distance: 179 km
  • Included: ‘Pasta party’, goody bag, etc. 
  • Price: €48 (about $63)

960034489-2And this is the Gran Fondo I discovered this morning.

  • Place: New York City
  • Distance: 177 km
  • Included: Jersey (that you must wear on the day!), a few other things, like food at the end of the race.
  • Price: $278 (€210)

That’s a 330% difference. I had to re-read the cost a couple of times before it registered. I wonder if any of my North American friends can tell me what they usually pay for their races? I remember Rob paid a fair amount for the Axel Merckx one last summer, too.

maillot2In France I usually pay around €30 for a local race (all include hot lunches at a minimum; some throw in a free jersey like the one I got last weekend, for example) and the most I’ve ever forked out was for the 3 Etapes du Tour I’ve done – €108 ($143), I think. That’s with all the trimmings and roads closed to traffic.

Is the average Joe being priced out of races in North America or is the Gran Fondo New York an anomaly?

35 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Gran Fondos

  1. Highway robbery. That said, having organized many sporting events in the past, the costs to put on an race are crazy over here in North America (ie. insurance, police fees, road closures fees, emergency medical services, cycling association fees, timing company, food preparation services, etc. etc. etc). Either France doesn’t have these fees, or the amounts are very small by comparison. Regardless, Gran Fondos over here are crazy expensive.

    • I’m sure one difference is scale. The local races here have several hundred riders, where the big Gran Fondos over there seem to be in the thousands. Not sure what the costs are for the things you mentioned, but most of them are included in the price of registration (don’t see many cops in the smaller ones, though). I’ll bet there are a lot of volunteers involved, too. The Broom Wagon brothers Karsten and I met two years ago did it ‘for fun’, for example. I know one thing. If you tried to charge €200 for a one-day race in France, there’d be a revolution.

  2. Most of the cyclos I’ve done in France have several hundred to several thousand riders, La Marmotte has 7000 and is around 50 euros if I remember correctly. The roads are not closed for these (except for l’Etape du Tour), but there are people at every round about to secure traffic as every cyclists goes through. I personally haven’t felt that road closures greatly increase the security in any case, as most of the danger is from the other thousands of cyclists all blasting out of the start line at the same time.

    The colnago in St Tropez in April is a nice one, and is smaller than some of the others. It’s on a scale with the Charly Berard in Nice (same weekend this year I think). The one in Nice has more climbing.

    Actually in France, the licensed local races are typically 5 euros with an annual licence cost of ~60 euros. Most people consider the cyclos (or granfondo’s as the recent naming trend calls them) too expensive at 50 euros. For sure 200 euros would ensure only foreigners vacationing in France would sign up.

    I assume in New York they are simply attempting to follow the for profit marathon model (~$300). But, to me, that only only works because it’s the most popular marathon in the world. Hard to believe they’ll get many takers for a first year granfondo at that price. Maybe it’s sheer lack of other options?

    • I think one in NY has been going for a few years now, Rich, so perhaps they know they can charge that much and get away with it. I have no idea what’s happening back home now, but I hope that not all these things are for profit. Cycling is expensive enough as it is.

      That’s really interesting about people here thinking the cyclos are too expensive. Proof again that all is relative. I always wondered why I almost never see young riders in these things in France, so maybe there’s my answer – they are all doing the €5 races.

  3. Hey Gerry, I plan on riding two centurion races here in Canada. One is 100K and the other is 160K. No road closures and police are placed at the main towns but not too much on the route. Based on your findings these are a pretty good deal considering they do provide food and beverages along the route as well as a end of ride meal. They are both priced at $109.00 each, That’s an early bird registration Fee. I think that’s a fair number for a timed racing event for North America.

    • Sounds more reasonable, for sure, Pierre. I guess it all comes down to what you are comfortable pay, or at least what you’re used to. I do 5 or 6 of these things a year, so I was just wondering if I’d be paying $1000 or more just in race fees if I lived back home. Yeouch.

