New York City is not normally associated with cycling. Skyscrapers, yellow cabs and baseball at Yankee Stadium definitely - cycling, not so much, apart perhaps for bike messengers and the Red Hook Crit.

That does not do justice to the city's biking scene, which encompasses multiple cycling clubs, crit racing in Central Park and various other pockets of greenery (usually at ridiculously early o'clock), and decent routes out of the city to the east on Long Island, north into Westchester County - home of the famous Gimbels' Ride - and west of the Hudson River.

Gran Fondo New York, or GFNY, has for the last seven years used the hilly terrain to the northwest of the city to create a world-class event for a field drawn from around the globe.

Leading the way. Credit: Sportograf
Leading the way. Credit: Sportograf
While sportives rule the roost in the UK, in the US gran fondo is the term of choice for mass amateur cycling events, bringing an Italian flavour to proceedings.

With a global feeder series of races, slick organisation and a unique base in America's biggest city, GFNY can lay claim to being among the preeminent gran fondos in the US.

The 2017 Campagnolo GFNY World Championships, to give the event its full title, saw in the region of 4,000 riders tackle either the full course up to Bear Mountain and back, or the half-distance GFNY Bear.

The route is challenging with 8,500 feet/2,600 metres of climbing, but not outrageously difficult.

It runs north alongside the Hudson River up to the biggest climb of the day at the most northern point, Bear Mountain (1,000 feet/350 metres of climbing over 4 miles/6km at an average of 5.1% and a max of 10%. For comparison, Box Hill is 411 feet/125 metres over 1.5 miles/ 2.4km at an almost identical 5% average maxing out at 8%).

After retracing the route out for five miles down Route 9W the ride takes a sharp right into the ridges above the river. Although on their own not scary, the climbs of the following 10 miles are the toughest part of the course with 60 miles and Bear already in the legs.

The last 30 miles are a fairly flat run back south, with a sapping drag upwards with 10 miles to go and a final short steep climb back from the riverside up the bluffs.

In the absence of Alpine cols or Rockies-esque passes it's the type of course that most can finish if time is no object, while allowing you to challenge yourself to the limits of your ability and fitness.

It's only easy if you take it easy and it is always a fantastic day on the bike.

I live just north of the city and this year was my third year in a row riding GFNY.

This time, my luck was really in. The cycling gods showered their benevolence in my direction and were looking after me from start to finish.

Read my 2015 Report here

Read my 2016 Report here

Manhattan is bathed in early morning sun as we wait for the start. Credit: Author
Manhattan is bathed in early morning sun as we wait for the start. Credit: Author
All riders start on the lower level of the iconic George Washington Bridge and the finish is on the New Jersey side of the bridge in the town of Fort Lee.

The start gives you amazing views of Manhattan as the sun rises, and being suspended 200 feet above a broad river with one of the world's great cities laid out behind you is quite something.

The really good riders - and, much like Italian gran fondos, there's a real race at the front - covered the 100 miles/161km alongside the Hudson from the GWB to Bear Mountain and back in just under 4'30". I took just under an hour and a half more than that, putting me 516th out of 2,678 overall. Pretty pleasing for a middle-aged man with "big bones" that don't help up the climbs.

The goal had been six hours and I had almost seven minutes to spare when I rolled into the finish. Where's the beer tent?

Happy days. Credit: Author
Happy days. Credit: Author
Luck comes, of course, in many forms: how training has gone, punctures/mechanicals/crashes (or lack thereof), success in finding riding companions, not running out of fluids and sugar, and those inexplicable bad-legs-days to name but a few.

In 2017, it all lined up.

The worst that happened was I stupidly put a not-quite-empty gel packet in the same pocket as my phone and I felt a twinge of cramp (that subsided) with two miles to go.

The conditions can make or break an event. After a week that had seen temperatures hit the 90s/32C+, luck was in for all those riding. It was not too cold before the start and never got too hot out on the road, topping out at about 70/21C degrees. In other words, Goldilocks weather. (The following day saw prolonged rain.)

Working together. Credit: Sportograf
Working together. Credit: Sportograf
It was weather that required a good zip on your jersey. Zip up for descents and fast flat sections, then pull down to let out the heat as soon as you started to climb. The zip on the obligatory green GFNY jersey passed the test. The jersey comes with registration and creates some very cool sights as thousands of identically clad riders fill the roads.

The only fly in the weather ointment was a headwind on some sections of the final 30 miles or so after the Ramapo feed station. Annoyingly, with the field fragmented after four hours this section was the most difficult to find people with which to work. I was not completely exposed, but, inevitably, the best rotation - as part of a group of four - came in the the last few miles before the plunge back down Alpine.

It was then just a question of the run along the bottom in Palisades Park, which always seems much longer than it should be, the climb up Dyckman Hill and the flattish run to the finish line.

I did not have a computer on the handlebars and the last check of my (sticky) phone came at Ramapo. I broke into the broadest of grins as the cheers from the crowd at the finish became audible and the clock above the line came into focus with a 5 at the beginning.

Dawn on the GWB on the way to the start. Credit: Author
Dawn on the GWB on the way to the start. Credit: Author
Just under six hours earlier, the start line had been the usual blend of nerves, overenthusiasm and missed clip-ins familiar to anyone who has done a big event with a mass start.

Setting off near the front, I was always going to have the racers roaring past early on and so it was through the winding crit-like corners before the descent into Palisades Park and then through the Park itself before the first climb up Alpine.

