What is a Gran Fondo?

Get in the know and ready to go

Gran Fondo means ‘big ride’ in Italian

Gran Fondos are mass participation cycling events that have enjoyed a huge amount of popularity in Europe for decades, and are now increasingly spreading around the world.

With a big start arch, beautiful course, thousands of other riders ranging from pro to beginner and a festival atmosphere of endorphins, spectators and volunteers, a Gran Fondo offers some of the most enjoyable challenges you can experience on two wheels. There’s food and drink stations along the way, as well as mechanical and medical backup, and everyone’s just darn-well having a good time. The Gran Fondo phenomenon took Italy by storm, and we’re stoked to help to bring it to North America!

So, why else do people take part? Well, there really is something for everyone. Fast or slow, new to riding or seasoned pro, pushing your limits or wanting to take in the surroundings, there’s a perfect group and speed taking part for you to join. You’ll find plenty of prizing to compete for thanks to chip timing, whether it’s a big cheque or bragging rights or personal pride, and a shiny medal gets placed around your neck to immortalize your accomplishments. With some events offering traffic free routes, it’s a perfect way to cycle in the world’s most beautiful locations. And when you cross the line, there’s a party to celebrate out in the sun and let the ride truly sink in.


It’s widely held that the first Gran Fondo was the Nove Colli [Nine Hills] in Cesenatico, Italy, 1970. Today, the event is still going strong as arguably Italy’s biggest cycling festival with 12,000 riders tackling distances in the valleys between 80-200 km.

Following the Nove Colli came hundreds of other events around Italy, especially boosted by chip timing technology advances in the 1990s. Most events have around 500 – 1000 riders, with some of the largest going beyond that.

In Italy, a Gran Fondo is considered at a minimum:

  • 120km+ long
  • Fully chip-timed
  • Age category prized


Voted cycling’s best Gran Fondo in North America, RBC GranFondo Whistler takes you on an incredible and stunningly beautiful journey via bike from Vancouver to Whistler on Canada’s west coast. With world-class support, roads free of traffic and a festival to finish, cycling events simply don’t get any better.

Imagine for one day, the best possible cycling roads are closed to traffic. Before you is an epic route with challenging climbs and thrilling descents. All you have to do is concentrate on the beauty of the ocean, beaches and mountains around you. You’re feeling fit and you’re lined up for a special ride with thousands of others. There are multiple distance options to choose from, and because it’s not a race, there’s no pressure. You can ride whatever pace you want. You can even stop for all the food you need along the way – it’s provided – or simply feel the power in your legs increase from the drummers and bands serenading your cause.

And no matter what pace you choose, you’re not likely to be riding alone. There will be a fast bunch at the front if you want to keep up with them and you can count on local spectators cheering along the way. The scenery is better than you would see in a magazine. The ride ends with a massage and a party at the bumper Celebration Plaza, and everyone’s invited.

This is the RBC GranFondo Whistler experience – voted 2018 & 2019 North America’s Best Gran Fondo  by the UK’s GranFondoGuide.

Did you know?

RBC GranFondo Whistler also has the highest number of female participants compared to all North American Gran Fondos, as well as riders from over 45 different countries taking part. Vancouver itself is one of the most cycling progressive cities on the continent, and is regularly voted as Canada’s top travel destination. Whistler similarly enjoys a world-famous reputation.

In 2020, the event will host the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships. All riders are invited to enter and to ride for the coveted “world champion” rainbow jersey across 5 year age groups.

The history of RBC GranFondo Whistler

In 2007, Kevin Thomson and Neil McKinnon had the vision of producing a world-class cycling event to serve as a legacy event of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. In September 2010, after three years of work, that dream became a reality. The inaugural RBC GranFondo Whistler allowed 4,000 passionate cyclists the opportunity to ride the world-renowned Sea to Sky Highway in a dedicated car-free lane from downtown Vancouver to Whistler. Rider capacity grew to 7,000 cyclists in 2011 and 2012 as participants were pouring in from all around the globe as the event quickly established itself as one of the premier cycling events in North America.

Every year since its inception in 2010, the event has been a recipient of Get Out There Magazine‘s Readers’ Choice Award for Best Cycling Event in Western Canada!

In April 2017, RBC GranFondo Whistler was voted Canada’s best Gran Fondo by the industry voice of all things cycling, Gran Fondo Guide.  This was then trumped a year later, as the event was awarded the title of 2018 Best North American Gran Fondo, reclaiming the same title in 2019. As both Canadians and cycling geeks, we are humbled and honoured to have received these recognitions, all of which were only made possible by the very people that make the event what it is: you, the riders.

Whether it’s right in your own backyard or you’re visiting British Columbia for the first time, the breathtaking views of this spectacular route will leave you speechless. One day each year,  you can to experience the incredible Sea to Sky Highway (ranked in the top 10 places to cycle in the whole world by the Canadian Olympic Committee) and everything in between Vancouver to Whistler in the best way possible – on bike.

Take the challenge. Join the ride.

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