The Cheaha Challenge Gran Fondo, now in its 30th year, takes off annually from Jacksonville, Alabama, and is one of America’s top cycling events, if not Alabama’s. Picked by Strambecco as one of the Best Road Cycling Events in the Southeast, this ride is exceptional for every level of rider, and no rider ability from amateur to world tour pro is left out. Adding to the equation, the the Cheaha Challenge Gran Fondo is a qualifier for the UCI Gran Fondo World Championship and the Gran Fondo National Series making it a popular option for competitive cyclists. Route options start at 12 mile cruise and go all the way up to the “big ones,” the popular UCI qualifying century with nearly 10,000 ft. of climbing, and the Ultra, an astonishing 126.3 mile route with just under 13,000 feet of climbing! Some of the distances offer the chance to ride up Mount Cheaha, the highest point in the state of Alabama.
The event has a unique history. The Cheaha Challenge Gran Fondo was started in 1993 by Mike Vickers, the past president of the Northeast Alabama Bicycle Club. Vickers envisioned a challenging bike ride from Piedmont down Highway 9 up the scenic drive over Cheaha Mountain to Adam’s Gap and back. Despite initial doubts, Vickers convinced others that people would come and ride the route. The event is now the largest century ride in Alabama and attracts cyclists from around the world.
The ride honors the memory of Mark Wiltshire, a local family practice physician and cycling enthusiast who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer in 1997. Wiltshire was a big supporter of the Chief Ladiga Trail, a local Rails-to-Trails project. Since 1998, a portion of the ride proceeds has been donated to the Chief Ladiga Trail in Wiltshire’s honor. Thanks to the support of many local entities and citizens, the Chief Ladiga Trail is now complete from Anniston to the Georgia state line, creating a paved greenway of approximately 100 miles and the longest continuous paved rail trail in the U.S.
There are a variety of accommodation options for those traveling in for the event including the primary event hotel, camping, B&B/cabin rentals or enjoy the special experience of staying at Jacksonville State University dorms.
About UCI Gran Fondo World Series
The UCI Gran Fondo World Series (former UCI World Cycling Tour) is a series of UCI-sanctioned races. Some 25-30 qualifier events qualify the top 20% in each age group to the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships, the former UCI Masters Road World Championships, where the champions are awarded the coveted rainbow jersey. While promoting high-level competition for Masters and Amateurs, one of the aims of this series is the globalization of “Cycling for All.” With that in mind, the geographical spread of the events is very important, alongside strict organizational and sporting criteria and certain tourism interests. The UCI Gran Fondo World Series concept is focused on both very competitive riders who either miss the skills and talent to become a Pro Elite rider or who still want to compete at a high level at a later age but are also open to enthusiast sport riders who like to keep fit and simple take part in competitive events. You can see all events listed here: http://www.ucigranfondoworldseries.com/.
The Gran Fondo National Series was established in 2012 and comprised 10+ European-style rides/races staged in the United States. Every GFNS event offers courses covering 30, 60, and 100-mile journeys through some of the most beautiful and challenging terrains in endurance sports. Timed sections allow riders to compete in specific course segments, while casual cyclists can ride at their own pace. Participants can ride as individuals or on teams. GFNS awards special prizes to the top riders in every age and gender category.
For the most competitive cyclists, the series partnered with USA Cycling to bring the one-day Gran Fondo National Championship into the portfolio of official USA Cycling National Championship events. The event is held annually, and a national championship jersey and medal are awarded to the overall winner in each Gran Route age group category. The 2023 National Championship event will be held at Gran Fondo Maryland in Frederick, Maryland, on September 17. To compete in the National Championship category, riders must qualify by meeting specific criteria, including results and rankings in Qualification Events. However, all riders are welcome to participate in Gran Fondo Maryland and ride any of the normal Maryland Gran Fondo routes (Gran, Medio, and Piccolo), regardless of qualification status.
GFNS-owned events include Gran Fondo Florida; Tour of Georgia Gran Fondo; Highlands Gran Fondo; Gran Fondo Asheville; Boone Gran Fondo; Golden Gran Fondo; Gran Fondo Maryland. Partner events include Cheaha Challenge; Vermont Gran Fondo; Utah-Cache Gran Fondo; Virginia’s Blue Ridge Gran Fondo; 719 Ride; Mt Evans Hill Climb Gran Fondo.