How to Train for a Gran Fondo… Step 1

5th July 2017
Step 1 of 5 training series by Rob Crowe O.A.M. ‘The Wiser Rider’


Tip-top cycling form takes me over each climb like a tail-wind whilst the bitumen races underneath because my competence outweighs the demands of the day.
With a further 80kms of mountain course time-trialing to go, my engine is still cool and my outputs stay solid under pressure – that”s what it’s all about when I’m embarking upon / performing in a Gran Fondo Challenge ride.
But apart from being awe-struck and emotionally high off the beautiful ride scenery and huge packs of speeding cyclists, what is it inside me that’s really keeping my cycling condition so good?
It happens to be the very solid, well-structured, cycling training preparation period I completed. A ‘periodised’ training plan ensures the body (your cycling engine) gets acclimatised with 4 specifically different training modes over 12 weeks in the lead-up to event day : Endurance, Strength, Speed, Power. These 4 modes may be better known to the current cycling fraternity
as base rides, climbing repeats, high-cadence bunch-riding, and time-trialing.


Endurance cycling fitness: Get Cycling Fit First


Getting ready to cycle strongly and quickly over mountains is a lot about being fit generally, but getting fit is actually the first step towards handling strength training in phase 2 –
to really build your cycling engine to be stronger against long-range gravity-resisting climbing loads. You have to understand that riding the longer climbs at higher pace is very hard work, constantly threatening the muscles with lactic acid build-up and effectively running your cycling engine in time-trial mode for large blocks of time (20 – 120mins for some riders ascending Mt Hotham).


Reading later about strength-training in phase 2, you’ll see how intensely straining it can be to gear-load and gravity-load the body’s cycling muscles with high amounts of resistance and then practice this twice per week.  Loading up on resistance training even on a weekly basis will require the body to recover quickly (within the working week ideally) in time to do it again each
Saturday for example. Understandably then, you must be fit enough to recover quickly BEFORE you start a 4-week plus strength-cycling training phase, so focus on getting fit for cycling first and foremost.


July – Endurance fitness rides for 3 weeks, 1 week easy
August – Strength loading rides for 3 weeks, 1 week easy
September – Speed fitness rides for 3 weeks, 1 week easy
October – Power fitness rides for 3 weeks, 1 week easy


Getting fit for cycling means becoming adapted to longer periods of riding (3hrs+) and mid-range cycling intensity (75% of max effort) without lactic acid build-up or any significant fatigue onset post-ride.
Thus a simple answer to HOW DO I GET CYCLING FIT? is to do base / endurance training rides for a few weekends to achieve an ability to ride for 3hrs+ at steady-state intensity,
without gathering lactic-acid build-up in the muscles and without feeling knocked about or overly fatigued. This is generally called endurance / base training and is best done solo or in pairs in the wind, on flatter, longer uninterrupted roadways (like the Mornington Peninsula or Beach Rd areas), and is considered the more boring, uneventful, time-consuming phase of road training – but is without doubt critical in later succeeding with the overall plan.


Creating this ‘endurance’ fitness will actually provide more energy back to you once working effectively in the base-training phase (as in, actually leave you feeling more energised than tired after rides) and typically comes from riding in a regular routine of longer weekend ‘endurance’ rides (steady tempo, in the wind, for more than 3hrs, at 65-75% heart-rate or effort). As you get fitter, the tempo and cadence is best to come up (to 90rpm ideally), the average speed of your ride may increase (27-33kph depending on your engine size and the wind). When achieved at a higher level of the sport, I have found that the general energy capacity increases and a smorgasboard of other beneficial changes can also transpire with solid endurance fitness:-


  • improved sleep
  • loss of weight
  • fitter feeling
  • clearer thinking
  • hotter body temperature
  • increased flexibility
  • slimmer body-shape
  • less stiffness
  • increased metabolism (hunger pangs)
  • post-ride fatigue turns into a post-ride more energised state


But it’s commonly not always experienced as a totally enjoyable training phase, and I’ve found these down-sides are worth looking out for during the endurance get-fit-phase:-


  • more time consumed on training
  • more flatulence
  • more dehydration if not maintained
  • more money spent on food
  • more wear’n’tear on tires and other bike parts
  • some boredom
  • monotony or motivational issues for some riders (book into Ridewiser Ergo classes to fix this!)
  • soreness in parts of the body not noticed before (seek advice if this does not resolve itself within 2 or 3 endurance rides).
Getting basically fit first can also involve a lot of other activities than just cycling, like cross-training (jogging, swimming, gym workouts, pilates, or tennis and other sports somewhat familiar to your body) and will always benefit the serious cyclist in the long run with heavy training times ahead because the body draws so much on the core fitness (smaller muscle groups) and also the ability to recover faster over-night (achievement of at least a few weeks spent on getting basically physically fit in an exercise routine).
Here is an example of an ‘endurance week’ that I would complete later in July during full-time work. This is to be done for 2 or 3 weeks in a row with an easier week following, before starting on hilly rides for the strength training phase (> read the next post in this series).
Tuesday – 60km longer solo endurance ride(s) before/after work (2hrs) 
Wednesday – 25km Ridewiser Ergo + commuting (1.5hrs) 
Thursday – 30km bunch-ride + commuting (1.5hrs) 
Saturday – 100km longer steady-paced endurance ride (4hrs)
Sunday – 50km easier ride or with faster bunch-riding in the middle hour (2hrs)
Total = 265km
So stay left and keep the recovery activities up, such as stretching, massage, hydration and easy riding starts and finishes. Focus on having fun with a friend – as your best chance of getting high quality endurance rides done, but nothing over 75% effort!
Next step, keep an eye out for my next article in the last week of July 2017 on How to Train for a Gran Fondo… Strength Cycling fitness: Phase 2 – Loading Up the Muscles.
Rob Crowe O.A.M.
Olympian, writer, speaker, The Wiser Rider


Picture A – not endurance fit
Picture B – endurance fit

One Response to “How to Train for a Gran Fondo… Step 1”

  1. Bablofil says:

    Thanks, great article.

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