ATC: How To Train For A Gran Fondo In A Time Crunch

Coach Rick Schultz get asked quite often, “what should I do to train for an upcoming XYZ event?” In this article, he discusses preparing for a Gran Fondo type event (GF) in under three weeks.

Gran Fondo Emergency Training

As a USA Cycling coach, I have clients that range from those that have just retired, those that haven’t ridden a bicycle in 40 years, to elite athletes that podium at Nationals. From clients that are somewhere in-between, I get asked quite often, “what should I do to train for an upcoming XYZ event?” In this article, we will discuss a Gran Fondo type event (GF).

A GF is a very challenging cycling event, usually between 75 and 125 miles long. What makes it so challenging is the typical 6,500 to 13,000 feet of climbing. With roughly 55 official events hosted in 2016, GF’s are now very popular in the United States. If you are located in Southern California, other GF-type events include the Belgian Waffle Ride (aka BWR), which, for 2016 was 146 miles long, 41 miles of dirt and 13,000 feet of climbing.

With any of these super hard rides, the top finishers are usually ex-professional riders who know how to train for different events. So what about for the rest of us? How do we train so that we can finish?

One of the difficulties in coaching is that usually athletes wait until well past the last minute to even start thinking about training for this type of event. In reality, most cyclists should start months prior.


This is a training plan for a cyclist that works full time, has kids that need help with homework, whose kids play soccer on the weekends, who wants to spend time with their spouse, and who wants to start training with only 3 weeks remaining before a GF. (In reality, there is only about 2-1/2 weeks of actual training when you include rest days.)


Since GF-type events are a combination of both long distances and plenty of climbing, the cyclist needs to train for both. I will usually sit down with my clients and ask what type of riding they have been doing up until now so I can determine what kind of shape they are in and where they should start their workouts.Generally speaking, if you are going to ride 146 miles and climb 13,000 feet in one day, your body should have been recently stressed to both of these.

Example Events and Routes

Several readers sent in their training routes and asked to share them with those that are getting ready for a Gran Fondo. These are great for training as you can do the whole route or partial routes. Download the GXP file into your head unit and away you go!

In No Particular Order;

Malibu Gran Cookie Dough Double-Fudge – 117.6 mile/12,456 feet elevation gain from Eastern Malibu to Calif State University Channel Islands

Belgian Waffle Ride – 146.15 miles/12,959 feet elevation. San Diego county. Rancho Penasquitos, San Marcos, and Ramona.

2015 Orange County Gran Fondo Dirty Hundred – 100 miles/5,528 feet elevation.

Start in Irvine through Newport Beach to Corona via river trail back to Rancho Santa Margarita via dirt trails and Santiago Canyon Road finishing back up in Irvine.


Spinning (S), Climbing (C), Long Distances (LD)

Since this is an accelerated schedule, I recommend the following workouts. You will note that several are doubled up due to limited time remaining before the event. For example, since the client works full-time, on LD days, I recommend a ride before work, at lunch and after work. Not ideal, but this workout is intended for those that have limited time to train as well as accomplish certain event goals. For C and S days, the client might want to do spinning before work and climbing after work.You will also note that we accounted for the bare minimum of rest days as well as spending time with the kids.

Spinning (S)

In my opinion, the best workout for your overall foundational fitness is spinning. Most cyclists have too low a cadence and can end up dumping lactic acid into their legs, which can lead to premature fatiguing and cramping. Spinning taxes the cardiovascular system, not the muscular system, and learning to spin at 95+ rpm will allow you to ride longer without muscle fatigue. So how do you spin at 95-105 rpm? The short answer is that it takes time. Most cyclists will start at 65-70 rpm. The recommended workouts are 2 sets x 20 minutes at 80 rpm (or 5-10rpm over your current cadence). By the second workout the body will be used to about 75-80 rpm, so set your next workout at 85 rpm. The following workout 90 rpm, then 95, then 100, 105, etc. If you can get to 120 rpm for 2 sets of 20 minutes without bouncing, you will feel comfortable at 105 for an entire 2-hour ride. For these workouts, keep bumping up the rpm’s each set, but no bouncing.

Long Distance (LD)

LD days are done separately since they take up a lot of time. However, it is important to remember that you are not training for time, but rather miles. If you are like most people and work full time, you have only a limited amount of time to train. Therefore, you need to train smart and maximize the remaining time you have before the event. Remember, for a GF you are training to be able to complete up to 146 miles in a single day.If you look at the schedule above, the time intensive workouts are mainly left for the weekends. But what about doing a LD on a Monday or Thursday? Install a set of lights on the bike and go out for a 5am ride, trying to get 40 or so miles in. At lunch another 20 and after work another 50. That will get you 110 for the day. During the second and third weeks you might even want to add more miles on your trainer. Keep increasing your miles so that you can kick out a 150 miler on a Saturday.

Climbing (C)

Training for climbing is a mix of the above two workouts. Most cyclists who sign up for a GF should be able to do 4,000 feet on a single ride, so I recommend starting there. Since time is limited, you should add 1,000 feet of climbing to each climbing workout.


Several days before the GF, take an easy ride on the trainer to keep the legs fresh for the event then rest the next day.


This is only a quick overview that is meant to help those who only have a short time remaining before their scheduled GF. Following the above schedule, you should have enough miles and climbing to complete the event. Make sure that you use a roller on your legs after each workout. Also add a stretching regimen as well. This will help reduce soreness and cramping. Learning to spin will not only make the legs last longer but will really help in the hills. Make sure to add spinning to your overall workout plan even after the GF. Spinning will help you become a better overall cyclist.

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