Gran Fondo Tips From A First Timer

As someone who has ridden dozens of Gran Fondo cycling events all over the globe, from Italy to Israel to France, I’m often asked for tips or advice by those getting ready to tackle their first event. This time around though, the advice is coming from someone with a little less experience, but who is much more in tune with the needs of a first-time Gran Fondo rider.

At the completion of the Santa Clarita Gran Fondo benefiting the Davis Phinney Foundation, an event that Topical Edge supported, I bumped into Ken Vietzke who had just completed his first Fondo and I thought, who better to share insight of what a first-timer might need to think about before finding themselves at the start line? Here are Ken’s five key things he wished he knew before lining up that day:

Knowing what lies ahead can be an advantage when coming up with a pacing plan.

Know the route beforehand or ride with someone that knows it. Knowing when to expend your effort is invaluable since first-time Gran Fondo/century riders don’t have the stamina of other experienced riders. Many feel the temptation to stay with the early pack and go too hard in the first 50 miles, leaving little for the remainder when it’s so crucial. If you haven’t ridden the course before and are not riding with someone that has, the hills can seem endless and demoralize you.

Be mentally prepared to expect hard going after 50 miles. Your body is not used to miles 50 to 100, especially if there is significant climbing yet to come. Don’t worry about speed or time when the body fatigues. Getting to the next rest stop should become the goal as those breaks can do wonders for a tired and achy body. Getting a shot of sugar, cold water or food can rejuvenate you physically and mentally, allowing you to approach the next segment in a better state.

Your nutritional needs…especially accounting for sodium loss due to sweat…are key in getting through the day.

Understand the needs of your body’s salt content beforehand. On a long day of riding, your body’s salt content can be easily depleted. Be prepared, as rest stops may not have salt replacement nourishment available. Bring salt tablets with you and take them as needed to avoid cramping. Failure to foresee cramping can ruin your attempt at a Gran Fondo.

Ride with a similarly paced rider. Long stretches of road can seem endless and having another rider to talk to is really helpful to pass the time. Taking turns drafting off of each other can pay huge dividends, saving your legs from premature fatigue. If you are lucky enough to have more than one rider near you, encourage others to ride together, taking turns at the front. This is especially important when riding into a strong headwind.

Saddle choices and bike fit become much more important when you’re spending 5+ hours on the bike.

Have a comfortable seat. If you are not feeling 100% comfortable in the saddle, the extra miles can murder your butt and cause rash or saddle sores. If that happens during the ride, you will not enjoy the experience very much. For those that suspect they will have trouble, a seat fitting at your local bike shop may do the trick. Many saddle brands offer multiple widths to fit each rider’s unique anatomy and can make all the difference for such a long day on the bike.

Bonus Pro Tip: Leave the white shorts at home and conveniently forget to put on the helmet sticker.