Over the past two weeks we have looked at ways to improve your performance and, more importantly, to enjoy yourself as you venture into the rewarding world of Gran Fondo riding. Remember, a Gran Fondo is not necessarily a race - it is generally a mass participation ride over a long distance where the aim, depending upon your ability and experience, is to simply finish or finish within a certain time.
These rides are almost always great fun - they are often in scenic mountain areas, and the fact that you are surrounded by hundreds or thousands of likeminded people enjoying a long day out on their bikes makes it extra special. The only thing that can take the shine off the day is coming in underprepared - we have already examined ways to ensure your training and equipment are on point, so today we run through a checklist to guarantee the ride day goes as smoothly as possible.
1. Get there early
If you are traveling to get to the event, allow plenty of time to check in, collect your race numbers, and get your bike and helmet inspected. Make sure you are familiar with the start/finish area, pick up your valet satchels if the race organizers are providing them, check your kit, shoes, helmet, bike, and nutrition are ready for the morning, then get a good night's sleep.
2. Pace yourself
It's very easy to get caught up in the excitement on the morning of a Gran Fondo. Take a few deep breaths and relax before you start pedaling. It's a long day ahead. Pace yourself, enjoy the surroundings, don't burn those energy matches too soon!
3. Eat and drink
I know, I know... you hear this one all the time. Well, that's because it's so important. You may feel strong from the beginning, you hydrated properly in the days leading up to the ride, and you think "I'll just save a bit of time by riding straight past the first drinks station." Don't do it. By the time you start to feel thirsty, hungry, or slightly wobbly, it's way too late.
4. Suck wheel
Nobody expects you to complete a Gran Fondo ride completely on your own, so don't be a hero. Suck wheel - in other words, draft behind other riders whenever the opportunity presents itself. Every little bit of energy you can save during the bulk of the ride is worth it; you may need it in the final few miles.
5. Spin, don't grind
Try to avoid falling into the trap of grinding away in too big a gear, especially on the climbs. Being in too small a gear will rarely get you in trouble - it might take you a few minutes longer to reach the summit of a particular climb, but your legs will thank you as the hours roll by and you're still relatively fresh.
6. The math is not always right
If your ride has a cut-off time, examine the terrain closely prior to ride day and do your sums carefully. If you're riding 200km and you have 10 hours to get there, it doesn't necessarily follow that you should be at the halfway point after 5 hours. Race organisers love to throw in a final brutal climb to finish of the day, so you will need to take that into account, along with the cumulative nature of fatigue. As the day drags on your average speed will inevitably begin to drop, as will your levels of energy and motivation. Build this into your race plan, as well as allowing for bathroom breaks, bike repairs, and other minor interruptions.
7. Don't be afraid to go solo
If you are doing the ride with friends, chances are that you have a loose kind of arrangement that you'll stick together as much as you can. This certainly adds a social component to the day, but don't let it cost you or your buddies as the miles roll past. If your friends are faster riders than you, let them go rather than hanging on for dear life just to maintain contact. There is nothing surer - you'll pay the price later in the day as the fatigue creeps into your legs and the exhaustion takes hold. Go back to suggestion number 2: pace yourself, get to the finish line in one piece, and catch up with your posse for a beer then.
8. Remember why you ride
It's very unlikely you're getting paid to ride, so it stands to reason that you're doing it for fun. Don't get so caught up in everything that you forget to enjoy riding your bike.