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Marchas, Fondos & Sportifs – what’s the deal?


“Fondos” they call them, in Italy; in France it’s “Sportifs” and in Spain it’s “Marchas”. The cycling press is full of them, VeloVeritas decided to take a look at these increasingly fashionable “mass participation events.” Who better to ask then, than Paul Coates?

As well as hurting everyones’ legs in the first half of the Scottish road season, Paul is one of the top protagonists in French Sportifs. We also speak to Adam Syme and Dave Chapman about their experiences in these events too.

Paul Coates

What are a Sportif and a Fondo, Paul?

“They are races, in all but name. There’s prize money and intense competition at the front, but they also give the “ordinary” rider the opportunity to sample some of the sport’s legendary roads. For example, the “Marmotte” event in France goes over the Croix de Fer and finishes atop Alpe d’Huez. A Fondo and a Sportif are the same thing.”

Paul on the final climb of the Vaujany Sportif.
Paul on the final climb of the Vaujany Sportif.

What’s the difference between Fondos / Sportifs / Marchas as opposed to Randoneé and Audax events?

“In the latter, it’s not about time, in fact, if you finish too soon, then you can be disqualified, basically they are touring events. Like I said, Sportifs are really races.”

What are your favourite events?

“I ride the French events predominantly; it’s very hard to get a result in Italy because it’s almost impossible to get into the front groups. I’ve ridden half-a-dozen in Italy, but you don’t get recognition for your performances outside the country.

“In France, because I’ve had some decent results, I get seeded into the front group. It’s like rallying, if you are away early, you are looking at clear roads; you don’t have a couple of thousand riders in front of you.

“The competitors go-off in ‘waves’ and if you’re not in the front waves then you can’t be competitive, because you have to battle your way through huge numbers of riders.”

Paul's group at the start of the climb to l'Alpe D'Huez, and the end of the Marmotte.
Paul’s group at the start of the climb to l’Alpe D’Huez, and the end of the Marmotte.

There are big fields, then?

“The Marmotte, which I mentioned earlier, has 4,500 starters! As your results get better in France, you move up the groups.”

So, at the front-end, it’s a race?

“Absolutely, there’s no difference, that includes team tactics and full-time riders. Raimondas Rumsas makes a good living from them, and I’ve even seen Frank Vandenbroucke ride one. In Italy, Liquigas and LPR have Fondo, as well as pro teams.

“The Rabobank development squad competes too; a few years ago, when Thomas Dekker was on the way up, he used to ride them. Talking of the Netherlands, it’s big there, with well-organised teams lining-up.”

But why not just ride races?

“I love the atmosphere, with the big field; and where else would you get that kind of buzz, great weather and the chance to compete on some of the sport’s most famous roads?”

Over the Galibier, and we're at 2700m!
Over the Galibier, and we’re at 2700m!

What about entry fees and prizes?

“Entry fees are around 25 euros; and as an example the overall first prize for winning the 12-race French series was 10,000 euros plus a set of the latest Mavic carbon wheels. But the “goody bag” that you get when you sign-on is worth the cost of your entry.”

You ride for an Italian team…

“Yes, Squadra Via Mazzini/Racetool, I got invited to join. I met guys from the team at various events, got chatting to them, one thing lead to another and I was invited on board.

“The main support I get from them is that they provide all my training and race clothing, they’ve been very generous with that aspect. They provided me with an Italian licence too, but I can’t use it in the UK.”

Almost at the top of Alpe D Huez.
Almost at the top of Alpe D Huez.

What’s your best performance in a Sportif?

“This year I was third overall in the Trophee d’Oisans Series, that’s over four events held in the Alps.

“I was also seventh out of several hundred riders in a time trial up Alpe d’Huez, the day after the Marmotte, where I recorded 46.09.” [That’s faster than Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond climbed the mountain in 1986! Ed.]

Where does Scottish racing fit-in with your programme?

“I still like racing in Scotland, especially in the races which have a history to them, like Girvan and The Drummond. It’s hard racing in Scotland, there are no big bunches to “hide” in.”

What’s the plan for 2008?

“I have a change of team in the offing, which is very exciting. I’ve been training since the first of October and want to be screaming-fit for March; there’s the Bikeline two day, Tour of the Reservoirs and Rosneath, all leading-up to Girvan. To get a stage win at Girvan would be a dream come true.

“I also have a full programme of Sportifs planned, including a three day event in the Vosges; I’m really looking forward to next season.”