Gran fondo is an Italian term loosely translating to “big ride.” That is exactly what a Gran Fondo is, a group ride on steroids with hundreds or thousands of riders of all abilities. The ride usually features a scenic, sometimes mountainous course with various distances to choose, aid stations with cheering volunteers stocked with snacks to fuel your ride (bacon tomato sandwiches down south in Alabama), SAG support in case you have a flat tire or mechanical issue, and most importantly an exciting atmosphere and post ride beer and live music.
Gran Fondos have taken the cycling scene by storm. Complete your longest or fastest ride, PR a timed segment, win the race, or just enjoy a ride with friends for fun or for a cause. The Gran Fondo is for anyone and everyone. This article covers training secrets you need to know to ride your best Fondo yet.
1. Create a training schedule that works for you
Let’s face it, most of us are not getting paid to ride our bike. You don’t have 5-6 hours every day to train, so you must make the most out of the time you do have in the saddle.
First, sit down and consider a training schedule that works for you. For example, maybe you have 1.5 hours Tuesdays and Thursdays after work to ride, 3 hours Saturday morning, and 2 hours Sunday afternoon. This gives you 8 hours devoted to riding your best Gran Fondo. Let’s maximize this time.
Tuesday you might participate in the hard group ride, push yourself on the timed segments, really make yourself work. Feel the burn in your legs!
Thursdays you might do some hill repeats or 3-12 minute intervals at threshold power or heart rate. In the 1.5 hours of riding you do, make 20-50 minutes of it hard. Again, dig deep when doing these intervals. Make it hurt!
On the weekends, get in your long, steady riding. These are your 3+ hour fun rides with friends.
If you have the occasional Friday off, take advantage and get in an extra day of riding so you end up with a nice 4-day block of training. If you can fit this in every 5-6 weeks, go for it! This will give you a nice boost in fitness leading up to your event.
Simple structure to your week provides a balance of hard training during the week and easy, long rides targeting the aerobic system on the weekends. If you are just starting out, progressive increase training intensity and duration over time.
2. Train to go the distance
You must be able to go the distance, and you totally can! Don’t rely on event-day-motivation to carry you to the finish line. Training to go the distance, or aerobic endurance training, is simply time on the bike. Do the distance in training, so you are confident on the big day.
The goal of endurance training is to improve your aerobic capacity, or VO2max. VO2max is defined as the volume of oxygen used to produce energy at maximal aerobic effort. Aerobic capacity is your ticket to the show. It is the heart of cycling success. Endurance training conditions your cardiovascular and respiratory systems to improve the ability of your body to transport oxygen to working muscles and your working muscles to improve their ability to use that oxygen to make energy. In other words, with endurance training, you will be able to produce more energy and have greater potential to go fast for a long time.
Do 1-2 long rides a week (3+ hours). For example, join the long group ride on the weekend. Make sure the pace is mostly moderate. Another options, ride to a group ride, do the group ride, and ride home.
Occasional moderate-hard efforts are great to incorporate. Say, take some long pulls on the front then recover at tempo (conversational) pace in the pack. If riding solo, ratchet up your effort a little for 10-20 minutes each hour, then reduce to a steady, enjoyable pace.
If you’re a number’s person and use a power, determine your FTP (Functional Threshold Power), then go out on your long endurance rides at 55-75% of FTP. If you use heart rate, ride at 65-75% of your threshold heart rate if you use a heart rate monitor. Increase your effort to 90% of FTP or heart rate threshold for 10-20 minutes each hour to get that added boost.
3. High intensity training
Intervals! But why though?
These short, misery-inducing efforts offer a HUGE fitness return for comparatively little time investment. Seriously, get fast in just 75-minute interval workouts!
Intervals are simply going hard for a period of time followed by going easy and repeating as the workout designates. Research has shown that just 2 weeks of interval training increases VO2max, enhances fat burn, and improve performance. Make sure to get in a good warm up, then fully commit to each interval. Stay focused on the goal and make it hurt! Be careful not to over-do it. You only need 2-3 interval workouts a week.
One way to incorporate intervals is to join and hard group ride during the week. Try to ride with the fast group, dig deep during the attack zones, and crush it up the hills. Then recover in the pack. Or, mix it up and do one of the following workouts:
Threshold intervals – threshold is the intensity you can sustain for 1 hour. These are hard and take focus, but are not all-out efforts. Start with 4X6 minute intervals, adding 2 minutes each week until 12 minutes.
Tabata intervals – for 8 minutes ride as hard as you can for 20 seconds, recover for 10 seconds, then repeat until 8 minutes is over. Rest 6-10 minutes, then repeat.
Hill repeats – find a 2-3 minutes hill and ride as hard as you can to the top. Coast down and repeat 5-8 times.
1 x 1 intervals – 1 minute hard, 1 minute easy. Do this 3 times then recover for 5 minutes. Do this 3-5 times.
4. Master group riding
A gran fondo is basically a large group ride. It is much more fun and energy saving to ride a gran fondo with a group than solo. Riding in a group give you an opportunity to draft off the rider in front of you. In the draft, the rider in the front is taking the brunt of the wind, so you are not having to exert as much effort to move at the same pace. You get to recover, save energy, and complete the ride faster than if you were riding in the wind by yourself. When it is your turn to take a pull on the front of the group, keep the pace steady. Ride on front for a few minutes or rotate through without staying on the front if you are struggling.
Get comfortable riding in a group. Learn how to draft, learn the lingo, hand signals, the paceline, and etiquette. Join 1-2 groups rides a week. Ask others at the group rides for tips on group riding. You will not only gain fitness and group ride skills but also meet great people.
SNACKS! How much and what to eat during your Gran Fondo? Nutrition is a whole topic in itself, however, you want to train with the nutrition you will use on event day. Never try something new the day of an event.
There are 3 types of event-day nutrition to dial in for your big day: pre-, during-, and post-ride nutrition. Most Gran Fondos are 3+ hours, they are on the weekend, and start in the morning. Plan your dinner the night before, breakfast day of, during-event fueling, and post-event refueling. Use your long weekend rides to train nutrition for your event. As always, natural and non-processed foods are best.
Pre-ride: The night before your event, have a nice meal of protein, fat, and carbs. For example, salmon with roasted vegetables and a cup of rice. Avoid highly processed foods and foods that cause indigestion, eat at a reasonable time not too late, drink plenty of water, and limit yourself to 1 alcoholic beverage.
On the morning of your event, have a meal with carbs, protein, and minimal fat and fiber. Oatmeal and fruit with 2 eggs or a banana with nut butter and cup of rice. Find what works for you and eat that before your long ride on Saturday. Get used to it.
During-event nutrition You will need fats and sugar during your event. Eat every hour, starting with substantial fuel such as a FastKat Bar, nut butter packet, or rice cake (Skratch Labs has great recipes). As the ride progresses, you will need more simple sugars as the body will not be able to digest, absorb, and use fats and complex carbs as well. Dried fruit is a great source of natural sugar or Blocks, GU, and gels will do the job. Keep in mind, though, that your gut is not keen on gels. One or 2 gels as last resort fuel in the last hour or 2 is all you really should use. Prevent race gut!
Post-event Eat carbs and protein within the first 2 hours after your event, such as a recovery drink or chocolate milk, or grab a plate and have a post-event meal. If a beer or 2 appears in your hand, by all means CELEBRATE!