Before starting to write any cycling training plan, the number one place to start is looking at the specific demands of the event you are training for. The demands of different types of cycling events vary massively, and whilst some of your training will be transferrable, others parts won't be. If you’ve got your sights set on a Gran Fondo challenge next summer, now’s the time to be thinking about how you are going to prepare for it. Here are the 4 most important components of fitness to work on between now and next summer.

  1. First up, you’re going to need a reasonable “Threshold”, you’ve probably heard the term threshold a lot, and with good reason, although it’s far from everything in endurance cycling, it is an extremely important component of your fitness. The reason it’s so important, is it represents your tipping point. Your threshold is your “red line”, go beyond your threshold and try to stay there, and you will fatigue very quickly, however ride below your threshold, and providing you’re reasonably fit and are eating and drinking well, you can keep pedalling for hours. A good indicator of your threshold is the level of effort you can sustain for 40-60 minutes. Your threshold is such a fine line that if you were to ride just 10% above it then you could only sustain the effort for 5-15min (depending on fitness) before complete exhaustion. However, if you were to ride at 10% below your threshold, then depending on fitness levels you would be good to go for 1.5 to over 3 hours! The two biggest reasons you are going to need a good threshold are:
    • To be able to set a good pace on the long, gradual climbs that are likely to feature in your Gran Fondo event.
    • To lift your overall ride pace, if you’re threshold is higher, then your sustainable sub-threshold effort level will be higher too.

  2. You are also going to need good Strength/Torque to enable you get up any steep climbs (over 10% gradient) on the route. To get up these climbs without being defeated you will need the ability to produce power at low cadence (slow pedalling) but with very high torque (force), you will also need to be able to do this whilst both seated and standing.

  3. Aerobic Efficiency is another fundamental component of the fitness you will need. It’s exactly what it sounds like, the ability to work aerobically (with oxygen) and efficiently. As we develop our aerobic efficiency a number of physiological adaptations take place in the body which then allows us to comfortably ride at lower intensities for long periods of time (many hours), subject to being well fuelled and hydrated. The main reasons we want to develop good aerobic efficiency are:
    • To be able to ride closer to our threshold, for longer, increasing our overall ride pace.
    • To be able to recover quickly (for example, on descents), so when we start the next climb we are at least partly recovered from the previous one.
    • To improve our ability to recover between training sessions, this in turn will improve the overall productivity of our entire training programme.

  4. Cycling Specific Muscular Endurance. Remember those high torque efforts I mentioned you’re going to need for the steep climbs, well when you come up against those types of climb in the second half of your ride, you’re already going to have done a lot of work by the time you get there. Getting up a steep climb is one thing, but getting up one when you already have 50+ hilly miles in your legs is a whole different challenge. Without sufficient cycling specific muscular endurance there’s one thing that’s very likely to happen when you stand up to deliver that huge torque needed for the climb…. cramp! Cramp is widely mentioned hand in hand with de-hydration, and whilst dehydration can contribute to cramp, more often than not the cause is quite simply over-exertion of the muscles, beyond what they are used to coping with. No matter how fit you are, if you try to push beyond what your body is conditioned to handle, your muscles will eventually cramp up.

So that’s the big 4 areas to work on for a Gran Fondo/Sportive, in my next post we’ll look at how you can go about developing each of these areas. To ensure you don’t miss a post, you can subscribe for free by typing your email address in the “Connect With Us” box, at the bottom of this page.

Dan Small, Mountain Goat Coaching.