How to achieve perfect form for a Gran Fondo

Hitting peak form for your goal event isn’t easy. Here’s how…

You’ve spent all winter braving the bad weather and building your aerobic fitness and now its Spring. The good weather is just around the corner and before too long you’ll be on the start line of your goal event.

So the question is: how do I convert that fitness into race form and really shine on the day?

The good news is that having built a strong aerobic base, it only takes around 8 weeks to build race form. The basic principle is to make your training more and more event-like the closer you get to your event.
Below are a number of key areas to focus on in those last weeks.

Physiology: Which training sessions should I be doing in the final weeks before my event?

At this phase of an annual training plan, you have completed the Preparation Phase where the focus was aerobic endurance and muscular endurance. Now you are moving into the Pre-competition Phase where the focus shifts to the anaerobic energy system (without oxygen). This means working on your top-end power and fatigue resistance.

The type of training that will improve your anaerobic ability is interval sessions of around 30 – 120 seconds. Longer efforts will work you Anaerobic Capacity, whereas shorter ones focus on Power.

Exactly which sessions you should be doing very according to the demands of your event. For instance, l’Etape du Tour features multiple, long climbs with valleys in-between whereas Ronde van Vlaanderen has lots of short, sharp climbs and cobbles.

Even on an event like the Etape where you will likely be making lots of sustained efforts with long rest in-between, it is still worth improving your anaerobic ability. Maybe the road rises sharply, there is a brief headwind or you want to bridge a gap to another rider. There are always circumstances when you can benefit from short-term power.

Add into your training some interval training that you think matches the demands of your event. Do 1-2 sessions per week and aim to complete 6-8 in total. The quantity can be low (3-6) and rest periods can be several minutes long e.g. 5 minutes if you think you’ll get rest in your event. If, on the other hand, you’ll need to repeat the efforts many times without rest then train accordingly. A good session is 30-30s: 30 seconds ON, 30 seconds OFF for 5 minutes. Rest for 5 minutes and repeat a total of 3 times.

Don’t neglect the long rides: you still need to maintain that aerobic fitness.

Technical: Equipment

Think about the terrain: wider tyres for cobbles (25mm+), appropriate gearing for big climbs (sufficient to keep you below anaerobic threshold for long periods).

What about the climate: are you expecting lots of rain? If so, you need a really good quality waterproof. Are you going to be in the sun all day? Then high-factor sun cream is essential.

What about your bike fit? If you haven’t had one recently then you could reap great rewards in terms of energy efficiency and comfort. Book one soon and advise the fitter about your event. They can then optimise your fit accordingly.

Fuelling & hydration

There is a vast amount of information out there on what to eat and drink on events. The main tip is to have a plan and practice it. Find what works for you now and stick to it for your event. Don’t rely on the food supplied in the event unless you know your stomach will tolerate it.

Tactics: Pacing

How are you going to pace yourself: pace (speed), RPE, power, heart rate? Have you practiced? Do you know how hard you can go for long periods like the mountain climbs of France? Do you know how many times you can repeat an almost maximal 1 minute effort like the Bergs of Flanders?

My advice is to have a ‘three-speed’ approach, by which I really mean three intensities:

  • High: an effort you can sustain for climbing or riding into headwinds
  • Medium: the intensity you’ll use on the flats for very sustained periods
  • Low: your recovery mode. use this for descents, tailwinds or just resting in a group

Work out what is your intensity for each of these and practice it during your final long rides.

Mental attitude

Your psychological approach has a massive bearing on your performance on the day. Do everything you can to gain confidence, so you arrive at the start line brimming with enthusiasm.

For instance, spending your final weeks doing lots of specific training at intensities and on terrain akin to your event, will build confidence.

List all the negative thoughts lurking at the back of your mind and devise a strategy to cope with each one in turn:

  • Worried you’ll forget something? Start writing a kit list.
  • Worried about riding in a big group? Find some local club-rides in your area or spend some time riding with friends.
  • Concerned you’ll not last the distance? Get a coach to check your training and get an independent opinion.
  • Still not got that strange creaking noise seen-to? Get your bike booked into the bike shop now.


Tapering is the process used in the final days before your event to build form. What exactly is form? Well in the preceding weeks and months you will have built lots of fitness. But with fitness comes fatigue. If you can shed the fatigue without losing (excessive) fitness then you have good form.

You don’t want to overdo this for a big event as fitness is the most important factor. Start 7-10 days out from your event. Keep the intensity but drop the volume around 40-50%. So if you are doing 8 intervals, drop it to 4 or 5. Skip one or two sessions you’d normally do and keep the intensity low on your long rides.

Getting the balance right between fitness and form or freshness is highly individual. If in doubt, back-off. The key thing to remember is that you will not increase your fitness the week before an event. What you can do is increase fatigue, so don’t.

The day before

Don’t be tempted to have a complete rest. If you do you’ll probably feel very sluggish at the start of the event. Instead do a very short activation ride. This is just a very easy ride of 30-40 minutes with 2 or 3 efforts of 30 seconds. This activates the muscles and reminds your brain that you’re a cyclist and you’re not on holiday!

Also use the opportunity to check all your equipment is in working order and check-out the start line for tomorrow so you’re on-time.

Follow the above advice and you’ll hit peak form on the day of your event. Good luck!

Want a bespoke training plan to support your pre-competition training? Enjoy all the benefits of a fully-coached client without any ongoing commitment. See our Foundation Training Plan for details [Places strictly limited].