A grand fondo is a long distance cycling race where cyclists of all skill levels can participate. You will find everyone from professional cyclist to causal weekend riders, pedaling the grueling distance for the pure joy and excitement of crossing the finish line.
The race is generally 160-225 kilometers long. Shorter legs are coordinated for cyclists who aren't able or willing to make the long haul.
Not All Fondos Are Created Equal
Every fondos is different and they range from competitive to fun - but there always is a winner.
For the professional fondo, a timing device (known as a chip) is placed on every bike. The entire race can be tracked including exact timings for each stage and overall winners. Fast finishing times can qualify a rider in another major fondos.
Large fondos are organized by grids to divide the cyclists into categories based on their skill level.
The Pros - these cyclists have proven their skill level with proven win records.
The Competing Cyclist - these cyclists are licensed competitors.
The Cyclists (or Cicloturisti) - these are average cyclists who are there to just finish the race.
A number is assigned to each cyclist according to their grid and the start of the race may be coordinated at timed intervals.
For the non-professional fondos, you may encounter a mass start where everyone just goes after the gun is fired. A card will be issued to each rider to have marked at different stages along the ride and then turned in at the finish line.
30-40 euros is the standard entrance fee. This gets you a spot in the race, water along the way, support in case of an emergency, and vehicle assistance for stragglers (also known as a broom wagon). Most races throw an inexpensive party filled with a high carbohydrate dinner and water (sometimes if you're lucky, a beer).
Most fondos have sponsors that are happy to give out small free gifts such as bike gadgets, bags, water bottles, food bars, and such.
If a grand fondo is not your cup of tea, you can consider participating in a fondo event (generally 120-160 kilometers) or a medio fondo (generally less than 120 kilometers). Some fondos even accept team efforts for those that wanted to cycle with friends.