Granfondo & Pro Racing


The Racers make the Race

When Mattia Gaffuri woke on May 21, 2023, we can only speculate what he was thinking. He may have been doing a systems check on himself, “legs, stomach, lungs – check”, or he may have been thinking about breakfast (no doubt fully planned the night before), about getting to the race, about his bike, or pinning his number on his jersey. But based on his performance that day, there is another theory. “Arrive alone”.


To say that Gaffuri put on a show in the last 40 miles of the 2023 edition of GFNY World Championship NYC would be an understatement. In fact, in the first ten miles, Gaffuri announced his presence to the large group forming at the front, and let everyone in that group know that it was his race to lose. The gauntlet was dropped, and while there were some challenges, Gaffuri and the entire SWATT Club team made it clear that this was a demonstration of pro strategies, and pro tactics, at an elite amateur level.


There were no team cars, no race radio, no convoys of support vehicles. Only the vehicles of the race commissaires, the motos with cameras, and the riders themselves. The stakes never higher in a GFNY or any granfondo ever run like this, the riders were racing for a chance to race with Continental pros in a UCI 1.2 race Gran Premio NYC on the third Sunday in May, 2024. Only the top 6 finishers would make that cut. All the while a field of thousands, including those elites who would fight hard but not make the top 6, were achieving their granfondo goals on the heels of the front groups and some finishers stretching back for hours – but finishing a grueling course – to put their own mark on their cycling dreams.


There was no shortage of talent in the front group. Former and current pros all on the rivet for a chance at getting a glance from other pro squads in the first UCI race of its kind in the World’s greatest city.


Pro Is As Pro Does

Minus all the bells and whistles of what most think of in a professional race, the racers of SWATT Club went to work. Coming in numbers and working for both the men and women of the team alike, SWATT Club set a tone of professionalism within the peloton that the other leaders had to react to. Taking their chances one by one, and sometimes in small groups, Miguel Arroyo launched a solo attack and built as much as a two minute lead before being caught by Gaffuri on one of the last big climbs of the day, Cheesecote, a long 40 miles from the finish line in Fort Lee, NJ.


Gaffuri’s run to the finish line had officially been launched. One can only speculate the thought process, later confirmed in finish line interviews, “arrive alone”. Having been pipped at the line in a sprint in 2022 by Luca Vergallito (racing World Tour now for Alpecin – Deceuninck), Gaffuri traveled from Italy with his teammates with one clear intention. Win the race our way. Work to our strengths as a team, and then to Gaffuri’s strengths as an individual racer. With the group Gaffuri left behind struggling to organize, and with his SWATT Club teammates doing their best to defend their captain’s lead, Arroyo sank back to the group and then came off the back. Gaffuri just continued to push, a long individual time trial away from taking the top step of the podium, and continued to take time out of the group. 1 minute, 2 minutes, 4 minutes, and finally 7 minutes. With roughly ten miles to go the race director’s car announced to the broadcast booth that “they won’t catch him now”. It was over, and now the race for the other five spots in the GFNY team for Gran Premio had begun.


Gaffuri crossed the line alone. Seven full minutes ahead of the second and third place racers. SWATT Club and Gaffuri had done their collective jobs (also bringing Women’s winner Chiara Doni to the line a scant 16 minutes after Gaffuri). The plan had been executed to perfection demonstrating the esprit de core of the team, and probably without thinking about it the proof of granfondo as the forum and format for developing cycling pros.


The Future of Pro Cycling – The Proof

Here in this space we have been discussing granfondo as the future of pro cycling for over four years. We have covered it from a number of angles that focus on the similarities of what racers will face in UCI competition on the Continental and World Tour level, and the traps that pro cycling is falling into in trying to become more relevant to mass audience TV broadcasts.


While road racing in the U.S. has taken significant steps back, granfondo is continuing to step forward. Albeit slowly. Organizers that have for years tacked the “granfondo” label on events that fall short of the authenticity of the sport in and of itself (think bike tour or maybe timed climbs vs end-to-end race timing), have sold the sport short. Several are now waking up to the fact that the challenges a developing pro faces in a true granfondo format are what a contracted pro will face in the monuments and one day races and in some of the more challenging mountain stages in the Continental and World Tour circuits.


Gaffuri and SWATT Club have proven the model. Bringing pro tactics and strategies to a true granfondo format race, they comported themselves as pros. Planning for every contingency (or so it appears in retrospect – there may have been some moments of panic or adaptation to circumstances on the road that we may never know), respected the course and the competition, and executed their plan. The rest of the elite field were hit with the shock and awe of team tactics, and likely will not miss the next chance to try to bring the same investment of strategy and tactics to put their best foot forward.  For Gaffuri, and those that managed to finish top six in the field, they have earned the  chance for pro team directors and UCI officials to see what they can do in Gran Premio.


The question may spring to mind, “why the UCI pro race if granfondo is the future of pro cycling?” See above. What Gran Premio puts on display is the ability to advance racers of capability into the pro ranks while using granfondo as the proving ground. Six racers will advance to Gran Premio. Countless more will race GFNY fifteen minutes later, for the chance to put their talent on display, develop themselves as racers, and perhaps even catch the attention of the pro teams that are watching.  This is granfondo talking the talk, and walking the walk, of fostering a format for racing that is sustainable and creates an outstanding racing experience for current or aspiring pros, and enthusiasts alike.


It’s not built for mass media. It’s built to keep road racing alive and thriving, and to provide a mixed field of elites and amateurs currently rivaled only by marathon running.  

Read more:
What Pro Cycling Development is Missing
Granfondo – The Future Path of Pro Cycling
Rethinking Cycling’s Future