A cyclist from the 2015 Moab Gran Fondo tackles the 5,500-foot rise in elevation along the 60-mile course. Cyclists at this year’s event on Saturday, Sept. 29, will notice new pavement and improvements on the La Sal Mountain Loop Road made recently by the Grand County Road Department. [Photo courtesy of Tim Guzman Photography]

Bicycling 60 miles with a 5,500-foot climb in elevation is certainly a “gran fondo”— that’s Italian for “big ride.” Organizers of the annual cycling event Gran Fondo Moab expect around 200 riders to make this trek on Saturday, Sept. 29.

Gran Fondo Moab’s website states “this cycling event will not be run as a sanctioned race,” though “all riders receive an accurate time and placing for their efforts.”  The website makes it clear that safety needs to come before speed, as participants will be “riding open, narrow, mountain roads.”

Cyclists will begin at Swanny City Park, 400 N. 100 West, at 8 a.m. For the ride, they will go about 2 miles on U.S. Highway 191 before turning right onto State Route 128 and riding about 16 miles before turning right at the Castle Valley intersection. The road then climbs almost 2,000 feet in 13 miles to the intersection with the La Sal Mountain Loop Road. 

From there, it gets even tougher, with a 7-mile climb to an elevation of 8,300 feet at the Castle Valley Overlook. Six miles after that, riders will confront a 1-mile climb to the Geyser Pass turn-off. At approximately 9,500 feet in elevation, the turn-off is the highest point of the race.

According to the Grand Fondo Moab website, first male and female riders to complete the 42.4-mile ride to the turn-off will be crowned “King and Queen of the Mountain” and each will be awarded $100. There will also be official times and prizes given for the second, third, fourth and fifth places for men and women who reach the turn-off. From there, it’s 22 miles downhill to the finish line near Old City Park, 2231 Elk Circle.  

The event officially finishes at 2 p.m. with each rider given their exact time; riders who finish later than that will receive a time of 6-plus hours.  

Scott and Karen Guzman-Newton came up with the idea of bringing a Gran Fondo event to Moab after doing a similar event in Europe.  

“Karen and I love riding the loop road,” said Guzman-Newton, a co-owner of Poison Spider Bicycles. “We wanted to share this great course with other riders. We like being able to support riders to be able to race to the top, or just have a great experience riding this hard route.”

Guzman-Newton said he is the promoter for the event and Poison Spider Bicycles is the main sponsor of Gran Fondo Moab.  

The first event was in 2010 with less than 100 riders. Since then, it has grown to over 400 riders.

“We don’t want it to get much bigger than that,” he said. “We like being able to meet someone at registration and then be able to remember who they are the next day at the lunch awards at Old City Park.”

Usually the event happens the first Saturday in May; however, the 2017 event had to be canceled and the 2018 event had to be postponed due to road work on the La Sal Mountain Loop Road. The number of participants is down somewhat this year, but Guzman-Newton said he is happy with the turnout this year and thinks riders will appreciate the road improvements.

There will be three aid stations along the route with food and water, as well as sports drinks and energy gels from event sponsor Hammer Nutrition. The first aid station is about 20 miles from Moab, the next one is positioned close to the top of the climb, and another is located near the event finish at Old City Park.

“We have always used local kids to do the aid stations,” Guzman-Newton said. “For this event we will have Moab’s Red Devils Mountain Bike team, which has boys and girls from both the middle and high school.”

The team will receive a donation for their work. Guzman-Newton said Gran Fondo Moab has also previously donated to Trail Mix, a Grand County committee that builds and maintains trails for non-motorized use.

Guzman-Newton said that as a safety precaution there will be a police escort for the riders from Swanny City Park to the Castle Valley turn-off on State Route 128.  

Tim Matthews, a self-described “amateur cyclist,” plans to participate in this year’s Gran Fondo Moab. He said he thinks he has a good chance of being named “King of the Mountain,” but as a Poison Spider Bicycles employee, he understands the competition and added, “barring any pros showing up.”

Matthews is most interested in winning the overall best time, but he isn’t just interested in the competitive aspect of the event.

“I like that the loop road is stunningly beautiful,” Matthews said, “from red rocks to alpine on the same ride.”

Mark Sevenoff, co-owner of another Moab-based cycle shop, Western Spirit Cycling, plans to be a returning participant.  

“I think I’ve done the Grand Fondo nearly every year they even had it,” Sevenoff said. “Probably four or fives times at least.”

He said he’s aiming to be on the “locals’ podium, one of the top three Moab guys.”  

But mostly, he said, he just wants to have a good ride.

“I love the route, one of my favorite road rides anywhere really,” Sevenoff said. “The folks at Poison Spider do a great job with the event.”

Adam Klarer is traveling from San Diego, California, with a group of nine other cyclists to participate in Gran Fondo Moab. Klarer is the father of Emily Klarer, a Moab-based photographer who also co-owns the Gym on 5th. This will be his fourth year doing Gran Fondo Moab.  

“What draws us to the ride are the second-to-none event organizers Scott and Karen, the Poison Spider Bicycles crew and volunteers, the sublime scenery and the camaraderie of riding with people from all over,” Klarer said. “We always enjoy our Moab experiences. It’s just a great place to be.”

Cyclists return to La Sal Mountain Loop Road after construction put event on hiatus

“We wanted to share this great course with other riders.”

When: Saturday, Sept. 29 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Where: Swanny City Park to Old City Park via the La Sal Mountains

Cost: Online registration closed on Sept. 23

More info: Call Scott Guzman-Newton at Poison Spider Bicycles at 800-635-1792, email info@granfondomoab.com or visit granfondomoab.com