Interview: An Insiders View Of The UCI Gran Fondo In Perth

Gran Fondos are booming! One of the fastest growing sectors in the sport of cycling, these mass participation events offer the atmosphere and excitement of a pro-level race but are open to beginners right through to elite level riders. Rubbing shoulders with past and current heroes from all walks of life on a bike!

Generally featuring mechanical support, feed zones, medical professionals, closed or partially closed roads and cheering crowds of excitable spectators, it’s little wonder we are seeing more Gran Fondo and mass participation cycling events right here in Australia.

What is the origin of the term? Gran Fondo is Italian and loosely translates to ‘Big Ride’.

Perth was recently home to the King or Olympics of Global Gran Fondos none other than an international round of the UCI’s World Gran Fondo Series and the Australian Qualifier for the World Amateur Road Race and Time Trial World Championships. Peloton Cafe spoke to Jon Leighton, owner of JML Racing, who travelled to Perth with members of the JML Bike Bug Cocowhip Racing to get amongst the action.

Q Jon can you tell us what the UCI UWCT Gran Fondo Series is all about ?

A 5 years ago the UCI created an event for Amateur and Masters Riders called the UWCT Gran Fondo Series.
Q How does it work ?

A There are around 10 qualifiers around the world and 2 in Australia. There are 2 events the Time Trial and a Road Race split into age categories. To qualify for the final you need to finish in the top 25% of the your age group, not have UCI points, have a racing licence, and have no positive dope testing against your name and be prepared to be tested at the finals.
Q When and Where are the finals and how did you get along?

A The qualifier was in Perth and the finals this year are in Australia for the first time and back in Perth. I qualified 8th fastest in the Time Trial and 13th in the road race to qualify for the finals in both events.

Q Talk us through the Road Race.

A I think you might have heard some feedback so I will give it to you straight. The TT went off without a hitch on a fast windy course with a technical section in the middle. I felt fast and delighted with the organisation, course and my qualification.
The Road Race with over a 1000 entrants was also very well organised and some learnings for the finals later in the year. The course is 143K of fast wide open start and finish and hilly middle section starting with the famous Zig Zag climb. Ultimately the groups started to close together (2 mins) – this will be rectified at the final with 10 mins separating groups. The race was also sabotaged by tacs ala Tour de France style being scattered on the course which cost many many riders their lifetime race, qualification and dream. For me I survived all of that but with 142K completed and coming to the off ramp of the freeway at 60KPH in 2nd wheel my front wheel snagged into a steel expander ramp designed to keep the freeway ramps apart and at 40 degrees had expanded to the perfect angle to catch a front wheel as I opened up for my sprint. Down at 60KPH, skin off most of my right side and the race disappearing in front of me. The poor fellow behind hit me in the ribs and I feel for him and my cracked ribs.
This was my mistake and pure racing incident. I would like to compliment the medic staff at the end, all the coms, volunteers and staff as well as Dave, Matt and Goose for bringing the show to Perth.

Q How did you qualify?

A Looking at my training peaks and Strava I spent 23 secs on the floor, put my chain back on, straightened the gears and handlebars and sprinted to the line just ahead of the Peloton finishing 13th and qualification – just!
Q Talk us through your week in Perth.

A We had a brilliant week in Perth with the JML Racing team. Andrew Jackson the WAIS head of Cycling was our host and DS. Henk Vogels the JML Racing Director of Performance was the race commentator and our elite team based in Perth and the JML Racing Pro Masters that travelled from all around NSW to Perth had a brilliant week. We had some terrific rides around Perth, fantastic dinners and an amazing post ride breakfast the the Little Shop of Plenty Cocowhip coffee shop in Marylands Perth.
Q How did you get involved?

A 5 years ago the first Australian qualifier was in Perth. I went along to see what it was all about and qualified for the finals in Belgium. Back then it was the top 10%. The Belgium final on the Leige Baston Leige course was a lifetime experience and I have been hooked every since to represent Australia.
Q Any advice for other qualifiers?

A Have a look at the course beforehand. It is hard but fair. Of course train hard and make sure your equoipment is in tip top condition. We are lucky as Bike Bug is the JML Racing team sponsor. Whilst in Perth your secret weapen is a cocowhip at the Little Shop of Plenty!

Q How do people get involved in the future?

A Get on the UWCT site and look out for the qualifiers, sign up and start training.
Q How is JML Racing is involved?

A JML Racing is more than a cycling team. We actively develip riders on and off the bike. Whilst we have a talented bunch of u23 riders including 1 world champion we also have a talented bunch of pro masters riders a number of whom have qualified for the finals in Perth later in the year.

Q Are there any more requirements for success

A Yes, you need great support. I’m lucky to have great support from JML Racing and our sponsors. Bike Bug and my c60 Colnago and Lake Shoes, Cocowhip, GU energy, Primal Wear Custom kit, Training Peaks over the whole year, mechanic BS 16 and Team Car Cycling Support in Sydney.

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Jon Leighton with good friend and team mate Will McLaren at the Road Race and Time Trial world finals in Denmark in 2015.

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Jon Leighton of JML Racing in Time Trial mode world finals in Denmark in 2015.