Improvements to Gran Fondo may attract record numbers to this weekend’s bike ride

MIDDLEBURY— The third edition of the Vermont Gran Fondo bike ride, set for Saturday, June 4, will feature some significant changes from its first two years, and potentially many more participants.
Most significantly, cyclists will find a stretch of Middlebury’s Exchange Street transformed into a hub where riders can take advantage of a bicycle safety check the night before, find convenient parking and grab coffee on ride-day morning, and take a shower upon finishing.
And for the first time, the Gran Fondo après-ride party will take place just steps from the start and finish area.
In the ride’s first two years the start/finish was at the Middlebury College Snow Bowl on Route 125 in Hancock. But with state crews working to tear up and repave Route 125 between the Snow Bowl and Hancock village, the routes for the ride have changed, as has the start/finish.
Perhaps the changes are attracting new riders, or maybe word has gotten out. In any event, more cyclists are expected to ride one of the three loops in this non-competitive biking event this coming Saturday. As of early this week, around 250 people had signed up for the three races and another 30 or 40 were expected by Saturday, compared to around 160 in in each of the past two years.
The Gran Fondo — 105 miles with 10,500 vertical feet of climbing — has 195 participants signed up; the Medio Fondo — 64 miles and 6,800 feet of elevation — has 36; and the Piccolo Fondo — 43 miles 3,200 feet — has 17. Interested riders can register the morning of the race at Vermont Coffee Company.
Organizers have already planned two new climbs for this year’s Fondo, as well as a route with classic Green Mountain features such as covered bridges and general stores. Now they’re delivering what many previous participants have asked for: a central staging area for all pre- and post-ride activities, bike and non-bike alike.
The action will begin on the eve of the race, Friday, June 3, at Woodchuck Cider House, 1321 Exchange St. in Middlebury,  from 3 to 6 p.m. Participants can register, pick up their packets, submit their bicycles for safety checks by professional mechanics, and taste a variety of Woodchuck’s hard cider offerings.
On the morning of the ride, participants will head to the home of the Vermont Coffee Co. and Stonecutter Spirits at 1197 Exchange St. Morning-of registration, packet pick-up and free VCC coffee will be available beginning at 7:30 a.m. Riders in the Gran and Medio distances will head up Exchange Street for a 9 a.m. start from Woodchuck; Piccolo riders will start at 11 a.m. All participants will finish their journeys at Woodchuck later in the afternoon.
Ample parking will be available at Woodchuck Cider House, Vermont Coffee Co., and just up the road at the professional office building at 1330 Exchange St.
After riders return, they can stop by Vermont Sun Fitness Center at 812 Exchange St. and take a complimentary shower until 4 p.m. Meanwhile the après-ride party will get under way at Stonecutter Spirits at 3 p.m. and last until 7 p.m., with live music, food, beverages and local ice cream, as well as Stonecutter’s signature spirits.
Food is being provided by Farmers and Foragers, a local and organically sourced food truck based out of Burlington. They offer a true farm-to-truck experience and take great pride in serving up simple recipes that highlight the beautiful bounty of Vermont’s farms, lakes and forests. In addition to Farmers and Foragers, LuLu ice cream is a small-batch, artisan ice cream shop created by Martha and Laura Mack, sisters, in the summer of 2012. It is housed in a small storefront on Main Street in the quintessential Vermont village of Bristol.
Singer, songwriter and guitarist Daby Touré will provide live music during the après-ride party. He recently released a new album on Cumbancha and unleashed a renewed creative energy. Based in Paris, France, Touré hails originally from Mauritania with family roots in Senegal. While his father and uncles formed the pioneering Afropop band Touré Kunda, Touré has always followed his own music path, with influences ranging from African folk melodies and desert blues, to jazz, pop, reggae, funk and soul. Blessed with an open mind and an explorer’s spirit, Touré’s catchy songs are as likely to appeal to fans of African stars Habib Koité and Youssou N’Dour as they are to followers of Bob Marley, Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder.
The fee is $125 for the Gran distance, $115 for Medio riders and $80 for Piccolo riders. Riders on all three routes will be supported by mechanics and sag wagons from local bike shops and bicycle-touring companies. All entrants are invited to pick up their registration packets and receive a complimentary bike check at Woodchuck Cider House from 3 to 6 p.m. on Friday, June 3, or the morning of the ride at Vermont Coffee Co. starting at 7:30 a.m. With registration, participants also receive professional ride-day photography; custom-designed cycling socks; and entry to the après-ride party. Vermont Gran Fondo cycling jerseys and shorts may be purchased at additional cost.
For more information and to register, go to www.VermontGranFondo.com.

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