The Big Ride Comes to Santa Fe

(Story by Melyssa Holik/Photos by McCall Sides and Jackson Buscher)

This June, Santa Fe will join the international community of cyclists as host to the worldwide bicycling event known as Gran Fondo New York. Santa Fe is only the second city in the U.S. to hold this honor. A Gran Fondo is a term for ultra-long-distance bike races (the Italian phrase translates to “big ride”) and is the bicycling equivalent of a marathon. The Gran Fondo New York series of races is the largest global series of this type of event: 20 races, with up to 5,000 riders competing in each one. The series was founded in New York in 2010, and each year, races are held in global locations as diverse as Italy, Argentina, Indonesia, Jerusalem and the Philippines to name just a few—but until this year, there have been no other U.S. events besides the annual New York ride.

According to Mike McCalla, the director of GFNY Santa Fe, the event has been a couple of years in the making. It all began in 2018, when several members of the Santa Fe bicycling community approached the city with the idea to bring GFNY to the City Different. Local cyclist Jake Rodar became interested in creating the Gran Fondo Santa Fe event after riding the GFNY in Cozumel, Mexico. Last fall, Jake, Mike and Mellow Velo owner David Bell applied for a grant from the City of Santa Fe Tourism Department. They won the grant, which allowed them to form a nonprofit to oversee and organize GFNY Santa Fe.

Now, one year later, GFNY Santa Fe is ready for its inaugural year. The event will begin with an expo on June 21 and 22 at the Scottish Rite Temple. The expo will include food from Cowgirl BBQ, beer and spirits from Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery, and booths for bike companies and local vendors. Those who have purchased VIP passes are also invited to a very special Friday night Food and Wine Experience at The Compound Restaurant which avid cyclist and chef, Mark Kiffin will host.

The big ride begins June 23. At 7 a.m., more than 400 riders from all over the world will gather in the Santa Fe Plaza. Clad in GFNY green, riders will set out en mass during the crisp early morning hours to compete to be the North America champion—it should be quite a sight to see.

Racers can participate in a 55-mile Medium course or the 81-mile Long course. Both courses showcase Santa Fe’s breathtaking scenery as riders traverse the multiple climate zones and terrains of the high desert southwest. The 81-mile Long course includes a grueling 7,500 feet of vertical climb, and what Mike McCalla categorizes as “the toughest finish” out of all the GFNY events. The final 15 miles are all uphill, making it the longest continuous climb out of the series. GFNY Santa Fe is also the second highest altitude race in the series after Columbia, finishing up in the thin mountain air at about 10,300 feet above sea level.

The Santa Fe event represents a contrast to the New York race, too; aside from being the only U.S. races in the series, the two locations are complete opposites. In many ways, Santa Fe is different than most of the other venues, which is part of what gives the event a unique appeal. Mike suspects that may be why the GFNY organizers welcomed Santa Fe’s participation. “Santa Fe adds diversity to the lineup of races in GFNY,” Mike explains. “And New Mexico is a fantastic place for cycling. There’s low traffic density, plenty of sunshine and beautiful terrain.” He also notes that GFNY Santa Fe represents an opportunity to “show off the best of Santa Fe” to the visitors who come for the race. That includes our food, culture and natural splendor, as well as the area’s outstanding biking and hiking trails.

After they’ve completed the punishing race, riders will gather once more for lunch and the awards ceremony. In blissful exhaustion, riders can celebrate the challenge they’ve just shared over a round of drinks and indulge in some well-earned revelry.

“It’ll be a lot of fun, and something new to Santa Fe,” Mike says. “We’re looking to showcase Santa Fe as not just an arts and culture destination but as an outdoor destination as well.” Randy Randall, executive director of TOURISM Santa Fe, says that’s one reason why the city awarded the grant to GFNY Santa Fe. He says while Santa Fe has long been known as a center of history, culture and food, it’s still under the radar as a place for outdoor recreation. Randy wants that to change. “It’s time,” he says. “This is the next thing for us to promote.” While New Mexico is often overshadowed by Colorado and Utah in terms of outdoor tourism, Randy says, “We’re next.”

Tourism offices all over the state are developing this avenue for attracting visitors in an effort to set the state apart from our neighbors. Randy credits some of the increased attention to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s newly established Outdoor Recreation Division. “There’s more emphasis on it now,” Randy says. “We’re trying to build the outdoor recreation side of Santa Fe as yet another reason to come.” With an annual race like Gran Fondo New York, Randy is optimistic people will begin to see our city as a world-class outdoor destination. As he says, “Affiliation with GFNY puts Santa Fe into an elite class.”

This is an elite race and there will be extraordinary athletes participating, to be sure, but the race is open to anyone who wants to push their limits and measure their own abilities. As Mike says, “During the event, you’re racing other people, but you’re really just challenged by the course and the satisfaction of doing all that—the entire ride—on your own power.” For Mike, nothing else compares. “You can see the world on a bike,” he says. “A lot of things are fun about it: the group dynamics of riding in a pack, the thrill of speed and endorphins, and you can eat a lot of food after! It’s a really good lifelong sport. It’s something you can do when you’re young or old.” In a testament to that lifetime appeal of cycling, GFNY Santa Fe will have awards for age groups from teens to 75 and over; it truly is a sport for all ages.

Even if you aren’t up for the challenge of an 81-, or even a 55-mile bike ride, there are still plenty of ways to enjoy the event. The expo on Friday and Saturday is for racers and non-racers, and of course, anyone can be a spectator to the race on Sunday (provided you want to wake up to watch the 7 a.m. start!) or, if you’d like to see the race a little more closeup, there are many volunteer opportunities available as well—everything from packet stuffing, to manning an aid station, to being a motorcycle marshal. (Bicycling experience is not necessary to participate as a volunteer.) However you choose to be involved, Mike says, “I really hope you come out and see the inaugural event.”

Whether you are an elite cyclist hoping to test yourself against top global athletes in the field, or you simply enjoy the inspiration of watching people push themselves to their physical limits, it’s undeniable that GFNY Santa Fe represents an opportunity for our capital city. It’s a chance for Santa Fe to catapult itself into the realm of world-class outdoor recreation destinations—a distinction most locals would agree has been a long time coming.

For more information and to register, visit gfnysantafe.com.


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