UCI Gran Fondo World Series
21 Qualifiers Worldwide
For 2018, the UCI’s Gran Fondo World Series (GFWS) has expanded to include 21 events, ending with the Masters World Championships – the largest and most competitive age-group event in the world. Founded in 2011 as the World Cycling Tour, the UCI decided to rebrand the series as the Gran Fondo World Series in 2016 to better align with its “Cycle for All” motto.
“We started in 2011 with the new concept mainly to increase the quality level of the participants at the UCI Masters World Championships,” said Erwin Vervecken, UCI-GFWS coordinator. “The first year had seven qualifiers and soon expanded to 12-14 qualifiers, where we remained for a few years. We now see that the new branding has settled in, resulting in more and more requests from new countries to host such a qualifier [event].”
The attraction is two-fold as each stop of the GFWS offers both high-level local Masters racing and the opportunity to qualify for the UCI Gran Fondo Road World Championships. To qualify, athletes must finish in the top 25% of their age group in either the Gran Fondo road-race or time-trial events. All events are designed to cater to both very competitive riders and to lifestyle cyclists, providing courses with large loops along variable terrain and featuring different course options.
Among the qualifying events is the Canadian leg, The Blue Mountain Gran Fondo (formerly Grey County Road Race), in Collingwood, Ont. on June 1416. Organized by Bruce Bird, a two-time age-group world champion himself, the Canadian event has steadily grown in popularity, and with the awarding of Vancouver 2020 as the World Championship location gives Canada two UCI GFWS races in that year.
Following last year’s Canadian qualifier, almost half of the athletes meeting the 25% qualifying standard travelled to the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships in Albi, France. With 69 athletes in attendance, it was Canada’s second-largest showing at the Championships, after sending 90 to Denmark in 2015. The team’s performances were highlighted by a breakaway win by Bird in the men’s 45-49 category and Emily Rogers claiming the women’s 19-35 title from a bunch sprint.
Last year in the United Kingdom, the city of Peterborough boasted the largest qualifying event, hosting, between the time trial and road race, 8,000 participants, and saw more than 900 riders go on to compete at the World Championships in Albi. Albi saw a massive increase in participation, up to nearly 3,000 entrants over 2016.
“We see many returning athletes at these World Championships, which is growing year after year. Last year, 911 Brits took part in the 2017 UCI Gran Fondo World Championships, compared to 375 French and 311 Australians,” explained Vervecken.
While the global diversity continues to increase, there is still a significant gap between the number of male and female participants. The 2017 World Championship road race had 1,891 men, but saw only 382 women take part. The time trial was a little more balanced, with 513 men and 156 women. Vervecken and his team are motivated to extend their reach and broaden the appeal of the Series, recognizing that there’s a strong need to convey the purpose of their events.
“A big challenge is to spread the gran fondo concept, which means high-level amateur and Masters mass-participation racing on a big Classical course where the top riders are very competitive. Yet the back of the peloton also attracts new people on the bike who want to experience what it’s like to feel like a Pro rider for one day. Compare it with a marathon, where runners at the front do it in two hours and five minutes, while a majority are there just to keep fit and finish the race . . . . Their time is not so important.”
To accommodate rapidly growing participation numbers at qualifier events, wave starts are beginning to be implemented – as they already are for the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships. The waves are divided by competition category, and are typically staggered by a couple of minutes so all riders will be on course at the same time, however starting against with those they are ranked.
“The biggest challenge in future years will also be managing the different age categories, as start groups at the Worlds last year in Albi, France were heading towards 350 riders,” noted Vervecken. “We will most likely limit the percentage of qualified riders in future years to 20 or even 15% for the Worlds if the Series keeps on growing.”
Maintaining a safe, engaging and prestigious competition environment for the World Championships will continue to draw more of the best age-group athletes from around the globe. In years to come, the GFWS is looking to add events in Africa and Asia to the calendar, while increasing the number of opportunities across the Americas as well.
For more information, visit www.thebluemountainsgranfondo.com and www.ucigranfondoworldseries.com
The Series offers both high-level Masters racing and the opportunity to qualify for the UCI Gran Fondo Road World Championships.
The UCI’s Gran Fondo World Series has expanded to include 21 events worldwide, ending with the World Championships.