Torrential rain did not dampen the spirits of some 3000 cyclists who came out to challenge themselves at the second annual Colnago Gran Fondo held in San Diego, USA on Sunday.
"It literally rained so hard from 15 minutes before the start until four hours later," said event promoter Rob Klingensmith. "But, I would say that for 95 percent of the people, they viewed it as an additional challenge, said that it was the most epic conditions and that they would never forget this bike ride."
The Colnago Gran Fondo San Diego is an adaptation of the company's annual sportive event held in Piacenza, Italy. It catered to the competitive set by introducing King and Queen of the Mountain prizes and an award for the first male and female cyclist to reach the top of Honey Springs road, a 6.7-mile ascent that averaged 5.2 percent gradient.
The climbing awards were only offered to participants who entered the 100-mile route that presented more than 5,500 feet of climbing in total, with the top three finishers of the KOM being Vincent Lombardi, Soren Krebs and Eric Marcotte. Deya Guerrero won the QOM ahead of Christine Gregory and Mari Holden.
Paolo Bettini brings Italian flavour
The Colnago Gran Fondo kept with the Italian gran fondo traditions and offered a mass group ride on three epic routes of 100, 53 and 32 miles, led out by three Ferrari vehicles. It also offered timing chips for each participant to keep track of how long the ride took and to determine winners of the King (and Queen) of the Mountain competitions. And Italian-style lunch and refreshment stations located on all three routes were included. On the tech side, Campagnolo supplied neutral technical support and there was an expo site with the latest cycling gear.
The biggest draw of all, however, was two-time International Cycling Union Road World Champion, Italian Paolo Bettini, who rode in the bunch.
"How cool is this?" said one of the participating cyclists at the start line. "A gran fondo, with the start in the heart of 'Little Italy,' led out by Ferraris and Paolo Bettini in the peloton, in my home town of San Diego. What could be better than this?"
The highlight of this year's Colnago Gran Fondo San Diego was its start, which took the riders from San Diego's Little Italy district and over the two mile long Coronado Bridge, which is normally closed to cyclists.
It got colder after that, especially at the top of the Honey Springs Road climb, where one rider told us: "It was cold, real cold. By the time I reached the top it was sleeting."
Another ride, Rod, managed to finish the 100 miler: "35 miles in, I new it was going to be an epic day."
Kim, a 53 miler, had similar comments: "Whew! That was tough! But I loved it. Where's the pasta?"
Colnago Gran Fondo USA series
Sunday's event was the first of three that make up the Colnago Gran Fondo USA series. The next event will be held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 8 August followed by Los Angeles, California on 24 October.
"We selected those locations because the cycling communities that are in those cities and the Italian communities that are in those cities," Klingensmith said. "These events all have something in common. They are sponsored in Colnago and share a number of other Italian companies and agencies that are supporting the events. They all share the same characteristics that we believe are fundamental for gran fondos that include, mass-start, challenging courses, Italian theme and the chip timing."
Last year, the Colnago Gran Fondo San Diego was the first event of its kind and a wild success, sparking a flurry of interest that saw 1,200 riders take part. This year, there are nearly 20 similar mass-start rides scheduled across the country through the spring, summer and autumn.