Want to ride a perfect Gran Fondo? Well I don’t know if I can guarantee that, but certainly having ridden quite a number of these events over the past 10 years I have a number of tips I am more than willing to share. Hopefully they will be useful in helping you achieve your Gran Fondo ambitions – maybe even a perfect ride!
Tip 1 – Pre-Organise everything the night before the ride
Gran Fondo events start early – some very early (Maratona dles Dolomites we depart for start at 5.45am!). Getting everything organised from bike to kit to food you plan to carry is essential. The last thing you need to be doing at 5am in the morning is looking for a favourite pair of socks or be trying to find a pin to attach your race number to your jersey. So being organised is key.
Tip 2 – Shower wake up
A warm 10 minute shower with brisk towelling is a great way to begin the warm-up process. I would recommend you do this immediately upon waking just before breakfast as you generally don’t have much time following breakfast. As Gran Fondo events start early, when we really should be ideally still sleeping, a warm shower is a nice ‘ice-breaker’ in mobilising and switching the body on for intense physical actively.
Tip 3 – Plan your refuelling
Gran Fondo rides challenge riders to ride either for personal best or within cut-off times. Depending on your choice of route, it can be very important how efficient you are in relationship to taking stops. A bike not in motion is a bike not getting you closer to finishing, so organising a refuelling plan (food and fluids) is an important requirement in your planning. Un-necessary stops at restoration points (food and drink stations) can really add to your overall time, and with that compromise achieving your ride goal. General rule of thumb: drink every 15 minutes and eat every 30 minutes.
Tip 4 – Don’t get carried away too early in the ride
Gran Fondo rides provide challenging routes, some significantly more than others. By this routes can be as long and as mountainous as encountered in a stage of a Gran Tour. So it is important not to ‘burn all your candles’ in the first hour or so in your ride by trying to stay with others (don’t assume they all know what they are doing!). The time you feel you are losing moderating your effort on an early climb can be nothing compared to what you can loose if you are totally spent on a climb nearing the end of the ride. So ride with this mind, riding to a tempo that should feel comfortably challenging – not Alberto Contador attacking on the Mortirolo!
Tip 5 – Find a wheel
A Gran Fondo ride is a mass participation event, so it is unlikely you could ever find yourself isolated from other riders. So don’t be too proud to sit behind others and let them do the pacing (don’t be Cadel Evans in his early years at BMC!). The more energy you conserve throughout the ride will only serve to your advantage later into the ride. So try to ride smart by not using energy where you don’t have to.
Tip 6 – Extra attention on descents
You often hear commentators talking of the importance of riders staying near the front of peloton. There are a number of tactical reasons for this, none more important than reducing the risk of being involved in a crash with other riders. In a Gran Fondo riders need to be equally aware of riders around them, particularly on descents where riders will be travelling at faster speeds, and at times will be breaking to abruptly reduce speeds on sharp bends. Give space to the rider in front of you to allow time for you to react should you need. Also be aware some riders will push there limits without consideration for themselves let alone others around them. Let them go…
Tip 7 – Use your gears
Try to be really efficient in how you use your gears over the course of the ride. All your work output comes at an energy cost, so best not withdrawing at anyone time more than you need. Quite often this can be simply riding in a more difficult gear than we need to be in, particularity when climbing. More tension on the pedal stroke requires increased levels of strength and in that stress on bones, ligaments, and muscles – a debt that cannot immediately be restored so can impact further into the ride, particularly on the stepper climbs when you will be challenged to apply more grunt on the pedal. So you immediately need to be smart in the gears you are riding in.
Tip 8 – Pasta Party
This is one for Italian Gran Fondo’s. Don’t miss the pasta party!! Upon finishing a Gran Fondo you quite often want to simply return to your accommodation and collapse onto your bed ( in full kit). But the Pasta Party is definitely one lifetime opportunity you do not want to miss – expect more than a banana and energy drink Aussie and Kiwi participants. Enough food and drink to almost have you immediately refuelled for another Gran Fondo!!