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Gran Fondos began more than half a century ago as cycling events for the masses. Translating to “big ride” in Italian, they have historically pitted amateurs and professionals side by side on the pedals (for 75 or more miles, according to the Italian Cycling Federation) in pursuit of cash prizes. And in the realm of cycling—a sport whose namesake publication has openly admitted (again and again) that it has a diversity problem—one could argue that a fondo is among the more inclusive events.
But even fondos have room for growth. And the FoCo Fondo, a Fort Collins–based gravel cycling event, aims to push the line closer to where it should be. “We all have our circles,” says professional roadie-turned-gravel-grinder Whitney Allison, who organizes the event with fellow pro rider (and her husband) Zack Allison. “FoCo Fondo’s goal is taking everybody’s circles and making them overlap. We like to say that ‘it’s not your granddaddy’s fondo.’”
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Started in 2015 with what Allison calls a few riders and a “cooler-hidden-in-a-ditch situation,” the FoCo Fondo has grown every year since its inception. This year, she expects the event, slated for July 23, to hit its 2,000-rider cap across all four different routes: a 12-miler (great for kids), 32-miler, 53-miler, and the 118-mile Triple Dog Dare You Route, which offers a $9,000 prize purse split across the top riders in the men’s, women’s, and non-binary categories.
“There are people racing the FoCo Fondo, there are people party-pacing it, and there is the in-between,” Allison jokes, adding that technically, the FoCo Fondo isn’t a true fondo. “Essentially, we took the parts we liked and ditched the rest. And ‘FoCo Fondo’ has a good ring to it.”
In Allison’s point of view, there’s no question that the ride’s inclusive spirit and its upward growth trajectory are linked. Over time, the FoCo Fondo has come to include a non-binary podium category and five scholarships for non-binary athletes, 20 scholarships for BIPOC athletes, free pre-race training rides, and childcare during the race (a rarity). This year will mark the first time it has had a dedicated team of leaders for historically underrepresented areas in cycling—and importantly, those leaders are being paid.
“It’s been a slow but sustainable build as we try to build deep roots so that it will last,” Allison says, also acknowledging that the growth wouldn’t have been possible without the support of their sponsors, especially Fat Tire and Shimano Gravel. “The FoCo Fondo is a place to create a little microcosm that is reflective of what’s important to us, the world we want to see, and to be an extension of the Fort Collins community as a whole.”
Zack adds that, at the root of it all, it’s not about being inclusive. “Really, we’re just not excluding people,” he says. “It’s just creating an event where everyone has their people and is motivated to sign up for a good time.”
4 Ways the FoCo Fondo Promotes Inclusivity In Cycling
Here’s how the FoCo Fondo breaks down historically held barriers into cycling—and how other community sporting events can follow in its treadmarks.
1. BIPOC Inclusivity
- What the FoCo Fondo is doing: Offering 20 scholarships, which cover registration and housing, for BIPOC athletes
- What the cycling world can learn: “It is important to recognize that there are socioeconomic and cultural barriers surrounding the sport of cycling,” says Jared Hanson, a member of 1st City Cycling’s elite team and the FoCo Fondo’s BIPOC Program Leader, noting that African American and Hispanic households earn approximately half of what their white counterparts do on average. “Arguably the most important lesson to be taken away is in recognizing and understanding the sociological, socioeconomic, and cultural barriers that BIPOC athletes face in the sport of cycling,” he says. “By bringing athletes who are experiencing these situations into the fold, you can tailor your program to best suit the needs of your local community and ensure this is a welcoming and easy-to-access sport for all human beings.”
2. Non-Binary Inclusivity
- What the FoCo Fondo is doing: Distributing equal podium cash purses across men, women, and non-binary categories and offering scholarships that cover registration and housing for five non-binary athletes
- What the cycling world can learn: “Many other gravel races and events are including non-binary categories,” says Bethel Steele, the FoCo Fondo’s Non-Binary Program Leader, “but what is novel is that the FoCo Fondo positions non-binary and gender-expansive categories in an equitable light.” Steele adds: “Just adding a non-binary or gender-expansive category is not enough to encourage folks register for an event—they need to know that they can trust you. I strongly recommend setting up an advisory or leadership board to activate these communities in a meaningful way for both the event and for the sub-communities as well. I also highly suggest compensating these people for their time, knowledge, and experience.”
3. Para Athlete Inclusivity
- What the FoCo Fondo is doing: Making efforts with accessibility such as parking and equipment assistance on-site and ensuring that para road cycling safety guidelines are followed, along with pre-race planning and coordination for para athletes and registration for a support rider at no additional cost
- What the cycling world can learn: “I hope that the initiatives for the para category at the FoCo Fondo will be the start of the conversation for how to best create an inclusive environment in cycling for athletes with disabilities,” says Sam Summers, the FoCo Fondo’s Para Program Leader. “I was recently [a spectator] at a triathlon, and I had to park a half-mile away from the viewing area and traverse a dirt road in my wheelchair because the handicap parking [was turned into] a bike staging area. It didn’t feel malicious but conveyed, ‘We don’t think you exist.’” Summers also says that the point of events like the FoCo Fondo is to promote community and friendships around a shared enthusiasm for biking—“regardless of physical ability.”
4. Women’s Inclusivity
- What the FoCo Fondo is doing: Offering childcare for kids between six months and 12 years old—including a limited, needs-based childcare grant—and equal podium cash purses across men, women, and non-binary categories, along with women’s-specific training rides and a free women’s gravel cycling clinic on June 17
- What the cycling world can learn: “It’s not just the number of women who register that should be the focus,” says Janna Dickerson, the FoCo Fondo’s Women’s Program Leader. “There needs to be equitable access to opportunities for women before they even arrive at the start line, and then the event itself needs to be welcoming and inclusive.”