Gem County to put Gran into Fondo

Gravel roads and elevations in Gem County will add challenging dimensions to Sunday’s Gran Fondo cycling event.

Nearly 800 cyclists are expected to take up the challenge of one of three road races this Sunday, each looping from in front of the Idaho State Capitol building in Boise. But only the most venturesome will tackle the 80-mile Gran Fondo and the terrain of Gem County.

The Gran Fondo Hincapie Boise is a new event tagging onto the Boise Twilight Criterium. It is a total departure to the Criterium road race on the streets of Boise on Saturday evening. The three races to be run on Sunday are about getting out on the road in a less competitive, yet challenging format.

Gran Fondo translates loosely into “great fun” and that is the design of former Tour de France and Olympic cyclist George Hincapie. He has organized such events across the country for seven years but is calling the “Boise routes some of the most adventurous in the Gran Fondo Hincapie series.”

Cyclists have the choice of the 15-mile Piccolo, the 50-mile Medio or the 80-mile Gran. All races will roll out of Cecil D. Andrus Park in front of the Capitol at 8 a.m.

The Piccolo will traverse a course that is very much urban Boise. The Medio will venture west of the city and make its way across some of the rural terrain of Ada County reaching Dry Creek Road and Chaparral before turning back.

The Gran is where Gem County comes into play. The 80-mile ultimate route features mountain climbs, beautiful river views and gravel King of the Mountain (KOM) sideshows. The longest course is expected to draw about 400 of the riders.

Shooting out of Boise the first Gran ascent is Seamans Gulch then a race down Dry Creek and Beacon Light Roads. That’s when the course gets its first real climb and dirt road section as in comes to play in Gem County.

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The route turns onto Jackass Gulch Road for the first timed KOM over a 1.3 mile ascent. That’s followed by a descent that will cross Highway 16 and race down Old Freeze Out Road. The course will include a rest stop near Substation and Quail Run Road, onto Plaza Road and then a Frozen Dog entrance to Shale Rock Road for perhaps the most scenic but longest gravel stretch of the challenge.

Another KOM will face cyclists completing the Horseshoe Bend hill climb on Highway 55 and then a descent to Dry Creek Road and a final KOM on Cartwright Hill become returning to downtown Boise.

Hincapie will be making the ride himself, along with former U.S. Cycling teammate and multiple Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. Olympian and Boise native Kristen Armstrong is also expected to be in the field.

Late registrations will be accepted on site of the race start but only between 6 and 7 a.m. Lineups for the field are expected to start at 7:10 a.m. with all racers in line for the 8 a.m. launch no later than 7:45 a.m.

Cyclists are likely to be riding in bunches as they come through Gem County. Road signage and traffic assistance will be in several locations though riders are expected to heed signal lights as this is designed as a fun endurance challenge and not a speed race. The first riders are expected to enter Gem County about 9:15 a.m. with the last riders leaving the county around 1 p.nm.

Warning signs and flaggers will be stationed at key intersections for the safety of the participants. Old Free Out will be closed during the event for all but local traffic. Event organizers have worked closely with Gem County and Emmett City officials to streamline the event and cause as little disruption of traffic as possible.

A call center has been established for residents with any concerns during the race. The Center can be accesses at 208-398-2020 and will be manned from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Sunday. 

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