Pro Tips For Your Next Gran Fondo

Rally Cycling’s Amy Benner shares her insight on preparing for and riding an endurance event.

Professional cyclist Amy Benner has done dozens of races and endurance events during her career. As she prepared for the Malibu Gran Fondo, where she’ll be riding the Gran Fondo on Saturday and the Time Trial on Sunday, we caught up with her to get some valuable advice on how to set yourself up for a great day during your next Gran Fondo or endurance event.


1- Leading Into The Event

Usually you would want to begin tapering your training about 4-7 days out, depending on the event, your level of fatigue, and how long you’ve had to spend traveling to get to the event. Usually, I train normally 4 or 5 days out from an event, and then 2 or 3 days out I’d have lighter, high-cadence rides with some core work and muscle activation, plus lots of stretching and foam rolling. I’ll use this time to pre-ride some of the route if that’s an option, especially if I’ve never done it before. Also you want to be really on top of your nutrition and hydration three days out, especially if it’s hot and/or humid. The day before an event, I’ll do some leg-openers (hard, high-cadence efforts) with some easy spinning at the end to flush the legs.


2- Morning Of

I try to eat a really big breakfast before a race or endurance event, with protein, some greens or veggies, fruit, and whole grain carbs. And coffee. I can’t function without at least one cup of coffee. I’ll of course be hydrating well with water and electrolyte mix, depending on the weather. If it’s going to be a hot day, it becomes all the more important to ensure you’re hydrated and your electrolyte levels are topped off before the ride. I avoid gut-bombs like bacon and sausage, and I don’t do spicy or strong-flavored food immediately before or after an event. Just before the start I’ll have a small snack, apply Topical EDGE, and then it’s go time.


3- Pacing Strategy

This really depends on your goals for the event. If you’re riding with friends or teammates, that will dictate the pace if you’re all wanting to stay together for the social aspect. But if you’re riding as an individual and want to have the fastest time possible, you want to save the most energy. Sticking with a group is usually the most energy efficient, because if the group is organized and everyone is willing to share some of the work, you can go much faster than you could on your own. However, if the group is disorganized, sometimes you’re better off on your own. The key is to always communicate with those around you—chances are they’ll be willing to work together.


4- Staying Fueled

Fueling can make or break your event. Nutritional needs vary highly from individual to individual, but a good rule of thumb is to eat something every 15-30 minutes or so while riding, and try to put away at least a bottle an hour. Rest stops are usually every 10-20 miles, so only eating at the rest stops is a bad idea. Also, for longer rides like fondos, you cannot depend on only gels, bars, or gummy chews. I prefer real food while riding—almond butter and jelly sandwiches, rice cakes with nuts, dried fruit and honey; things like that. I use gels and blocks only in high-intensity situations, and to keep my carbs-per-hour count up. I love the Clif Organic Energy Food pouches, which are basically like baby food but formulated for athletes. My favorite flavor is the banana mango coconut. I will also sometimes put the chocolate Clif recovery mix in my first bottle, especially during a multi-day event.


5- At The Finish

Immediately after an event, I do my warm-down (this is especially critical for stage racing, because it flushes the legs for the next day) and drink a recovery drink as I’m warming down. After the warm-down, which usually takes about 15-20 minutes, I’ll be ready for real food. Wraps or sandwiches with lots of fresh veggies and sandwich meat are my favorite, plus a fruit and yogurt smoothie. Then for the drive home I’ll bring snacks and of course hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Dinner will be protein, veggies, and carbs. I love dessert too, especially cookies and ice cream. I also like to sometimes have a beer with dinner—it’s a good way to replenish carbs, and I’ve found that it helps with soreness. The day after an event, usually I’ll go for an easy spin in the morning right after breakfast, and when I get back I will be very, very lazy all day. I’ll also stretch and foam roll, and get organized for the coming week (do laundry, etc), but you have to recover as hard as you push yourself.


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