And They're Off. Credit: Sportograf
And They're Off. Credit: Sportograf
The human brain is a curious object and I spent the two and a half days between my last ride and GFNY imagining niggles, pulls and ligament damage every time I stepped off a sidewalk, climbed stairs or hoisted a bag. Thankfully, the legs felt good at the top of Alpine and I was where I wanted to be.

Pretty soon I was on a wheel as a paceline formed on 9W North. After a few minutes a bigger train came past and the two merged and then proceeded to swallow up a succession of other groups. It was fast and furious and ate up the miles.

When pretty much everyone around you is thinner, younger and clearly faster it can go either way. For a while it was the perfect spot, but eventually I had to decide between burning matches to hang on or letting go. Thinking the turn and winding descent to Piermont was not far ahead, and with 85 miles to go, I chose discretion over valour and let the group pull away.

The turn was a bit farther down the road than expected and I found myself in the extraordinary position of being not many miles into an event with a field of thousands and quite alone on the road. Literally not a soul in sight and no traffic around on the closed road.

Amazing how you can end up alone on the road with so many riders. Credit: Sportograf
Amazing how you can end up alone on the road with so many riders. Credit: Sportograf
That did not last for long and along River Road the field started to coalesce like blobs of mercury coming together to form a single flowing mass.

The peloton grew as we passed through Nyack and for the last 10 miles to Bear Mountain I would guess we were well over a hundred strong.

In a group that sticks together you start to notice the riders you are moving around the pack alongside and the odd short chat, compliment or joke is shared. There was the cheerful man with neon pink shorts, the South American lady with a white wind jacket, the rider with Ironman tattoo and Brazil arm warmers, the fellow Lynskey rider, the tall guy with aero bars and a bell he rang twice for hazards, and the big chap who was an absolute locomotive on the flat and downhill, but inevitably struggled climbing.

The most frequent comment was a variation of: "Wow, this is a great group!"

With a worldwide series of events feeding into the New York event, it is no surprise that there are many riders from from outside the United States. Most American events boast of how many riders they have from other states and foreigners are an exotic breed. GFNY had no fewer than 97 nationalities represented.

Just 53 from the UK though. An arrangement with a tour company to bring UK riders to GFNY withered on the vine a couple of years ago.

The international mix was clear on the road and snippets of all sorts of languages floated about the group.

Working with other people is key to saving energy. Credit: Sportograf
Working with other people is key to saving energy. Credit: Sportograf
Luckily (there we go again), despite the language barriers the cycling esperanto of signaling warnings and calling out hazards crosses borders and the standard of bike handling struck me as high.

An exception came at the Stony Point feed station, when the inevitable confusion of people pulling over to stop while others get back on the road was amplified by the volunteers handing supplies to moving riders, which I don't think I saw last year. Very pro, but it prompted some ill-advised swerving from one side of the road to the other to grab half a banana.

The only other moments of alarm came when a number of people felt they just had to move up in the group and to do so moved onto the opposite lane of 9W, which was open to traffic. Cue inevitable panic when cars appeared. It was so unnecessary.

The group started to break up on Baby Bear, the last climb before Bear Mountain, and continued to do so on the descent the other side.

Though the group was no more, later on as we passed and repassed each other heading to the finish line a vocabulary of little waves and comments evolved as we recognised one another and offered mutual encouragement.

Heading for the top of Bear Mountain. Credit: Sportograf
Heading for the top of Bear Mountain. Credit: Sportograf
Bear Mountain went well. Arm warmers stuffed into a pocket, I certainly passed more people than I was passed by.

The great thing about being on top of Bear Mountain is that there's only one way to go - down. Zip Up!

On the GFNY course what goes down usually goes back up again, and the climb back over Baby Bear arrives quickly. Zip down. A small group formed behind me on the climb and we worked together until Mott Farm Road at 54 miles where the course headed inland from the river and steeply up again.

The Pinarello climb and Cheesecote followed in the next 10 miles in the toughest section of the course. The second half is not on closed roads apart from the last 12 miles or so, but the police officers controlling every intersection do a great job and bikes have the right of way.

At the top of Cheesecote a young buck in full aero shades had pulled alongside "forcing" me to up my pace to beat him to the summit; we then traded places a couple of times on the descent as his youthful enthusiasm was beaten out by my mass.

He and I ended up pulling a bunch along until we rode away from it without noticing. We rotated really well through to the Ramapo feed stop where we exchanged "nice works" as sadly he carried on while I turned in to top up bottles and force in some carbs. In front of tables groaning with energy-rich food, drink and gels I actually ended up eating the PBJ (peanut butter and jam in UK English - I've been here too long) sandwich I had carried all the way from the GWB.

If I had carried it all the way around it would have been a waste. Despite the huge calorie deficit built up, I didn't feel like eating when I had finished. A couple of cheeky beers in the beer garden of the buzzing post-race festival started the recovery process successfully and I set off for home intent on buying a couple of lottery tickets to test how long my luck would last.

The GFNY World series continues to expand. Jerusalem, Bali, Monterrey and Costa Rica have already been confirmed as new venues for 2018, with another five events promised to bring the series to 19 stops and the grandaddy itself, GFNY.

There's no British event, yet. Founders Lidia and Uli Fluhme have talked about it in the past and I get the impression they just need to find the right partner.

In the meantime, the New York finale refines its impressive offering each year and must rank among the top amateur cycling events globally.

If it's on your bucket list book early to keep down the cost and get to New York City. If it is not on your list it should be. Try your luck.

The next event in the GFNY series is GFNY Mont Ventoux on 25 June. For more information and to sign up, visit