7 Proven Training Tips to Master Your Gran Fondo

road cyclists enter their gran fondo event as a mass start, all prepared through hard training.

In 1970, a strange crowd came together in Cesenatico, the Italian town where Marco Pantani joined his first Club. People on Bikes waited for the starting signal of the first-ever Gran Fondo, the Gran Fondo “Nove Colli,” the race of nine hills. None of the riders back then thought that decades later, the same event evolved into probably the greatest cycling meeting with a 2-day expo and a 12.000 rider field that tackles 80km, 120km, and 200km. 

Due to chip timing Gran Fondos grew in popularity in Italy in the 1990s.

Fast forward and it’s 2023. Today Gran Fondos are talked of among all cyclists who want to experience a challenge and a journey. Now, the question is what should your training look like to increase the odds of success at your Gran Fondo? What are the demands of a Gran Fondo and how long do you need to train for it? 

In this article, I’ll give you 7 key training tips to ride toward Gran Fondo success, but first, let’s talk about what a Gran Fondo is in particular.

What is a Gran Fondo?

Gran Fondo is Italian and we can roughly translate it to “big ride.” A Gran Fondo is a mass participation event. Especially, in Europe, Gran Fondos enjoyed immense popularity, but its fame quickly transferred to North America, Australia, and Asia. 

The success of Gran Fondos doesn’t come as a surprise. A course with scenery, climbs, and fast descents, is all pros and amateurs are looking for. Furthermore, Gran Fondos provide fixed medical and mechanical support and aid stations along the route. Even traffic stops for some Gran Fondos.

Different courses open the event to practically everyone. Take Amy’s Gran Fondo in Australia for example. The event offers a Medio Fondo with 45km and the main UCI Gran Fondo with 130km and 1.903m of elevation gain. Most notably, roads are closed to ensure rider safety. 

So, a Gran Fondo is a race for everyone. It’s the atmosphere, the community, and the experience that makes Gran Fondos unique. 

1. Understand the Demands of Your Gran Fondo

Now, if you want to prepare successfully for a Gran Fondo you need to understand the demands of the event first. 

Let’s move on with Amy’s Gran Fondo example. As we already know the course is 130km long and features two long climbs. From sea level, you have to climb up to 555m above sea level.  Simply put, the race requires you to complete two medium-long climbs and carry the fatigue for 55km from the roof of the Gran Fondo to the finish line. 

The cut-off time is 7.5 hours for the course or an average speed of 17.3 km/h. 

Your biggest performance determinant is your FTP or functional threshold power. You can increase your FTP with focused threshold work, top-end VO2max work, and aerobic training. On the other hand, you can improve your fat-burning capabilities with zone 2 endurance. Being better at burning fat means being faster for longer.

Now, the good news is that we can combine these goals as some of the adaptations are intertwined. Let’s take these strategies one by one and then tie them all together.

2. Train Consistently

No matter what kind of “magic” workout you do or how hard you go out on a ride, if you train infrequently, you lose. Training consistently is the most fundamental part of the overall training process. 

So, if you aim for a Gran Fondo, write down realistically how many days you can train per week. Shoot for at least 4-5 days a week. Because no matter what kind of research I look at, every scientist emphasizes training frequency and volume. Training frequency and volume also built the base for Dr. Seiler’s pyramid of endurance training needs. 

Accordingly, the first step you should work on if you want to become a better Gran Fondo rider is to ride your bike more often.

Discover My Gran Fondo Specific Plans and Transform Your Performance

  1. RV Gran Fondo Build Plan on 6 Hours, 10 Hours, or 15 Hours (8 Weeks)
  2. RV Gran Fondo Advanced Base Plan 10 Hours (12 Weeks) – All Gran Fondos
  3. RV Gran Fondo Advanced Build Plan 10 Hours (12 Weeks)
  4. RV Gran Fondo Advanced Peak Plan 10 Hours (8 Weeks)

3. Build Your Endurance – Take it Easy

Building good endurance is as much about training often as it is about training at a low intensity. Training at low intensity is so important that I don’t know where to start. 

I see many cyclists going way too deep in an endurance ride. Thereby, the anaerobic contribution is a lot. This, in turn, might disturb aerobic contribution and increase fatigue. 

Nowadays, science has begun to understand molecular signaling. A review by Laursen describes the underlying mechanisms of low-intensity training. According to the review, the repeated contractions in low-intensity training trigger the calcium-calmodulin kinase (CaMK) pathway. 

As a result, the size and density of your mitochondria increase, which improves lactate clearance capacity in your type-1 muscle fibers, and increases your fat oxidation. The consequence is a higher lactate threshold (LT2), an increased VO2max, higher fractional utilization, and therefore better endurance and efficiency. 

