Your best Gran Fondo yet could be ours - some handy tips from the those in the know.
However, as you well know, Gran Fondo are not just about Instagram landscapes, switchback doping and slow mo high fives, these two events are seriously challenging, like most Gran Fondos. Having attended many, we thought to make a list of tips to make sure you are up for it, and so you can enjoy the day to the fullest - to get you over those climbs and still have some energy to tell your war stories. If you keep a look out on our feeds, you’ll find inside track tips to Porto-Gaia GF and Snr Graça GF nearer the time.
THE BUILD UP
Training is like a savings account, complete with compound interest. The sooner you start, the better. Each session builds on the one before and with plenty of time (and a little discipline) you’ll build some solid conditioning, so you won’t doubt yourself when it’s time to go deep. In fact why not read this heading as ‘start now’.
Have a plan
The most important part of any training plan is to have one in the first place. The next is to stick to it. There are loads of basic structures to work from and also online coaches. We like thesufferfest.com and trainingpeaks.com A training plan is important in ensuring a consistent, wide and time-appropriate range of workout intensities and equally important, they factor in the necessary rest and tapering (time for the body to recover and adapt). You’ll need at least a heart rate monitor and if you get really serious, a power meter. Pick a plan that’s simple and realistic. Trust it and follow through.
Not just for time-strapped or winter bound riders, the home trainer is a vital tool in any training program. Even elite level athletes use them, to get highly specific and focused workouts, without the distractions of other riders’ workouts, traffic, road conditions and coffee shops. Get one – then there’s no excuse for missing a session.
Open the valves
Your training plan may not stipulate it, but this final workout (it’s not really a workout) will help you cope with the shock of race speed when everyone dashes off from the start line. There may be few variations on the theme, but the principle remains: get your body and mind ready to race. The evening before the big day, go out and spin the legs for 15 minutes, then accelerate to your aerobic threshold and hold for 45 seconds. Recover fully (back to zone 1) and repeat. three should be enough.
Recon the course
Unless the event is close to home, you’ll not have a clear idea what you’re in for — race data such as the number of km and climbing metres can be deceiving. Scour the internet for reports and reviews of the race and consult the event website for the route profile. Pay attention in detail to the gradients and length of the climbs. Print it out and tape it to your stem (some thoughtful organizers provide stickers). If available, add the route to your bike computer and create a data screen to show the profile (so you know when the top is coming).
Again, the earlier the better. Fetch your race pack as soon as possible and read it through in full. It’s not unheard of that a quirky routing choice catches new comers and veterans by surprise. Pin on numbers and affix bar stickers as per instructions and for you aero freaks, keep the trimming to a minimum (you know who you are). Fill your pockets with what you’ll take with you on the ride. Have your heart rate strap looped around your bibs. Do it all the night before.
One factor that could have the biggest influence on your race preparation is how you eat the day before. Take it seriously. Eat clean by avoiding fried, sugary or processed foods and keep meat to a minimum. Enjoy a big high-carb lunch, then a healthy vegetarian dinner (go easy on the cheese and sleep better). Research shows that a meal high in fats can increase perceived levels of exertion. On the morning of the race take a light breakfast as early as possible, 2-4 hours before the start.
Plan your fuel
Egan Bernal once posted an Instagram story of his nutrition schedule for a big day in the mountains on a Grand Tour (no doubt breaking team protocol). First lesson: it showed a high quality of carbs (and also some real food early on for the long stage). Secondly: the intervals were less than an hour apart. Take note, if you go more than 60 minutes without eating either a gel or food, you’re headed for a sharp decline in performance in the latter part of the race as your body switches depletes glycogen and resorts to burning your fat reserves. Decide what to eat and when (mark it on your route profile sticker).
Get there early
Check all travel times to the start and be sure there is plenty of time to go to the bathroom, put your bike together, apply sun lotion (liberally, an hour before the start), go to the bathroom, do a final check (remember your bottles), warm up and go to the bathroom. You know how long that all takes, so allow for it.
Pack a gilet
Nothing takes the fun out of a long and winding descent like hypothermia does (especially if you’re on a bike with superb handling like a SwiftCarbon. It may show a pleasant 23C on your bike computer in the valley but in the mountains, the weather can change drastically, and fast. Do you have a car or a soigneur to hand you clothes at the summit? No? Then take along a light, packable gilet (zip-up rain/wind cheating vest) to keep the wind chill away.
Be sparing with spares
It’s vital to have a tube, tyre levers, multitool and inflation device (pump or 2x CO2 canisters), or you’ll be left to rely on the kindness of others in a race. Good luck with that. But don’t overdo the payload. We’ve seen too many sagging pockets than we’d care to remember. It’s not a good look. Minimize – take enough to get you to the next aid station.
Don’t blow up
It’s a balance – you’ll get sucked in to the excitement and try hang with the fast kids (after all, the kilometres tick by quickly at 45km/h) but you may be burning matches at a rate you can’t sustain. The zen maxim ‘to ride a faster second half, ride a slower first half’ is true on the face of it, and as a principle, it works. If you seem to fade in the finale, just try it. This time you’ll be the one passing gagging stragglers.
Keep it tight
Rationally, everyone is highly aware that the draft effect reduces effort required to maintain the same speed, yet so many riders’ brains stop working when surrounded by others at speed. Stay close, keep gaps to a minimum and when they form, deal with them quickly. However if there is a split in the group, measure your efforts carefully when closing it down – if someone’s on your wheel, ask for help, and don’t close a gap in 10 seconds if you can do it in 20.
This technique is tried and tested by non-climbers all over the world, from the UCI World Tour to the weekend clubride. If hills are not your forte (or if you want to conserve energy), get to the front by the time you hit the bottom. Henri Schoeman used this tactic to great effect at the Rio Olympics on the bike leg (ultimately taking bronze). He timed his rotations so he hit the climb at the front, then drifted back, in turn saving something for the run. The same principle applies to road racing – positioning, and a consistent effort are key.
Bollocking someone for deviating 15cm off their line is not helping anyone. It increases anxiety and apart from anything it ruins the mood. Let’s remember, we are having fun here. If you make a mistake, apologize. It may repay you when you need a gap in a passing swell. Enjoy Above all, be determined to have a good time, no matter what. Crashes, punctures, mechanicals and bad legs happen. If any of these do, get up, dust yourself off, take stock then make the most of it. Hey, any day on a bike is a good day.