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10-04-2023 | Wouter Fioole

Five dilemmas before starting a gran fondo

Before starting a gran fondo, you are always faced with a number of choices. Choices you have to make, whether you start for fun or because you want to finish as high as possible. The easiest solution is to take a soigneur, but I don't have that luxury (most of the time) and my cycling friends are usually not willing to act as domestiques for the whole gran fondo. Therefore, I am curious as to how you guys deal with the following dilemmas. Should you any suggestions, we'd love to hear it!

Photo: © Patrick Güller

1. Cycling or resting?

Gran fondos are all organized in areas where cycling is beautiful. And why do I participate in a gran fondo? Exactly, because cycling is so much fun. So it's a damn shame not to check off that one climb or route the days before the gran fondo. You are there now anyway. But tapering before a gran fondo is important, whether you want to have fun or race. Simple solution is to arrive a few days in advance and then stay a few days. The question is whether you have that many vacation days. How would you solve this?

2. What to wear?

Most of us don't have anyone standing at the start who can take on the clothes you still have on while you're waiting for the start signal, but have to take them off the moment you get moving. Many gran fondos start early, and by then it's nowhere near as warm as it is a few hours later. So what do you put on? Freezing in the starting box is not a good idea, but neither is being way too hot while cycling. Taking the time to take clothes off and put them away along the way isn't a good idea either. What I often do is put on an old and cheap windbreaker on the way to the start and tie it to the barrier just before the start signal. Very occasionally I find it, but I usually lose it after the race. My stash is pretty much empty by now. Arm and leg warmers are ideal and only need to be stripped off, but even those can get too hot. 

3. How about food?

A similar problem is the food and drink you need to bring. Do you take everything with you for the entire ride? Then your jersey pockets will be full of food and you'll probably need an extra water bottle. If you're not careful, you'll end up with two extra pounds of weight you'll have take with you uphill. A real shame and actually unfair to participants who do have soigneurs. Stopping at a feeding station is also possible, of course, but then you have to let go of the group you're in. Usually not a good option either, especially on flat strips. How do you guys handle this?

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4. What tools and materials will you take with you?

Exactly the same issue is the stuff you bring. Do you gamble on everything staying in one piece? Or do you bring tools and enough straps to fix everything? This adds a lot of extra weight. And if you absolutely want to ride a good result, you don't want that. Besides, if you get a puncture and have to patch, you won't be able to ride a good result anyway. But even if you ride just for the scenery and fun, you usually only have three pockets in your shirt and a saddle bag. Clothes, tools, food. Choices have to be made. In the end, I always choose to avoid making the "call of shame" to get picked up at all costs. Do you guys see it the same way, or do you leave the tools at home and count on a good repair station or technical assistance along the way from the organization?

Photo: © Patrick Güller

5. Warm-up or early in the box?

The final dilemma is the balance between a good warm-up and getting into the starting pen early. This is perhaps especially a dilemma for those who want to ride a good result. Not doing a warm-up has taken my breath away quite a few times at the beginning of the gran fondo. In the Neusiedler Radmarathon, there is a steep short climb right off the start. Without a warm-up, I am not going to keep up with at least the first and probably second group (if I can even with a good warm-up, of course). But if I do a warm-up and am at the back, I'll also be behind the breaks in the group. What choice do you make? Of course without pushing ahead in the starting pen at the last minute anyway.

The ideal solution, of course, is very long vacations with soigneur. But we don't all have that luxury. How do you deal with this? And what other dilemmas do you have yourself? Mail it to me!

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