The Catalina fondo might not be a fondo in the purest Italian sense, but that’s what makes it unique. For one, it’s a mountain-bike event, and, two, you’ll have to escape from the mainland to participate in it.
With Catalina Island sitting in the Pacific Ocean some 25 miles southwest of Los Angeles, the organizers say their fondo isn’t about the bike but the destination. A gorgeous spot steeped in some quirky history, the island for a time played host to spring-training camps for Major Langue Baseball teams and has a monument to prove it.
The fondo itself is 55 miles long, but don’t let the distance fool you—remember, you’ll be on a mountain bike, and you’ll climb more than 8,000 feet (finishing times range from five to eight hours, depending on your fitness level). There’s a mix of paved and dirt climbs, with some ramps hitting gradients of over 20 percent.
But the real challenge comes at the very end with an 11-mile ascent of Main Divide, after which you’ll descend onto the grounds of the Wrigley Monument. About the 2013 edition, longtime cyclist and author Patrick Brady wrote, “The Catalina Gran Fondo was both the prettiest and hardest mountain-bike ride I’ve ever done.”
The Catalina Gran Fondo is held in May.