Uli Fluhme: Last year, we paid for over 100 police officers along the route to make the course safe. It was a massive logistical effort from the get-go and nothing like it has ever been done on the GWB, in Bergen, in Rockland or on Bear Mountain, let alone all those entities combined. But we didn’t expect that cyclists would necessarily be given the right of way at every single intersection by the officials. Witnessing that on the day in person was a huge surprise for us and an eye opener in terms of future possibilities.
We’ve had great meetings with officials since and they agreed to ramp up police presence even more. We will now have almost 150 officers working along the GFNY route. The majority of the participants didn’t have to stop even once at an intersection. And that is what a Gran Fondo is about, not just some fancy food at the finish.
NYVC: Which parts of the course are closed to cars?
Uli Fluhme:The course is split into full road closures, partial road closures and moderated traffic. Closed e.g. is the start on GWB and all the way through Palisades Interstate Park (River Road) as well as Bear Mountain. Once we get on 9W, the Blue Knights motorbike crew will guide larger groups. They are in radio contact with the officers at the intersections. Some other parts like around Piermont/Nyack are partially closed. The remaining parts of the course have police moderated traffic like you would see it at other races, think e.g. Tour of the Catskills.
NYVC: Why did you change the course?
Uli Fluhme: We only changed it marginally. The descent from Little Tor turned out to be even trickier than anticipated during course safety meetings with officials. Riders came flying down onto the 202 which resulted in a spontaneous full road closure of the 202 by police to ensure rider safety. We decided that this is an unnecessary burden for residents in the area. It opened up the opportunity to ride through the heart of Haverstraw which is a charming town once you get off 9W. Everyone there is enthusiastic about the event going through. Plus, we can finally use a new timed climb that we already wanted to incorporate last year. It’s a hidden gem in Pomona that we call "Colle Formaggio".
NYVC: What surprised you most about how the event came off?
Uli Fluhme: Two things: the overwhelmingly positive reception by residents along the route and the police support. Everyone is excited that we’re coming back. It’s such a unique thing to now have 5,000 riders from over 70 countries travel on this beautiful route. We have groups from Canada coming down two months before the event to train on the course. Groups of up to 100 Italians, Brazilians and Mexicans descend on the area early to be competitive. How cool is that?
NYVC: Was there an aspect that turned out to be more difficult that you hadn’t really considered going into it?
Uli Fluhme: A proper, Italian style Gran Fondo is so much more than just a century ride. Our goal is to put up a Gran Fondo in the Italian tradition. These events are highly competitive in Italy. After U23, amateur racing in Italy is mostly happening at Gran Fondos. If you don’t make the jump to pro as a U23, Italian racers abandon the aspiration of a pro career and turn to Gran Fondo, simply because no amateur road race has the financial and political backing to get exciting courses like mass participation events have. At GFNY, we can split $500,000 of permit and police fees among 5,000 riders but not 150.
Meanwhile, the majority of Gran Fondos in the US are fancy-label Century rides. But participants are not stupid. They’re not paying $200 instead of $50 just to listen to the Italian anthem, have a couple of Ferrraris at the “start” and get some Italian snack at the finish instead of a Bagel while they still have to ride in open traffic with a cue sheet.
NYVC: Are you considering any other events or races in the future?
Uli Fluhme: We’re very focused on making GFNY an unforgettable experience for everyone. To accomplish this goal, we are working on several initiatives: bringing in new participants into the sport of cycling, expanding the GFNY team into a multi-faceted racing team, forging global partnerships and bringing a new pro cycling race to NYC.
GFNY offers free group training rides for all registered participants to offer a positive, social setting for preparing for the event. Our ambassador team “Gruppo Sportivo GFNY”, a fully sponsored eight rider squad of cycling enthusiasts, lead weekly training rides from November to May for all levels. Thanks to the support of our sponsors, we’re able to keep these rides completely free for GFNY participants. We’d love to open them up for everyone but would be facing weekly groups of 500 and more riders, which we simply can’t handle. It’s so much fun to see former newbies now race for CRCA teams. There’s nothing more satisfying than having someone say that he never thought he likes competing on a bike before he did GFNY and that he now races for a club.
GS GFNY is the base of what will be a racing team in 2013. We’re a club already and most of us race but we intend to expand next year. Two other projects that we push out of GS GFNY: women’s cycling and U23 racing. Cycling is a male dominated sport. 85% of the GFNY participants are men. But I’d like to put it in a more positive light: that’s 15% women compared to a mere 5% in Europe. Still, most mass participation running events are equally split among the genders, some even have more women than men. Cycling doesn’t have to be a macho sport. Women can be tough as nails and cycling doesn’t have to be a sufferfest 24/7 to be enjoyable.
For all the things we might disagree with the UCI, there is one thing where we agree: Gran Fondos are the ultimate platform to develop Junior racers who aim to become professionals. The UCI created the "Challenger" category for this purpose at their UWCT Gran Fondos. Criteriums and circuit races just don’t prepare a young racer for the length and challenges of a pro race. It’s my personal goal to develop a junior GF squad that enjoys the support of the GFNY sponsors. A big part of the team will be sports ethics education. Living an ethical life has more value than winning races by taking drugs could ever have.
On a global scale, we’re excited to partner with the inaugural Gran Fondo Roma in October. It will be a sensational race, starting and finishing at the Colosseum and broadcasted live on national TV. It’s the beginning of a world spanning partnership of Gran Fondos in the capitals of the world. This partnership also allows us to have a meaningful relationship across both events with “Operation Smile”. It only takes $240 for an operation that changes the life of a child for good.
That leads us to the pointy end of the spectrum: we want to bring professional cycling to NYC. I grew up watching Hinault battle Fignon on a tiny black and white TV and have never missed a Tour or Giro since. We’re currently working on a Pro Tour race at the front of the pack as well as bringing the Giro to NYC. It’s exciting times for cyclists in NYC and we’re delighted to see the cycling community in the city come together to make big things happen.