• The Grand Depart for the L'Etape du Tour 2015 (Supplied) (Tour de France)Source: Tour de France
There can be a steep learning curve in cycling but many recreational riders remain undaunted by the effort required and are looking to test themselves over challenging or famous courses.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

Cycling Central
9 Dec 2015 - 9:19 AM 

With the rise of Strava and the corporate sporting day out shifting from the golf course to the local cycling route, it's no surprise that cycling events in Australia have shifted to accommodate this growing group of riders.

Gran Fondo's have filled that gap in recent years, and judging by the uptake of major events like Amy’s Gran Fondo, Robbie McEwen’s Gran Fondo and the newly launched L'Etape Australia by the Tour de France, they are becoming as important to the cycling scene as racing itself.

Date announced for L'Etape Australia
Phil Liggett and Jens Voigt joined the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Major Events, Stuart Ayres and the Member for Monaro, John Barilaro yesterday to announce the date for L'Etape Australia by the Tour de France.

Fondo's represent the chance for the average cycling fan or amateur racer to ride by some of Australia's iconic landmarks along picturesque routes on closed roads. Amy’s Gran Fondo is particularly famous for using the Great Ocean Road as the site for its ride, and it has proved very popular, attracting a field of 5,750 riders this year.

Mass participation rides like MS Sydney to Gong similarly offer a scenic course, and while not quite the same as the more competitive events, it regularly hits its cap of 10,000 riders every year.

Cycling Australia (CA) have this year decided to take a different tack in the promotion of their Australian Gran Fondo Championships in offering riders the chance to compete on the same course the elite will tackle at the Mars Cycling Australia Road National Championships.

The Mt Bunninyong circuit has been the backdrop for the Nationals since 2007, and has seen some of the more memorable moments of recent Australian cycling history. This will be the draw for the event, with amateurs racing on a course set up for the elite - creating their own personal history on the same roads the likes of Simon Gerrans, Heinrich Haussler and Luke Durbridge used to create headlines in recent years.

The change is a complement to the revamped format of the Nationals, which will now feature the ambitiously titled ‘Super Sunday’, when the women's and the men's elite races are staged on the same day.

CA clearly hopes to create an event which sees riders come to participate in the Gran Fondo on the Saturday then stay for the elite racing the next day, Fulfilling their stated goal of expanding recreational memberships and looking after the needs of those riders.

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The allure of these events lie in how well they are organised and the level of participation. Fondo's are an experience that you want to share with someone else, be it a partner, group of friends or as part of a cycling club. 

The events offer amateur cyclists a goal to prepare for, an achievable challenge not available in the average local Criterium or weekend bunch ride. Some events attract top Australian riders and celebrities from other walks of life, bringing that community sense of fun and mass participation nature to the roads.

Age groups and gender splits allow riders to find their level of participation but the competition can still be fierce among all groups.

As an added incentive for Australians, the 2016 Gran Fondo World Championships will be held in Perth, with qualifying through one of the eligible events, allowing riders to race against similar enthusiasts from around the world.

Fondo's are also a win for local councils and tourism, with keen participants often coming a long way to participate in a well-organise event, utilising both local accommodation and facilities while providing a boost to the economy.

So whether it be the L'Etape Australia, Robbie McEwen’s event or Amy's Gran Fondo; there’s a clear shift towards these mass participation events.