How to prepare for a Gran Fondo with Zwift
From the weeks leading up to it, the day before, and on the day - here's how to set yourself up for success
Of all the advantages offered by Zwift and must-do events on the platform, it’s perhaps completing a Gran Fondo that is the biggest draw for many.
The winter series, comprising of three separate events and trio of distances, gives users the chance to ride around Wattopia with thousands of other people in a non-competitive race environment. There is no winner, but expect to see people jumping off the front into breakaways, while you’ll quickly learn that the best place to be riding is within a group, the software’s double draft mode mimicking real life group riding.
The principal aim of each Fondo is to complete the route, challenging yourself against the distance and the clock. There are three levels: a Gran Fondo, Medio Fondo and Bambino Fondo.
As the name suggests, the latter is the shortest route and least difficult, usually around 50km; a Medio Fondo is around 75km and will include an ascent up Wattopia’s famous volcano.
What we’re going to preoccupy ourselves with is a Gran Fondo: not only satisfied with being the toughest route of the three, counting more elevation including the climb up to virtual lava, but the distance will be around 100km.
Make no mistake: it’s an undertaking, and one that even the strongest have to commit several hours to. Here’s how best to prepare for a Gran Fondo on Zwift.
There is no shortage of preset workouts available to download and use, with most found on whatsonzwift.com, allowing you to insert your FTP for accurate numbers to follow.
Most of Gran Fondo-specific workouts are three to four weeks long, and are tailored depending to the rider’s current fitness and form.
(Image by Alex Whitehead/SWPix.com)
The general plan is to do three workouts a week over the selected time period, the sessions ranging from harder intervals in sub-threshold Zones, to above-threshold riding for shorter periods.
Read more: How to become a better sprinter on Zwift?
Longer rides are obviously helpful to build endurance, but many workouts will still insist on some high effort sprints or riding during such sessions. If you expect to be jumping into breakaways during a Gran Fondo, you’ll be tempted by the workouts that replicate this type of riding, the sessions focusing on above FTP efforts followed by threshold riding. There are also long tempo intervals to follow to train the rider to sustain a higher effort on the longer climbs.
“If you’re doing a Gran Fondo, you need to get good at riding hills,” is the advice of Italian-based coach Ian Jenner. “Ride as many hills as you can or replicate that with long tempo intervals. The more you understand your training zones, and the more climbs you do, the more you can master difficult and challenging routes and events.”
You may be preparing to ride for several hours from your Pain Cave as opposed to real-life islands and mountains, but it’s important to treat a Gran Fondo like you would any event or big ride outside.
That means you need to fuel properly the day before: think lots of slow-release carbs, proteins and vitamins. It’s not a good idea to have a few beers or glasses of wine, either.
Good preparation also means a good sleep to ensure that you’re mentally fresh and alert for the ride, not wanting to jump straight back into bed.
Also, make sure that you have a clear schedule for both the event and immediately after the Gran Fondo. You don’t want to panic in the final hour of riding that you’ve got to be somewhere in less than two hours; give yourself the time to recover properly.
Your Pain Cave can play a big role other than literally just being the place where you are riding: it’s a good idea to have the room organised and set-up how you like it. Think a clean bike, clean towels, a fully-charged speaker, and monitors all in position. The last thing you want to be doing is moving things around while you’re simultaneously trying to hang onto a faster group.
On the day
Time could be limited pre-Gran Fondo, but if you can afford yourself a 20-minute low-effort warm-up that will be an advantage to you.
As mentioned above, a Gran Fondo is not a race but many users will ride it like a race. If you want to be at the pointy-end of proceedings, you will need your legs fully firing as soon as the Fondo gets underway.
(Image by Alex Whitehead/SWPix.com)
Before you start riding, the most crucial thing to do is to ensure that you’ve brought with you enough food and drink to keep you hydrated, fuelled and going. Don’t be scared about bringing too much cake or too many bars with you; whatever you don’t use can go back into the cupboard ready for the next Fondo.
Read more: How should I fuel for indoor training?
If you approach a Gran Fondo with the same commitment, attitude and preparation as you would a real life event, you’ll have no problem completing one and earning that month’s Zwift Fondo Kit.
Cover image provided by Zwift