• Matthew Keenan tackles the course of Australia's newest Grand Fondo. (@beardmcbeardy)Source: @beardmcbeardy
Gran Fondos, or mass participation rides, have played an important role in the growth of cycling.
Matthew Keenan

Cycling Central
7 Mar 2017 - 10:53 AM 

For those not super keen on racing they provide a personal challenge, in the same way fun runs and triathlons do.

For event organisers, it’s a competitive sector of the market with a fierce battle for the time and money of us cyclists.

It’s a space that even Cycling Australia is trying to compete in with the Road Nationals Gran Fondo.

I’ve ridden a few and I’ve been on the microphone at a few. Being on the mic usually leaves me envious of those out riding.

All of the successful ones have a key element of appeal, which is often a major climb, that distinguishes them from the rest.

Le Tape Australia replicated a Tour de France mountain stage, including having Chris Froome among the starters.

Three Peaks… well it has three major climbs.

Amy’s Gran Fondo has the Great Ocean Road and supports the road safety cause that is important to all of us.

The Ironman group, which is behind plenty of great mass participation events in Australia, with the Noosa Triathlon a personal favourite, has entered the fray with Velothon.

It’s on the Sunshine Coast and, although there’s a one-day ride option, the key appeal of this event is the three-day ride.

Across the three days you’ll cover 355km and tackle 5,091m worth of climbing.

Having spent two days riding the key parts of the three stages I’d classify it as replicating an Ardennes classic, in terms of the terrain not the weather, with the Tour experience of multiples days of hard riding to get that deep seated fatigue effect.

Like Liege-Bastogne-Liege there are no alpine length climbs but it’s continually up and down, with some seriously steep pinches, that nag away at your legs.

The most difficult climb, Obi Obi, comes on the third stage. They’ve saved the best, or should that be the hardest, for last.

It’s a little less than four kilometres long but with a maximum gradient of 27 per cent... it’s tough. Seriously tough. They’ll be putting a strip of carpet on the side of the road for those who need to walk. The carpet will be used.

And there are plenty of quick rolling sections along the coast that are the quintessential Queensland postcard.

The Velothon will also feature a Velo Clubhouse area on the Mooloolaba beachfront. Every stage will start and finish from the Clubhouse, which will be a good spot to tell the post ride stories and then watch the Tour de France highlights package at 5pm.

Putting the event on in July (13-16 July) is a smart move.

The events calendar isn’t as busy at that time of year and it’s a great excuse for those from the southern states to escape the depths of winter.

Plus there’s the added buzz of the Tour de France in July, that just makes you want to get out and ride.

I was paid to ride the course and film some course preview videos for the organisers. But I’m fascinated by the mechanics of what makes some of these mass participation events successful and others not.

The Velothon is already a big success in Berlin, Wales and Stockholm and I think it will work here. A Melbourne winter alone makes three days of riding on the Sunshine Coast appealing enough.

I’m looking forward to seeing if this format works in Australia and how it compares, for those who ride it, to other Gran Fondos around the country.