So, with easy endurance rides, you already achieve many physiological adaptations for your next Gran Fondo. Research suggests including a polarized or pyramidal intensity distribution when you have at least 5 hours to train weekly.

Just keep track of low intensity accounting for 80-90% of your total training volume.

4. Incorporate Interval Training

Getting faster is about putting your body under sustained stress. With interval training, you can increase your training load in less time. In addition, you can maximize training stimulus through repeatability. 

For example, French researcher Billat showed that to improve your VO2max, you need to accumulate at least 10 minutes above 90% of VO2max. Now, research shows that compared to riding steady at your VO2max, dividing the stress into several efforts is way more effective. This is due to the VO2-slow component because the aerobic system needs some time to ramp up. In contrast, power is immediate as you push the pedals. So, with a 4x3min VO2max effort, you gain much more valuable time than trying your luck at one long effort.

The mechanism of high-intensity training is also well described by Lauren’s review. While high-intensity and low-intensity both trigger PGC-1α (door opener for mitochondrial biogenesis) activation, the signaling pathway is completely different. High intensity causes high-energy contractions and lots of ATP release. Your glycolysis (ability to break down muscle glycogen) is highly active during HIT, so HIT also improves glucose transport capacity, as well as lactate buffering and removal capacity.

The training effect of HIT leads to an increase in VO2max, Lactate buffering, and removal capacity. On the other hand, tempo training will push up your FTP from below and improve your economy, so getting in a range of specific intervals is important. According to science, we should aim for two or occasionally three threshold or HIT sessions per week. 

A Gran Fondo training week sample

5. Train Hard, but Recover Harder

As you might know, getting faster takes time. Therefore, adequate recovery is crucial if you want to perform your best Gran Fondo ever. 

The biggest factor for adaptation is sleep. So, you want to get in 8 hours of sleep consistently. Break away from the belief that “ I feel best with 6 hours of sleep.” Science tells us that we are pretty shitty at knowing what is optimal for us. Don’t fool yourself and get quality sleep consistently. 

Another factor for training adaptation is acute and chronic recovery. The most important determinants to name are carbohydrates and proteins. While carbohydrates have acute effects on recovery and adaptation, proteins have long-term effects. A balanced healthy diet should include both carbs and proteins consistently. For more insides on sports nutrition click here.

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6. Challenge Yourself and Go Long

The reason to go out for a long endurance ride lies in the recruitment pattern of our muscle fibers.

Research shows that muscle fatigue causes a similar effect on muscle fiber recruitment as intensity does. Firstly only type 1 fibers work actively during your ride. Then, after 2 hours, for example, these fibers get fatigued and more and more type 2a fibers are recruited to maintain the intensity. 

By training adaptation (if you sleep enough hours) type 1 and 2a fibers become more aerobically efficient. Type 2a fibers will work more like type 1 fibers. So, going long at least once a week increases your odds of success.

7. Practice Your Gran Fondo Nutrition

Training the gut received quite some attention recently. If done right, gut training helps you eat more carbs on the bike, while having a lower risk of stomach problems.

Dealing with gut issues on race day is the last thing you want to experience. Therefore, go out and practice your fuelling strategy regularly. I recommend including sessions, where you use the products you want to use on race day. If you lack experience, start with 60 g/h and try to increase up to 90 g/h of carbs with multiple sugars. Read more about how many carbs you need here.

Ultimately, the research couldn’t agree more that carbs improve endurance performance. So, training quality also improves.

The Gran Fondo – Your Journey

At the end of the day finding success in your Gran Fondo is about putting in the work. There’s no shortcut or magic workout to become a faster cyclist. 

If you want to improve steadily, you have to have a plan and train consistently. You have to find joy in the stress of interval training. You have to find joy in the simplicity of low-intensity training. You have to find joy in living a healthy lifestyle. Add sleep and recovery to that equation, and you might perform your best Gran Fondo ever. 

By falling in love with the process, you create an absence of difficulty.

Ready to Step Up Your Gran Fondo Training?

If you enjoyed this and want to improve your Gran Fondo performance, then get your hands on one of my plans and ride faster for longer, or click below to get my specific base, build, and peak plans for amateur and elite cyclists:

  1. RV The Gran Fondo Build Plan, 8 Weeks on 6 Hours, 10 Hours, or 15 Hours
  2. RV Improve Your FTP, 8 Weeks on 10 Hours
  3. RV Gran Fondo Advanced Base Plan 8-12 Hours (12 Weeks) – All Gran Fondos
  4. RV Gran Fondo Advanced Build Plan 8-12 Hours (12 Weeks)
  5. RV Gran Fondo Advanced Peak Plan 10 Hours (8 Weeks)

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