Gran Fondo Giro d'Italia rides through Pasadena

PASADENA- If you were out early Sunday morning and thought you noticed an unusual deluge of cyclists flooding the streets from Pasadena, moving east in packs, you were not wrong. It was the second coming of the Gran Fondo Giro d’Italia Pasadena edition.

“It was an epic ride today,” rider Royce Hudson, who rode the maximum distance available Sunday, said. “Perfect weather, got a little warm near the end, but it was a really fun ride.”

The major differences between last year’s rides and this this year’s were alterations in where the routes ran, with this year featuring noticeably fewer changes in elevation and the inclusion of more area communities to the east, including Altadena, San Marino, Monrovia, Arcadia, La Verne,Temple City, and Claremont.

“It was lovely. It was really well done,” rider Beth Spurlock said. “It was a great route. You saw some of the really nice areas of the different cities and the support was good. It was really nice.”

This year’s event was also moved forward in the calendar from July 23 to June 2, which, along with overcast skies in the morning, saved the riders from the challenge of extreme heat, at least until later in the day. 

“It was a lot different than last year,” returning rider Richard Clark said after completing the longest of the day’s routes. “Last year we were up in the Angeles, Big Tujunga; that was a lot more hilly. It was also six weeks later, so it was a lot hotter and it was a tougher race last year. This one I think people could probably go faster. It was a fast race this year.”

Just like last year, the Italian-concept cycling experience once again featured three routes of varied distance and direction. The short course covered 25 miles, the medium course covered 66 miles, and the long course spanned 94 miles, including over 4,000 feet of vertical gain. All three groups started en masse from Pasadena City Hall at 7 a.m., and 579 riders aged from eight to 71 were ushered on their way by Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard. 

“We started out in the morning and the weather was perfect,” Hudson, a Silver Lake resident who rode the long route, said. “The police escort was fun. The first hour was really fast because of the police escort. We managed to average 25-26 miles per hour, which was good.”

All three routes ended where they began back at Pasadena City Hall, and the hospitality of the Gran Fondo Giro d’Italia Expo.    

The top overall finisher on the long course was James Ballantine, who made it back at the front of the pack in a time of 4:34:33.66. 

“It kind of happened,” Ballantine said of the win. “I was staying with the front when I saw there were two breaks on the mountains on some of the climbs, so I kind of stayed on the front with those. The last one there were just three of us on the front, so I thought this will be interesting to see how this goes, so it worked out.”

However, over three hours later Ballantine was still on hand, sitting on his bike to help welcome the final rider to finish the course.

“I hung out, they have great food,” Ballantine said. “Actually, my family rode it, so I was waiting for them to come in too. I mean, it was just a great place to hang out.”

Barrett Brauer was the second finisher on the long course in 4:35:22.25. He was followed by third-place finisher Stephan Strayer, an Indiana native taking advantage of the chance to ride in the event as he is in the Los Angeles area temporarily for six months.

“The route was really good,” Strayer said. “It was rolling in the beginning around the Rose Bowl, stuff we’re familiar with, and then it went to the base of Mt. Baldy road and it went in. It was a pretty nice route.”

The top female finisher on the long route was Lisa Cerqueira in 4:39:08.91, which put her eighth overall. The next female rider to cross the line was Karen Bialos at 5:37:46.93, representing the 55th overall finisher.

On the medium course the top finisher was Lauris Liberts in 3:45:15. Second and third place came across nearly simultaneously, with Yeshua Farfan and John McKone finishing in 3:48:43.22 and 3:48:45.82 respectively. The top female rider on the medium route was Dominique Valencia in 4:05:30.53.

“I was expecting a little bit more hills,” said Jake, an 11-year-old rider who last year did the short route before moving up to the medium course for this year’s event, “but the last five to 10 or so miles I tried pushing my hardest. I got really tired. Then at the end I felt really good and had long cheer. I’m having a good time.”

The overall winner of the short route was Caue Suplicy of San Diego in 1:20:45.92. The top female finisher was Christy Nicholson in 1:45:28.18.

Gran Fondo Giro d’Italia Expo was set up in and around the steps of City Hall, featuring food, a place to cool down, and representatives of all sorts of biking gear and accessories. It was the second day for the Expo, which on Saturday had operated in conjunction with the Make Music Pasadena festival. Representatives on hand included Scott Moninger, an American road race legend who by the time of his retirement had notched a record 275 victories, and was at the event as National Brand Ambassador for Speedplay pedals.

“These events are great. You get a ton of people out. We had three live bands here yesterday, so it’s a good fun atmosphere,” Moninger said. “It’s [also] a way to show off our wares; we are a California-based company... You’ve got ex-pros that are doing an event like this. You’ve also got people that started riding a bike ten days or two weeks ago. This is really a target event. It is full spectrum of ability and knowledge of biking and the biking components.”

As the final participant crossed the start-finish line just under eight hours since the ride began, the organizers cut into a ceremonial cake in celebration and sprayed one another with bubbly, signifying the conclusion of a cycling event that is more about sharing the passion for the ride than where you finish. 

“This is great. It’s in my own backyard,” said Clark, a Pasadena local who plans to be back next year, “so I really enjoy it."

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