8 Tips for Your Best Gran Fondo Performance


By Jim Rutberg,
CTS Pro Coach,
co-author of “The Time-Crunched Cyclist”,
Ride Inside“ and “Training Essentials for Ultrarunning

Gran Fondos have something for everyone. If you’re just looking for a huge day on the bike, you’ll get one. And unlike a typical century ride, if you have a competitive streak you can race a Gran Fondo for overall standings or age group results. Some events allow you to set times for particular segments of the ride, giving you another way to compete or compare this year’s performance to your previous times.

If a Gran Fondo is in your future, here are some tips to make sure you’re ready for it!

Is It a Group Ride or a Gran Fondo?

These days the term Gran Fondo is – at least in the US – being applied very liberally to events ranging from 40 miles to 130 miles, and including anywhere from a few hundred feet of climbing to more than 10,000 feet of elevation gain. For the sake of this article, however, let’s set the minimum for a Gran Fondo at 100 miles and 7,000 feet of climbing. Why? Because 7,000 or more feet of climbing in a timed 100-mile ride is a step up from your local run-of-the-mill century, and that’s what a Gran Fondo is supposed to be.

Tips for Preparing for a Gran Fondo

Endurance isn’t usually the limiting factor for athletes signing up for their first Gran Fondo. You’ve most likely done century rides before, and given enough time, food, and water, you could pedal your way to the finish line. But now there’s a timing chip, and hill segments, and an overall placing on the line, so you’re going to need some speed to go along with that endurance.

Climb and Climb Again

Climbing power is key to riding in a fast group during a Gran Fondo. If you can’t climb you’ll be left behind and once the fast guys are gone, they’re gone. You’ll be stuck with a slower group leading to the next climb, which makes it difficult to catch up, and you’ll continue to lose time from there.

In training, focus on repeated climbing intervals – 10-20 minutes each – at your lactate threshold or maximum sustainable power output. The goal is to accumulate time-at-intensity, so only make the intervals longer if you can maintain the power output! Recovery between intervals should be half the duration of the interval (5min recovery between 10min intervals, etc.)

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Don’t forget short intervals

While longer climbing intervals are great for building the power to climb like a steady diesel engine, you also need to be able to accelerate. High-intensity intervals are often thought of in terms of the ability generate huge power numbers, and non-competitive athletes sometimes fail to see a good rationale for that. Here it is: If you develop the power to surge way above your lactate threshold for a short effort, you’re also developing the fitness to recover quickly from those surges.

Try a workout like 10×2 minute PowerIntervals (10 on a 1-10 scale, as high a power as you can hold for two minutes) with 2 minutes easy spinning recovery between them. You’ll improve power at VO2 max, but more important for Gran Fondo performance, you’ll gain the ability to surge on a climb or bridge across a gap and then recover quickly enough to hold your position.

Go Back-to-Back

A big Gran Fondo is likely to be your longest single ride of the year. With work and family schedules many riders find they can’t replicate their goal event’s mileage, time in the saddle, or kilojoule value in a single training ride. That’s normal, but one way to compensate for limited training time is to build back-to-back training blocks. If you can’t ride six hours or 3,000 kilojoules in one day, schedule two back-to-back days at 3-4 hrs or 1800-2,200 kilojoules. You can even build 3-day blocks, but be sure to schedule two days of recovery after a block lasting 3 days or more.

Tips for Having a Great Gran Fondo

  • Be rested: This is a one-day event, so go in fresh and be ready to completely drain the tank. In the days leading up to the event, have confidence in your training and avoid the temptation to squeeze in “one last interval session”.
  • Start fast: Staying with a fast group is important. You can always drift back through groups later on, but if you’re too conservative early on you’ll be surrounded by riders who can’t help you move up into stronger, faster groups.
  • Keep your head up: Gran Fondos aren’t distinctly categorized like your local criterium; the rider in front of you may have power but little technical skill and even less pack savvy.
  • Start with plenty of food: If you’re trying to finish fast, minimize time in aid stations by carrying more food in your pockets from the start. It doesn’t weigh much and means that at least at some aid stations you can just fill bottles and go.
  • Be patient: It’s not the first 3,000 feet of climbing that will get you, it’s the last 3,000 feet. No matter what you do you’ll get slower as the day goes on and your sustainable climbing power will decline, but if you charge up the early climbs, you’ll crawl up the final ones. Be patient in the early climbs – even if it feels like you’re going slower than you could be. You’ll be rewarded with good climbing legs in the finale.

Jim Rutberg is a Pro Coach for Carmichael Training Systems, Inc. (CTS) and co-author of several books with Chris Carmichael, including “The Time-Crunched Cyclist, 3rd Ed.” and “The Time-Crunched Triathlete”. For information on personal coaching, training camps, and Endurance Bucket List events, visit https://trainright.com.

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Comments 7

  1. interesting to note they’ve said to ‘start fast’. Usual advice is that this will often lead to a suffer fest at the end and certainly from what i’ve found i’m usually suffering at the end regardless of what i do. may be i need more endurance

    I would be interested to know whether the block training of 2 or 2 days gives the same results as 1 big day?

    1. Starting fast is great advice. For two reasons: first, and most important, you will generally be with the more skilled, and thus safer, riders who all want to get to the front. That means a lower risk of crashing. Second, if you feel you can’t hang, then let go and the second fastest group will scoop you up; etc. The less time on the bike, the more likely you will last deeper.

  2. Good advice. I wish I’d followed it on a hilly century last weekend. Fell way behind the hydration and fueling curves and gave my last water bottle to a guy out of water and cramping on the side of the road.
    No good deed goes unpunished. I rode the last 10 miles without water and paid dearly. My legs were “giving birth” for 2 long hours.

  3. Great advice as always – thanks! I’m sure the tips here apply well to Ultra’s like DK200 but would love to hear any additional considerations in training for that type of event.

  4. I am riding in my 3rd Hincapie Grand Fondo. Chris is spot on when he suggests going easy on the first few climbs. I do and then have enough left in the tank to finish with a decent time. Besides, I am 72 and staying with the faster groups is not an option for me.

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