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One of America's most spectacular gran fondos

The ride starts on a wide boulevard, with police escort. Cyclists get full use of both lanes here.
The ride starts on a wide boulevard, with police escort. Cyclists get full use of both lanes here.Steve Schmunk

San Francisco cyclists in the mood for a spectacular fall ride should take a long look at the Mammoth Fall Century & Gran Fondo, September 6th.

The majestic Eastern Sierra
The majestic Eastern SierraSteve Schmunk

Overseen by Hall of Famer Bill Cockroft, VP of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area and one of the most accomplished organizers of cycling and skiing events in the U.S., the Mammoth fondo weekend is now in its 21st year, having undergone a few changes since its inception. Formerly this event was named the High Sierra Fall Century.

Mammoth Lakes is about six hours' drive from downtown San Francisco, depending on traffic and route. Once there, riders will find a spectacular 102-mile gran fondo route featuring six climbs, with a total of around 6500ft climbing, depending on which altimeter is used. These major climbs are all more than one mile long, mostly 4-6% grades, and are spread throughout the route.

Shorter route options of 70 and 42 miles are available, as well as a 102-mile century ride - an un-timed version of the gran fondo. For those keen to make a truly sporting weekend out of this, a 7.8-mile prologue hill climb time trial awaits on Friday afternoon. Ride prices range from $45-$95 until August 30th, when late registration pricing kicks in.

To help mixed groups dine together at the post-ride buffet banquet, start times are staggered with the intention of getting finishers home at roughly the same time. And for those on the shorter courses who wonder what they're missing, the 70 and 42-mile loops get to do a fun, curving 3-mile descent through a pine forest that the longer riders don’t see.

1984 Olympic medalists Steve Hegg and Nelson Vails host VIP groups in the gran fondo (Hegg) and medio fondo (Vails). Package details are available at the event website.

Set in the Eastern Sierra, which many say is the most beautiful mountain line in the U.S.A., the Mammoth Fondo starts and finishes at an altitude of around 7,000 feet, with a high point of almost 9,000 feet, so while there may be less climbing than at some of the coastal fondos and century rides, participants will find plenty of physical challenge in the rarified air of Mammoth to match the majestic mountain views.

One of the most attractive features of the Mammoth Fondo is the relatively car-free roads, and get this: only two stop lights and one stop sign along the entire 102-mile route. It's the East Side, folks!

With around 1400 riders expected between all route options, there is some company to be found out on the roads, but at no time will the event feel crowded. And a downhill start is neutralized at 20 mph, to keep things on the safer side.

While some might attempt to break the course record of 4:35:37, set by former pro Neil Shirley, others will doubtless take a more casual pedal and enjoy the six rest stops along the way. Showing great insight to the needs of the long-distance cyclist, the organizers have posted the rest stop menus online to help ride planning.

A light lunch is provided at roughly the halfway mark, stop three at Black Lake - but beware a long climb follows, so go easy on those red potatoes! At the finish in the Mammoth Lakes Center, riders are treated to a buffet banquet and entertainment from a live band.

This is a ride that many Bay Area cyclists might wonder why they haven't attended already. And those that have will likely be going back for more!

More information at http://www.fallcentury.org/
Register online http://www.fallcentury.org/register.html