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Santa Fe saddles up as part of the gran fondo bicycle race series

Deutschland, Italia, Brasil, Indonesia, Santa Fe … wait, Santa Fe?

Yup, New Mexico’s capital city has added its name to the GFNY international bicycling race series schedule in 2019, with a date set for June 23.

The Santa Fe race is one of 18 events that make up the Gran Fondo New York series and just the second in the United States, after the series’ namesake.

“Gran Fondo” translates from Italian to “Big Ride” and is a form of long-distance bicycle racing – sometimes compared to marathons for cyclists, typically 100 miles – that originated in Italy in the 1970s. Only in recent years have the big rides caught on in the U.S., where several dozen such events are held across the country each year, including one held in conjunction with the Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta in September.

Billed as a “personal endurance challenge where you compete against others, the clock and yourself,” the GFNY racing series is open to all male and female cyclists. Riders compete within age groups and as teams, with serious racers vying for a championship in the overall classification.

All participants receive medals and a GFNY jersey to commemorate their experience.

“Santa Fe is a great addition to GFNY, because the town has a lot to offer to visitors from across the U.S., as well as abroad. And obviously, the cycling is fantastic, providing the riders the true challenge they seek when doing a GFNY,” Uli Fluhme, CEO of the series, said in a statement to the Journal.

“Having a second U.S.-based event has been a long time coming for GFNY. We’re thrilled to work with the town of Santa Fe to showcase its beauty to our riders traveling from over 30 countries to compete at the event and enjoy their stay.”

Mike McCalla, president and CEO of the Santa Fe Century bike race, will serve as director for GFNY Santa Fe. He was in Spain this week and unavailable for comment, but Jake Rodar, who helped bring the event to Santa Fe and serves on the board of directors for the local race, described GFNY races as “fun, social events” that attract health-conscious people, like himself.

“I don’t race; it’s more for fitness,” said Rodar, a 45-year-old insurance executive and semi-serious cyclist, having participated in the Santa Fe Century and the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic in Durango. “These rides attract a wide range of cyclists, from pretty serious racers to more casual riders who like to do group rides. It’s fun to ride in a group of people.”

Rodar has twice traveled to Mexico to pedal the GFNY Cozumel, the first time in 2015.

“That’s where the idea came from to bring it here,” he said. “Mostly, I wanted to bring something to Santa Fe to attract people who wouldn’t normally come here. It’s a different type of event than the arts and cultural events we have in Santa Fe.”

Rodar and others started peddling the idea to city officials, but it didn’t gain traction until this year when GNFY Santa Fe organizers beat out two other entries in a competitive bid for a $50,000 grant through Tourism Santa Fe that’s funded through lodgers’ taxes.

Randy Randall, executive director of Tourism Santa Fe – the city’s convention and visitors bureau – said the selection committee saw the event as something that would provide the bureau with “immediate marketing strength” targeted at a huge base outside the regional market.

Cyclists come from all over the world.

Rodar said the GFNY Cozumel ride attracted more than 3,000 cyclists from 40 countries.

Santa Fe organizers are hoping for 750 participants its first year. Registration is already open on the website. Rodar urged interested cyclists to register early, as the $130 entry fee increases closer to the date of the event.

Other GFNY events are held in such places as Panama, Columbia, Costa Rica, Chile, Portugal, Jerusalem, Philippines and Bali. The Campagnolo GFNY World Championship race is held in May in New York City.

Fitting for “the City Different,” Rodar said the GFNY Santa Fe will be a different kind of challenge for cyclists.

While Rodar said GFNY Cozumel is a flat course at sea level where the wind and heat are contributing factors, “Here, it will be the elevation and the climb up to the ski hill will make it unique. We’re hoping to attract a lot of people from South America and Mexico who are into riding at these elevations and climbing.”

The GFNY Santa Fe offers two different routes for participants.

There’s an 81-mile course that includes 7,500 feet of climb, much of it saved for the end, and a 15-mile climb up to the ski basin, finishing at an elevation of 10,350 feet. The tentative route for the ride takes cyclists south of the city down N.M. 14 before looping back to La Cienega, Las Campanas and Tesuque Pueblo as it sets up for the grueling finish.

While most gran fondos are generally about 100-mile rides, “the elevation and climb make up for the shorter distance,” Rodar said of the Santa Fe race.

There’s also a 55-mile ride covering much of the same ground, minus the climb to the ski basin and not as far south.

Both rides are to start downtown, but it’s not clear where. Rodar said it’s hoped that the start will be somewhere near the Plaza or by the convention center. “It depends on what the city allows us to do,” he said.

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