Starting and ending in Prince Albert, one of the most attractive Karoo towns in South Africa, the Gran Fondo road cycling and mountain biking race, takes place on 27th April 2019 to once again test the will of its entrants against the might of the mountain.
Launched in 2016, the Gran Fondo is characterized by long distances with tough climbs over difficult terrain.
Gran Frondo means Big Ride in Italian and true to its Italian origins it takes riders on an epic journey through Meiringspoort, on to De Rust at the base of the Swartberg mountain range, and up and over the towering Swartberg Pass on its way back to Prince Albert.
The route includes 79 kilometres of gravel in three sections, with the final two kilometres of the climb up the Swartberg Pass, which challenges rides at 146 kilometres into the race, at an average gradient of 12%.
History repeats itself
The first Gran Fondo was held in 1970 in Italy in the town of Cesenatico. Named Nove Colli, which means ‘Nine Hills’, today its hosts 13 500 cyclists annually, including professionals and amateurs alike.
A Gran Fondo is usually between 120 and 200 kilometres long and involves 2 000 to 4 000 metres of climbing and includes a less demanding course for leisure riders.
True to South African grit, the Prince Albert Gran Fondo is one of the toughest Gran Fondo’s in the world with thanks going to the most famous of road builders, Thomas Bain who completed the pass in 1888.
Today, much of the Swartberg is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site which offers challenging climbs (totalling 2 800m) interspersed with exhilarating descents. It goes without saying that riders will need a bicycle capable of a combination of tar and gravel – perfect terrain for a gravel bike.
Serious contenders and past entrants will be looking to beat last year’s winners Richard Simpson and Yolande de Villiers who both claimed the Swartberg 100 Gran Fondo titles in their respective men’s and women’s races in Prince Albert. Simpson’s winning time was 6:04:52, while De Villiers finished the 170km course in 6:22:08.
Grit to Gravel
To prepare for the Gran Fondo’s 170 kilometre challenge, expect to manage 3 000 metres of ascent, 79 kilometres of gravel with the last 2 km to the Swartberg summit at the 150 km mark. From there it's a 20 km descent into Prince Albert.
You will need an early start; the start gun goes at 7am with the cut off at the end at 5pm. If you don't make water-point 3 by 2:10 pm the sweep bus gets to take you home. For those that do finish this race, you will surely have realized a world-class achievement.
Medium to Mild Options
For those wanting more of an experience than that of pure endurance, the Swartberg 100 also offers entrants a chance at the Medio Fondo, a 53.75 km ride over 389 metres of ascent. It’s a flat fast route, which an average rider will easily complete in 2.5 hours.
Accommodating just 300 riders, it’s a great way to experience the Karoo landscape while still enjoying a combination of gravel road and remote farm track through town and into the Groot Karoo basin.
At 29 km there is a water stop before turning left onto the Vrisgewaagd farm. The route then takes you back into the Swartberg foothills and connects with the Weltevrede road which meanders back into town through beautiful Karoo scenery. There is another water-stop at the 43 km mark before finishing 11.5 km further on.
Then There's Fun for Everyone
The Staffetta, Italian for "relay race", is a fun race which accommodates 150 riders which both professional and amateur riders can enjoy together, The Staffetta, which follows the route of the Gran Fondo is divided into the Rouleur and the Grimpeur Stages.
A rouleur, in cycling, is a rider who goes well on the flat and rolling terrain. A grimpeur in cycling is a climbing specialist. The rouleur rider starts in Prince Albert and ‘hands over the baton’ to the grimpeur rider halfway in the pretty town of De Rust, who then goes onto to complete the race by returning to Prince Albert.
The e-Fondo race is tailored exclusively for e-bikes, which are pedal-assisted by an electric motor. Limited to 300 riders, the e-Fondo starts in Prince Albert and climbs the southern side of Swartberg Pass for 65 km with 1900 m of climbing.
There is a water point near the summit from where riders descend to Kobus se Gat restaurant at the turnaround point. Depending on whether you are racing or riding at leisure, you can stop and have a quick refreshment.
If haven’t joined South Africa’s large bicycle racing community, assisted by other such epic events like the globally-recognised Cape Town Cycle Tour, the largest timed bicycle road race in the world and the Absa Cape Epic, the most televised mountain bike stage race in the world, then this is your chance to experience Gravel bike racing adventures on new routes.
STAY AND REST:
At the same time, make sure you have booked your luxury accommodation at De Bergkant Lodge, a 4-star oasis at the top of Church Street as you enter town. Swiss owners Michael and Renate ensure you will rest between only the finest cotton sheets, with air-conditioning and an in-room masseuse for those weary limbs. Visit www.debergkant.com to make your reservation.
The Swartberg Mountain range often creates its own micro climates so be prepared for wind, rain and chill air while cycling up there.
YOUR PERSONAL CHALLENGE:
Travelling between Cape Town and Johannesburg? Stopover in Prince Albert where you will find ‘True Karoo Hospitality’ and a chance to drive the Swartberg Pass without all the race pressure – where it’s just you and the big blue Karoo skies and open mountain roads.