BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (VN) — The Gran Fondo Giro d’Italia Beverly Hills drew close to 1,000 riders for an Italian-themed day of bike play in the California sun on Sunday, Nov. 3. The event began under the palm trees on Rodeo Drive, a lovely, if slightly surreal, venue to start a bike ride. Even the most decked-out Pinarellos seemed a little cowed by the designer boutiques along the route.
After a spirited singing of both the U.S. and Italian national anthems, Giuseppe Saronni counted down the start and it was off to the races. A big field and flat roads made for a fast start as nearly a thousand riders hurtled west toward the coast. Lamborghinis led out the ride, revving their Italian engines, and did nothing to slow down the frothing mass of riders.
The ride, which included 48- and 90-mile options, rolled out with wide, sweeping boulevards and big gears all the way until a narrow, twisting descent seemed to arrive out of nowhere. The lead Lamborghinis had led the ride off of the Wilshire Boulevard course briefly and the descent to the coast, which gave the ride a small-road Italian feel, came as a surprise to them as well. It also split up the field ahead of the turn onto the Pacific Coast Highway. Racing north on the PCH with its classic California beach views, the fondo split into multiple groups. By the time riders reached the first climb on Topanga Canyon Road, it was a long way from the back to the front of the race.
The Santa Monica Mountains hug the coastline, and one can’t ride far without the road turning up. Though Topanga has a couple steeper sections, it is mostly what the Italians call “pedalabile,” meaning you can pedal it. The climb summits at the town of Topanga, a surprisingly country-feeling spot for the middle of Los Angeles. California oaks and steeply cut creekbeds line the twisting road through Old Topanga. It’s a good place for a bike ride.
A swooping descent sent riders down to Calabasas, and the course split into short and long routes. The long route headed north, then turned back into the hills for the Speedplay Gran Premio della Montagna on Piuma, a favorite among local riders. Rage Cycling’s James Ballantine won the men’s GPM prize, a repeat of his victory at the Gran Fondo Giro d’Italia Pasadena last summer. Elizabeth Noey, a past winner of the collegiate race at the Wildflower Triathlon, won the women’s GPM prize.
The short course, meanwhile, headed for flatter terrain and rolled through the San Fernando Valley. The course passed through Reseda and crossed Ventura Boulevard, like a Tom Petty song, if a Tom Petty song had bikes in it. A rest stop offered nutella sandwiches, cookies, and more healthy options from Clif Bar. It’s hard to pass up a hand-made nutella sandwich.
It was not all flat roads and tasty snacks on the shorter course, however. The organizers unearthed a nasty, curving, 20 percent climb in the middle of an innocent-looking suburban neighborhood. Suburbia has its share of surprises. Very few riders made it up this monster without traversing at the very least, or jumping off and walking. From there, the course raced along the ridgeline on Mulholland Drive, before dropping a fast descent into Beverly Hills. The descent passed through a classic Beverly Hills neighborhood: One house had a replica of the Statue of Liberty on the front lawn.
The fondo finished in front of the Beverly Hills City Hall, a building straight out of central casting. After they finished, riders also had the option of heading to lunch at the Hotel Montage or browsing the expo area in the piazza-style courtyard outside. The Giro d’Italia’s unique Trofeo Senza Fine remained on display for photos, too.
Fittingly for its location in Beverly Hills, the fondo had a touch of Hollywood glamor. Kathleen Kelly Lang, who plays Brook Logan on “The Bold and The Beautiful,” rode the fondo. Lang also competes in triathlon events and will race Ironman Oceanside in 2014. Robin Williams, meanwhile, was sighted browsing the expo area outside the Montage.
The Italians brought a festive vibe to the proceedings. The fondo was also well organized: the course was clearly marked and the food stops well-stocked. The early start and the police escort to Topanga Canyon largely kept the ubiquitous Los Angeles traffic at a distance. Riders did encounter more traffic later in the ride, but for the most part, it was manageable. Truthfully, an empty-road riding experience is impossible to find in Los Angeles (unless you are at the start of the LA Marathon Crash Race).
RCS Sport, which organizes the Giro d’Italia and the gran fondo series, called the event a success. The Italian sports marketing organization has plans in the works to expand its presence in the United States with more fondo events in the future. The organizers spread the goodwill by donating a portion of the event’s proceeds to the Los Angeles chapter of the Susan Komen Foundation. Viva Italia!
Editor’s note: Gran Fondo Giro d’Italia provided a comp entry and one night’s accommodation for VeloNews contributor Jen See.