Here are some observations after finishing the Willamette Gran Fondo.
1. Gran Fondo means "big ride" in Italian. They are, in my experience, very competative. For a significant number of riders, they are races. These are, in most cases, highly competative , even aggressive people. It is better that they are racing bikes than hunting lions. My brother and I started Willamette an hour early to avoid the heat which never came. We were caught by the front runners about 30 miles or two hours in. They were very fast, and pushing hard (see video on the Cycling-Mindfulness Facebook). It is also a disturbing fact that some (no one that I know of at Willamette) Gran Fondo riders are willing, like professional riders to push their limits with performance enhancing drugs. As many as ten amateur riders tested positive in 2011 alone. As if we thought that the worst was behind us, Tom Danielson, a pro rider with Cannondale Garmin, just recently tested positive for testostorone..
2. For most riders these are not competative but rather the goal is to finish. Most Gran Fondos are harder than many first time riders imagine.
3. It is very difficult for many new, even some experienced cyclists to accept when they don't meet their expectations, and especially when they don't finish. One thing that Lance Armstrong said that I still respect, in describing the Tour de France is that it is just a bike race. Yet failure or the dreaded DNF, often translate as "I'm not good enough," which is often a hidden core belief, and results in a process that resembles grieving.
4. It is possible to feel great satisfaction from simply getting yourself to the start line, doing the best that you can, a core value, regardless of the results. Life is not a race. It is a slow walk to one final finish line.