  4. Maybe the Big Apple has more appeal than he cote d azure??? The only “Grand Fondo” I’ve done is Robbie McEwans on the Gold Coast. Jersey, refreshment stops along the route, 102 k’s, lots of climbing, and $120. Bargain! Hope this helps 🙂

    • That’s reasonable, but I doubt they need closed roads where you are. Hope there’s a pasta party afterwards, at least. Good luck with the training. Looking forward to reading your results.

  5. I’m signed up for “ride the rockies. Two years ago it was $350 this year $500. 7days of colorado riding, sleeping in gyms, all the gatorade and bananas you can handle,jersey,they also haul your luggage, have seminars and free mechanical repairs.

    • More than good for a 7-day race, I’d say. The Haute Route we’re doing this summer is magnitudes more expensive…but it comes with its own masseuses! I’m Googling ‘ride the rockies’ right now…

  6. hey cycling is the new golf..
    its all part of the Bandwagon bull…t .
    I like the way in France that you can still do sportive or Randonee with a sign fee of a token €5 and still get fed and watered on roads marked with arrows
    You know someone is coining it when its €50 or more to go ride your bike on open free roads
    and how can the other guys put on the same thing (basically) and still only for €5
    I remember not very long ago when we were begging people to come out to ride in groups
    what about “here sign this disclaimer ….. now good luck enjoy the ride”

    $ean Kelly has 5 tours/sportive’s here around Ireland every with 2000+ taking part in each of them@ €50 a head
    Good man $ean

    • Sean never shies away from telling the truth about money and cycling. I remember him saying once that the reason he raced so much, compared to everyone else in the peloton, was because he wanted the money. Coming from his background I don’t blame him.

      But yeah, sportives on open roads (admittedly the NY one is not) have no right charging that much.

  7. The grand fondo (called a cyclosportif) that I rode here (Massachusetts, north of NYC) last year was $85. It was the UCI qualifier. This year the qualifier is in Putnam, sort of the metropolitan NYC area (but not starting in the city) and the fee is … $85.

    The general cultural/economic rule here is charge as much as you can get away with, and those big bike events are popular. If enough people play, I mean pay, the fees keep going up. The only randonnée I rode, 100k, fee was $10. No closed roads, no support. Pizza at the finish. It was fun.

    BTW, You aren’t really telling me you might have flown over here to ride that had the fee been lower, were you???!!

    • Ha! No, I wasn’t considering it at all, Suze. Just shocked at the price and it got me thinking. That being said, I’ve decided to try and time my next visit back home with an event of some sort. I really want to see what the difference is in organization, ‘feel’, etc. between Europe and N. America.

  8. Hi!

    just to compare: Cyclosportives in Germany (like Hamburg cyclassics) are about 70Euros. between 2000 and 20000 riders. you get closed roads. and individual placings and times. like marathons. Then there are Club organized events
    a) Amateur Races
    b) every Club does at least one RTF (Rad Touristk Fahrt) a year. The Road is not closed, there is no time measured. But you have distances between 40 km an 220 km, little Roadsigns and every 30 km a stop with food an drinks. The fun ist to ride in nice places with a lot of other riders. Up to abaout 1000. These events ar about 6 to 10 Euros. In winter its similar, but Cross Country. With MTB or Cyclocross Bikes and up to 100 km

  9. Thats why I bought a racing licence. Its just over £20 a year and each race is about £10. I think lots of people ride these cyclo sportives/gran fondos etc. because they think they are races. I know plenty treat them as though they are races. They are not and legally they are not supposed to be (In the UK anyway).
    I think Its better to race yourself to fitness in a proper race and more economical than riding these. I think they are a bit of a rip off.

    • You bring up an interesting point, Brian, and one I’ve been thinking around the edges of recently. I have never done a ‘race’, even though that’s what I call the things I do. I actually know very little about this end of things in France, but will give it a glance and see what is out there. That being said, sportives here are really reasonably priced, and even cheaper when you have a licence.

      • So you have to have a licence for sportives in France ? The licence I have is for LVRC ( League of Veteran Racing Cyclists) so maybe a ‘British Cycling’ licence and racing is dearer?

        • I had a ‘cyclosportive’ licence (through the Fédération Française de Cyclisme) last season, but decided not to this one. They are not mandatory, but you get a little discount and don’t need to produce your medical certificate for each sportive.

