First Gran Fondo - Help With Strategy

I am participating in my first Gran Fondo tomorrow in Butler NJ (the Highlands Gran Fondo). I won’t be setting any records, but I’d like to do as well as possible. The race is 101 miles with 7400 ft of climbing, but the actual competition is all about who completes 4 timed segments the fastest. These segments are spread throughout the course and combine for about 17 miles (mostly climbing). Obviously if there were no other restrictions, I would just go as slowly as possible for the other 84 miles and then crush it on the timed sections, but there’s a requirement to maintain a minimum average progression of 10mph, which takes stops into account (i.e. they count as zero mph).

Here is my plan, but I’d like to get the thoughts of others with more experience. My plan is to turn off auto-pause on my head unit so that it’s also tracking my average progression taking stops into account. That way, I can keep my average as close to 10mph as possible and not exert extra energy. On the other hand, maybe this just neglects more important issues like riding in a group, taking advantage of the draft, etc., which will be more beneficial overall to my pacing. Thoughts?

Just ride and enjoy.

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You may be over-thinking this. 10mph is very slow, even accounting for stops (no need to stop for long on a 100 - muscled tighten up). The climbing isn’t excessive for a 100m route so shouldn’t be an issue, unless there are some very steep ramps hidden in there.

Certainly, put an effort in for the timed segments, but you don’t need to consciously slow right down for the rest. Just back off and recover then go at at your natural steady pace.

I don’t have any suggestions, but I really like this addition. It eliminates the “30 minute rest stops after every timed segment” strategy.

Unless the timed sessions are pure climbs, being in a relatively strong group will be a big help. Plus generally, at least for me, being in a group is motivating.

If it was me, I would try and get in a group and hide in the group as much as possible between the timed sections, and on the timed sections give yourself a target max wattage to not exceed. And if you need to exceed that max wattage on a climb, let the group go. The only exception would be near the very top of a climb / end of a time section where briefly exceeding the cap is okay.

Have fun, and remember to eat and drink constantly. That is what people forget, especially at the start

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On eating and drinking: what I’ve started doing is having a high carbohydrate mix in my first water bottle - something like beta fuel - so that I get in enough calories at the start where adrenaline/ being in a bunch can make it hard to eat

Looking at the course profile, the first segment appears to be a solid climb, 2 and 3 are more rolling hills, and the last is a short, steep climb. I would guess the benefit of being in a group would help with 2 and 3 and during the long, flat transitions.

10mph is extremely slow, and I don’t think you want to spend 10 hours on the bike. I assume it will get hotter as the day goes on as well. If it were me, I would ride strong on the first segment, and try to find some people of similar strength to roll with through 2/3 and the transitions. Just keep it endurance pace during the transitions. Take a quick break at the aid station before Segment 3, but don’t stay so long as to get stiff.

Mostly, don’t overthink it and have fun!

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Some of these replies may be missing the point of the 10mph rule. What happens on fondos with timed segments is people ride protected in a bunch and then sprint the timed segment. They then take a 20 minute break and get super rested and do the same thing again. This allows them to win the timed segments rewards but not even finish close to the top of the overall time leaderboard. This 10mph rule would say “you can’t just stand around for 30 minutes multiple times and still win the jersey”.

Fatigue doesn’t just come from pedalling hard, accumulated time in the saddle or just being out in the sunshine (hopefully!) and on your feet takes it out of you as well. Personally I’d find spending 10 hours riding 100 miles to be exhausting and suspect I’d get much better segment times (not to mention having a much more enjoyable day) ticking along at a solid Z2 (or even climbing in Z3) in between segments and getting the ride done in ~6 hours or so instead. Especially as that would likely enable me to spend a lot more time riding in groups and getting draft benefit.

Thanks for the many replies on this one. I ended up taking the general advice of folks here and not overthinking it. I just went hard during the timed segments and Z2 on the rest, with a couple short breaks at aid stations. I finished in the top 3rd, which I’m happy with.

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Wish I’d seen this before the event as I was participating and had done the event last year as well.

If you plan to do another event like this PM me and I can help you with the segments if I know them, and if not the general strategy.

For Highlands your best bet was to be in a group taking equal turns on the first three segments, as all three are pure big ring efforts. The first is gradually uphill the whole way, but the average speed is such that drafting pays a huge benefit. For each of these three segments it is more important to smoothly work in a group and (maybe most importantly) quickly and safely pass slower riders.

The fourth segment starts with a short steep effort lasting 4ish minutes (depending on your fitness) and then has a flat/rolling section - so you need to hit that top section with other people to quickly get up to speed OR save enough gas to bring your speed back up quickly on your own. This segment is likely going to be done solo since everyone climbs at difference paces, but if you can attach yourself to a group at the top of the steep section you’ll benefit greatly

The 10 mph rule is largely meaningless - you had 10 hours to finish the course, so you can easily afford tons of recovery between the segments

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I will try to employ these strategies next year. This year I was solo for all but the second segment (which, not surprisingly, was my strongest). A good learning experience regardless. My next ride/race is Tour of the Catskills. Let me know if you have any experience with that one.