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Cycling event promises puppies and tasty treats


"The rest areas are one of the things that sets Gran Fondo NJ apart from other bike rides," said Bill Ruddick, the event's executive director.

MORRISTOWN - If you want to pet puppies and eat ice cream sandwiches you should probably sign up for the Gran Fondo NJ on Sept. 13.

Those are just a few of the surprises participants in the annual event have enjoyed at rest stops along the cycling routes through Morris, Somerset, and Hunterdon counties.

"The rest areas are one of the things that sets Gran Fondo NJ apart from other bike rides," said Bill Ruddick, the event's executive director. "Each of the stops are manned by a volunteer crew from one of our beneficiaries, supported charities, or by local community groups."

Although organizers are "still working with local bakeries and pastry shops to figure out" what snacks to feature at this year's event, riders can definitely expect to see puppies from The Seeing Eye, a local organization that raises dogs to guide blind individuals, and cheerleaders from several area high schools, stationed at some of the rest stops, Ruddick said.

At the 2014 event, CocoLuxe brought Blondies for the Gladstone rest area for riders doing the Piccolo Fondo, a 42-mile route.

One of the stops on the 62-mile Medio Fondo featured cake pops baked by Bex Kitchen in Califon, while Morristown's The Artist Baker provided a variety of sweets for riders taking a break at a rest area in Chester.

Other treats that have been offered in the past include fresh cannoli, Nutella sandwiches with banana slices, giant chocolate chip cookies, and brownies.

In addition to the yet-to-be determined sweets, riders can also choose from fresh fruits, energy drinks, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and PowerBar nutrition bars.

"We take great pride in our displays and try to emulate the local farmers markets one might find in quaint European villages," said Ruddick.

RELATEDMore than 2,000 ride for fourth annual Gran Fondo in Morristown

Mass-participation cycling events have been incredibly popular for decades in Europe, where it's easy to find bike tours that combines scenic rides interspersed with meals at wineries, restaurants, or farms.

In recent years, similar events have gained momentum in the United States. In 2009, there were just a handful of events, but by 2014 there are well over 125, according to GranFondoGuide.com.

Since its founding four years ago, the Gran Fondo NJ has attracted casual cyclists, along with well-trained endurance athletes to ride for a good cause - or rather, several good causes, including Sustainable Morristown, Homeless Solutions, Grow It Green Morristown, New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition, and The Seeing Eye.

Interest has steadily climbed in the Gran Fondo NJ, which features four routes riders can choose from, ranging from 18 to 107 miles, all beginning and ending in Morristown. Afterward, there is a party with music, food and giveaways.

The Gran Fondo NJ is "very much so" a hybrid of a bike tour and a race - it's as much as an endurance event as it is a social one, Ruddick said.

It's not uncommon for riders to linger at the rest areas, chatting and nibbling on snacks, before hitting the road again, he explained.

"We emphasize the 'rest' in rest stops," he said. "Yet another of the benefits of not having start/finish timing for the event - they aren't 'penalized' for waiting to regroup at the rest stops."

Over the last four years, the Grand Fondo NJ has raised more than $600,000 for local charities and last year became the first cycling event to be recognized by the Council for Responsible Sport.

Kimberly Redmond may be reached at kredmond@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @kr0618. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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