          That licence is €42 and the ones for competition start at €105, I just read (and they must be mandatory for races, I imagine). I have some research to do!

  10. A friend of mine is going to the NY Gran Fondo, along with about 7,000 other cyclists. Rides here can be expensive. In a lot of cases it is supply and demand. Americans will pay for opportunity to participate in a major event. As Rob indicated, sometimes the ride’s costs will inflate the price, but that seems to be the exception rather than the rule. A ride that I’m somewhat involved with charges $135, but I know that most of that money is spent putting it together. George Hincapie’s Gran Fondo charged almost $200 and a lot people were upset, but it still drew 1,000 riders.

    For what it’s worth, most mountain rides that I frequent are in the $40-50 range.

    • I think a lot of people will pay for major events, if they have the money. I have with HR, for example, if I don’t have the money! I just wasn’t sure if the NY Gran Fondo would be considered as big, like for example, the NYC Marathon.

  11. There’s a simple explanation: at GFNY, the organization pays $500,000 alone for 150 police officers and closure of roads while events in Europe pay none of these costs. We’d love to have a $20 entry fee but it’s either $195 (our starting fee) or the event would not happen.

    NYC may be a particularly expensive place but maybe it’s only fair that an event pays for these public costs. Why should the general tax payer come up for it?

    Meanwhile, we’re trying to make up for it as much as we can. If a rider would sell all the goodies on ebay he/she gets (jersey, bag, buff, wine etc.), you’d get $150 back.

    And while $190 is a lot of money, we’re baffled at how much people are willing to spend on their bikes. As always, much comes down to priorities.

    Let me know if you have any other questions.


    Uli Fluhme
    CEO, Gran Fondo New York, Inc.

    • Uli, thanks for giving the ‘horse’s mouth’ input. Much appreciated.

      When I wrote this article I did have most of your answers floating around already in my head, especially the fact that the roads would be closed (almost unheard of in France). I hope you didn’t get the impression that I was picking on your race, either. It was just that the idea for the blog article came up when I saw your website.

      You’re absolutely right about priorities and there are many out there (myself included) who will gladly fork out substantial amounts on quality events. My bigger question, however, was simply whether all Gran Fondos / Sportives in North America were priced like this, or are there events cheap enough for someone to do a race every two weeks throughout the season, for example.

  12. Thanks for getting back quickly. I don’t mind your comment at all but would have appreciated if you would have asked us for our input before publishing. Now you have a bunch of readers who believe GFNY simply is a rip-off.

    I can only talk for our event and I know what our costs are. Unfortunately, most of the so called “Gran Fondo” in the US are simply “Cicloturismo”/”Cyclotourisme”/”Radtouristikfahrt” which means a ride in open traffic. Charging even $100 for that is a rip-off. There are Gran Fondos with big names where riders received tickets for not stopping at a stop sign.

    To be clear, not all of our roads are closed. Until last year, most of them had “moderated traffic” just like in France or Italy. But even to do that we need a strong Police presence to make it safe and receive permits. Some parts are closed, like our key climb ($50,000 for half a day), the start on George Washington Bridge ($60,000 for a few hours in the early morning). Plus, we’re working on more full road closures.

    To answer your question: I don’t know of any Gran Fondo in Northamerica that you could consider a race at the price tag of a European Gran Fondo. I think it would be possible to put these on in more rural areas and areas where an organizer would receive financial support because it attracts needed tourism. That said, first and foremost Americans have to understand that a Gran Fondo is NOT just a group ride but a personal challenge. It’s like a Marathon: some race to win, some race to PR, some ride to finish before the cut-off. The large number of participants opens the door to use attractive courses that gets racing out of the parking lots and industrial areas that are deserted on Sundays.

    At GFNY we partner with events that get what a Gran Fondo is all about. So far, they are all in Italy but we truly hope that changes soon. We’re working hard on that!

    Maybe I’ll see you at a cyclo or GF this summer

      • Just a note 2.5 years later on this. News appeared today about the male winner of GFNY testing positive for doping (by GFNY), as well the female 3rd place. Doping controls are not cheap to implement, and it appears that with these large gran fondos at least, it is an important thing to have. It is money well spent, in my opinion, and I wish other big ones followed suit.

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