As an athlete is important to look beyond the event you’re preparing for right now, in order to see it as both a goal and step in preparing for what comes next. By their nature, cycling events represent an increase in training stress compared to individual training sessions leading up to them. The event itself may be harder, longer, or faster than training. It’s more challenging overall, which is why you’re training for it! However, the event is a great training session in and of itself, one that many athletes fail to capitalize on. Here are ways you can use two of the most popular event formats – gran fondos and multi-day tours – to enhance your performance.
Gran Fondo as Training for Multiday Tour
Gran fondos can be great training for multiday tours, especially for cyclists who don’t race or who don’t have access to high-intensity group rides.
Use timed segments for training
Many gran fondos, like the Gran Fondo National Series events, have a format that includes timed segments within the course. This is a great format for training because you can use the timed segments as intervals and then regroup between segments to practice group riding skills – particularly in a pack of strangers. Races and most group rides don’t allow for this regrouping; once you’re dropped you’re on your own.
If you go into a gran fondo to use the timed segments as training, focus on lactate threshold intensity for segments lasting 20+ minutes, and go into all-out time trial mode for shorter segments.
Replacement for long training ride
The most obvious way to use a gran fondo for training is as a replacement for a long training ride in your schedule. I love doing this because it makes the support logistics of a long ride so much easier. Fondos have aid stations, so you don’t have to worry about finding food and water in remote places, and they have mechanics in case things go wrong. It’s best to find a long gran fondo about 6-8 weeks out from a goal event of multiday tour. This gives you time to leverage any fitness boost you might get from the fondo. That boost will be bigger if the fondo represents a greater deviation (increase) from your normal training load.
Use fondo in a training block
When you schedule a gran fondo as a goal event, you rest up beforehand and give yourself some recovery in the days after. But to use a gran fondo to train for a multiday tour, incorporate the event into a 3-4 day training block. The back-to-back long days are important for generating the training stimulus needed to prepare for your multiday tour.
Where does the fondo fit into the block: first day, last day, somewhere in the middle? If you want to be fresh for the fondo, then it should be on the first day. If you want to replicate the likely stress of a multiday tour, put the fondo on Day 2 or Day 3. Most multi-day tours place their “queen stage” somewhere in the middle of the event; it’s almost never the first day. That means you need to prepare to ride the hardest day of the tour with some big miles in your legs already. Regardless of where you place the fondo in your training block, the other rides should be long endurance rides. You don’t have add a lot of structure to the block; the volume is the primary stimulus.
Multiday Tour as Training for Gran Fondo
If you want to perform really well in a one-day gran fondo, a multiday tour is a great training block that will significantly boost your fitness. Time-crunched athletes, especially, have trouble taking their fitness to a new level because it’s hard to generate a lot of training stress in a short period of time. A multiday tour does just that. Haute Route Rockies, for instance, is a 7-day event that covers nearly 520 miles. At an average speed of 15mph, that’s nearly 35 hours on the bike in one week! If you’re struggling to find 10 hours a week on a regular basis, a cycling camp or tour is virtually the only way to dramatically boost your training workload.
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The training stress from a multiday tour will result in a significant boost to your aerobic power and lactate threshold power. It’s not likely to do much for your sprint or power at VO2 max, but you can do other training for that. The key is taking enough recovery time after a multiday tour to adapt to the stress and let the fatigue subside. Many riders really start to see the bump in fitness about 10-14 days after the tour, and then you can start layering in interval workout – gradually – to leverage that bump and build even more fitness.
When you get to your fondo, the effect you’ll notice is that riding in the group won’t be as strenuous. The early climbs won’t take as much out of you. You’ll have more energy for the final climbs – which is important because anyone can be strong in the first 30 miles, but far fewer are able to be strong in the final 30.
Riding gran fondos and multiday tours provide many benefits that are transferable to any event:
- Aid Stations: Be an aid station pro. Learn what your like and what you don’t, which stations you can skip based on distance/time, and how to get in and out efficiently.
- Fueling/Hydration: Dial in your nutrition strategies. The more events you do, in more variable environments, the better you’ll be able to adapt your nutrition and hydration decisions to the conditions.
- Start/Finish Habits: Fondos are a great place to work out the kinks about packing, pre-ride meals, post-ride recovery, etc. because it’s only one day. These routines get more deeply engrained when you use them for several days in a row. During a multiday tour you’ll also start to see what you think you need but don’t, which will shorten future packing lists.
There are ways to integrate almost any cycling activity into the training for another type of cycling. While there are certain areas where extreme specificity is necessary, for the most part anything you do on two wheels can help you perform better doing other things on two wheels. It’s just a matter of combining them in complementary ways!
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