Saturday, June 22, 2024

Gary Hand – From Rider to (Gran Fondo) Organiser

"That’s the thing about fondos - they cater for all ambitions and levels."


HomeInterviewsGary Hand - From Rider to (Gran Fondo) Organiser

Gary Hand used to be a regular on the pages of VeloVeritas, he raced in France; he was always in the mix in Scottish road races; he was the driving force behind the formation of the powerful Endura team in 2009 and in 2012 achieved a long held goal of winning the Scottish Senior Road race Championship. And he’s back, at the helm of Gran Fondo Scotland.

Gran Fondo
Gary couldn’t hide his joy at finally landing the Scottish Road Race Championship, ahead of his pal Davie Lines. Photo©Martin Williamson

And if the Sportiv/Marcha/Fondo thing is new to you, we like Gran Fondo Scotland’s explanation on their website of what a ‘Gran Fondo’ actually is:

Gran Fondo is a type of long-distance road cycling event of at least 120 kilometres (75 miles) long and individually chip-timed. 

Originating in Italy Gran Fondo roughly translates into English as “Big Ride”. 

“The starts are done en masse, and the format allows for riders of every level to participate, like a marathon, where most participants are competing against the clock instead of other participants. 

“Traditionally a large meal is served to the participants at the end of the event.”

Couldn’t have put it better ourselves.

A few years back, Scot Paul Coats rode these events all over Europe as a member of a team which specialised in them and ex-pro and US Postal rider, Jamie Burrow made a science of them too.

We caught up with Gary Hand to ask about his transition from racer to Fondo organiser.

What’s made you go Gran Fondo, Gary?

“I always had an itch in me, after all my racing at national level and abroad, about letting folk have an experience for a day where they feel like they’re riding like the pros.

“I’ve ridden a lot of sportivs and fondos in the UK and abroad and whilst I wouldn’t criticise any or say we’re going to improve upon them, I would say that I felt I could offer a variation on them where it was a better experience.”

Gran Fondo
Photo©Gary Hand/Gran Fondo Scotland

Could you clear something up for us, Gary? – what’s the difference between a race and a fondo, isn’t the distinction getting blurred?

“At the front end of a fondo it’s getting closer to being a race, yes; and from my background of coaching people I know that the next move for competitive individualas is to perhaps try a road race.

“Maybe the person is a golfer and they’re used to playing golf at a nice club with good facilities – they go to a road race or time trial and it’s often a different proposition.

“What we want to do with our events is to give folks a good experience of cycling.

“Our event on Sunday June 16th will start in Stirling Castle with a piper to send them off.

“The route will be one of the most picturesque you can imagine in Central Scotland, taking in the Dukes Pass and Trossachs.

“There’ll be an event village at the finish with a marquee where there will be a pasta party with alcohol free Peroni beer and mineral water on offer.

“And when folks enter for either event – there’s a 55 mile ‘Medio’ fondo and a 75 mile ‘Gran’ fondo – we ask them to tell us what time they think they’ll do and that enables us to set them off in ‘waves’ of similar ability.

“I rode a sportive where I was told that I should start between 08:30 and 09:00 am; I arrived to an empty car park, organised the bike, set off, spoke to no one, rode round, put the bike back in the car and went home – you couldn’t say that was a memorable experience.”

Gran Fondo
Photo©Gary Hand/Gran Fondo Scotland

There must be a lot of ‘hoops to jump through’ to put a show like this on the road?

“My wife, Laura is working with me full time on the organisation of the events – sponsors – British Cycling – Stirling Council – the roads people – police – first aid – Stirling castle.

“There’s so much to do behind the scenes – not least placing nearly 500 direction signs, the night before.”

Is it transponder-timed?

“Yes, every bike will be chipped, as I said there’ll be a piper to send them off from the castle and a commentator to talk them home to the closed road finish at the event village at the Stirling Park & Ride, which we’ve hired for the day.

“We decided to start early so as the roads would be nice and quiet; we’ve driven the route for the last few Sundays to make sure of what road conditions will be like.”

Gran Fondo
Photo©Gary Hand/Gran Fondo Scotland

Changing the subject a wee bit but do you miss racing?

“The thing about sportivs and fondos is that they cater for your different moods; I might ride round one with my dad, leisurely – but if I want to ride hard then I might sit with my business partner, Davie Lines at the front of a fast group.

“And I’ve ridden some real tough ones like the Mallorca 312 [one of the hardest events in the sportive calendar; a lap around the island of Mallorca taking in 312 kilometres with 5,000m plus of climbing, ed.]

“That’s the thing about fondos – they cater for all ambitions and levels.”

Gary Hand
Photo©Gary Hand/Gran Fondo Scotland

Davie Lines is riding then? [former Scottish Criterium champion and Scottish road race scene stalwart. ed.]

“Yes – and we have former Scottish Road race Champion, Graham McGarrity; Stuart Hamilton too, he’s a Scot at heart but with a hint of French as he is now living and cycling mostly in Ledeuix, France, he’ll make a special trip to be on the start line.

“Also we have James McDonald, a rider I coach. He holds the record for the fastest solo ride from John O’Groats to Land’s End and back again.

“He broke the original record by three hours, he did 2,711km – in a time of 5 days 18 hours and 3 minutes.

“He’s also been top 10 in the Race Across America and is planning an attempt on the world 24 hour record on the track – that’s 941 kilometres.

“But it’s not just competitive riders, our youngest entrant is 14 years-old and out oldest 73 years-old.

“So we have a wide variety of interesting folk in among our 200 entries thus far – but that should grow over this last week.”

And are you riding, Gary?

“No, I’d love to but unfortunately there’s too much to do on the organisational front which will keep me off the start line, this time.”

But VeloVeritas may just be there, we’re especially attracted to the pasta party. And there’s a rumour that ‘Didi the Devil’ may put in an appearance, complete with trident?

With thanks to Gary for his time. Full details can be found on the Grand Fondo Scotland website, but don’t leave it too late – entries close this Sunday, 9th June. Have a look at their Autumn Classic on 29th September too.