How To Train for a Hilly Gran Fondo National Series Event
Races in the Gran Fondo National Series like the Highlands Gran Fondo are different. And for veteran century riders, a former bike racers, and long-time veterans of the local weekend club rides, they require a different approach to training. That's because instead of asking you to ride hard over your distance of choice, your ranking at a GFNS event is determined by your times through timed segments on the course. Some segments are climbs, others are flat to rolling roads, and the lowest cumulative time wins.
For the Highlands Gran Fondo, this means you don't want to build your training around racing the entire distance. Instead, because some key segments will be on climbs you'll want to condition your body to go all-out on long climbs and then recover. On the 100-mile Gran Route at the Highlands Gran Fondo, there are 4 timed segments. The first two come quickly in the first 17 miles of the event. Gran Route riders then have nearly 35 miles before the third timed segment, while Media Route riders have 25 miles until the third timed segment. It will be important to fuel and hydrate during this long untimed stretch so you're ready to go!
To succeed, you'll want to find climbs that best approximate what you'll face around Butler, New Jersey (No climbs available? Pray for a brutal windy spring day and ride into the wind). Take the first 10-15 miles to warm up. There's no need to push yourself until you get to the first climb.
Once at the top, RELAX on the ride down the other side. Sure bombing the descents at full speed will provide a nice adrenaline rush, but that could hinder your recovery and preparation for the next segment. Once you finish descending, take time to rehydrate and refuel and find your rhythm again. A good rule of thumb: ride no harder than a conversational pace. That is you can hold a conversation with other riders around you. Training solo: recite the Pledge of Allegiance out loud until you settle into the pace.
Within a mile or two of the next climb throw in a couple of 30 second-to-one-minute accelerations followed by a minute of recovery to prepare you legs for the upcoming sustained effort. Repeat between each climb until you complete the last effort. Your goal is to hit the last climb of the day feeling strong, not thrashed by the hours of riding leading up to it.
Once you're over the top, use the rest of the ride to wind down.