Creating a Successful Fondo Experience


With less than two months to go until the three-day aptly named Crossroads Tremblant bike festival, many of you are beginning to unhook your bike from its trainers, tune your gears, clear the salt from your headset and hit the pavement with friends and riding clubs. For those of you with a variety of bicycles hanging in your garage or seeking to add more to your collection, Crossroads has added a Gravel event (hyperlien: to the weekend festival. Be sure to consider of the variety of distances, event options and fitness levels required to participate in one or more events over the weekend.

This year, Brite Coaching will be providing training tips, riding cues, pacing strategies and recovery & nutrition guidelines in the lead-up to the festival. Our objective is to help athletes create a successful experience before, during and after the event. We welcome questions, comments and strategy considerations from those keen on making the most of their Crossroads weekend.

In this article, we will address how to best manage your ride in a Gran Fondo with a variety of skills and fitness levels, pelotons and pace lines, course nuances, positioning strategies and fuelling ideas. Power often comes in the form of watts but also as knowledge.

Start Line Position

Some Fondos have a first come, first served layout at the start line, while others have a seeding option (start with the group that you estimate to be your speed). Either formula puts the onus on you to position yourself wisely and accurately in order have the day you are seeking. If you know you can ride at the front of the field, be sure to position yourself close to the start line. The front group often starts strong (after the neutral rollout) to create a separation and leave the majority of the field and pelotons behind.

While Tremblant’s event fosters participation and peloton (group) riding, there will still be faster and slower groups. Know your speed and fitness to position your start accordingly. Chances are you would only move to a slower peloton vs a faster one if seeded incorrectly at the start. If unsure, get to the start line early (with an old jacket to ditch if the air is cool) to understand the pacing plan for this Fondo. Slide easily and confidently in with the group that best suits your level.

Neutral Rollout Strategy

The Tremblant Gran Fondo will have a neutral rollout so don’t make your job harder than it is. It is important to hold your positioning in the group during this section, which takes more skill and focus than it does physical strength. Racing or even just riding (aka participating) in a Gran Fondo depends on how you manage your efforts.

There is no reason to burn matches trying to juggle position in the first 10 kilometers when the event has hardly begun. Once the rollout is over and the group may split, keep your head on a swivel so you don’t get caught behind a gap. Remember, fondos have riders of all strength and ability levels, so you can’t always trust that the rider ahead of you is strong enough to hold the wheel. If a gap opens up, act quickly and get across it and back onto a wheel; the longer you wait, the more energy you’ll burn getting across.

Tremblant Fondo Pace Groups

At the Tremblant Gran Fondo, pacers will lead groups based on estimated finish time. Much like they have in running marathons, the pacers leading the group will maintain the pace necessary to finish with a specific goal time, enabling riders to stick with a group with similar goals. Most riders would either fall back to a slower peloton or splinter off on their own if the pace was too aggressive for them. The hope is that these pace groups will help athletes challenge themselves, work together, and have a great experience on the bike!

Know the Course

Knowing the course is one of the least physical things you can do and one of the most beneficial when participating in a Gran Fondo. Be sure to know where the hardest climbs are, where the aid stations are, where the technical parts of the course are and what the finish line is like. Be sure to identify parts of the course where it will be worthwhile to work at threshold or higher in order to stay with the group. Equally important is identifying areas of the course where you need to ride at your own pace and maybe forced to drop back to a slower group. For a ride like the Tremblant, staying with the front of the group to the base of the climbs will be in your best interest. You will have much of the group behind you and be able to latch on to those riders at the top of the climbs. Ride the climbs as hard as you can without tipping over your own edge and then immediately reconnect with the group that best suits your pacing ability. We will dive more into hill climbing in future articles.

Power in Numbers

If you find yourself in no-one’s-land, don’t blindly hammer yourself into a pulp. Take a look behind you for a group coming your way. While you’re waiting for them to catch you, use the time as an opportunity to eat and drink. You’re going to need the energy because it’s likely you will need to be one of the driving forces in the group. You may need to do a little work to initiate a group to ride and work together, but once the group has been established and is functioning, remember to reduce your workload so you’re not over-committed. Communication is key when riding in close proximity and high speeds and attempting to create organized chaos. When cyclists work together it’s like music. Seek melody!

Take Smart Pulls

When you find yourself riding in a strong group, decide whether you can/will contribute to a rotating paceline. If you are not strong enough to take a pull at the speed of the group, either pull through immediately or stay out of the rotation altogether. Instead, sit on the back of the group and allow the group to rotate without slowing others down.

Odds are they would rather have you sit on the back than slow the rotation of the paceline. Remember to analyze how much work you are doing in a group. Even if you are taking pulls, there are no extra points for taking longer pulls.

Pick a Big Draft

Be smart about your position in a rotating paceline. Size matters. For a better draft, position yourself on the wheel of a bigger rider. If you are the big rider, do yourself a favor and don’t sit on the smallest person’s wheel. If you are on the smaller side, take advantage of your smaller stature in the group and get small. Ride in the drops in the group and try to catch as little wind as possible, especially in fast sections of road. This will slightly reduce your overall workload. Insert video: Sneaky Ways to Ride in a Group:

Fuel Quickly

If you are going for a fast time or competitive placing, plan on stopping as few times as possible. Take enough food with you to get you, at minimum, to the second aid station on course. Due to the initial pace and group you’re riding with, you’re likely to hit the first aid station before you need anything. If the selection has placed you in a strong group, your group could try to all agree upon which aid station to stop at. If you leave an aid station solo and it’s early in the ride, with no one in sight down the road, sit up and ride easy until the next group catches you. When you stop to fuel be direct and to the point. You should know exactly what you want when you get to the aid station. The volunteers can be a resource to quickly assist you with bottle refills. And try to gear your bike down before coming to a complete stop at the aid station. Gear yourself in the gear you’d like to start in when leaving the aid station.

Eating Strategies

Early and often, it’s that simple. To ride optimally (no matter your fitness) you’ll likely be riding at a power that results in a higher-than-normal kilojoule expenditure. This higher-paced riding can make it easy to fall behind in both your eating and drinking. Make sure your food is easily accessible. Try not to worry so much about exactly what or even how much you are eating, but just that you are eating. Look down the road for places where your work rate will be low in the group as a good spot to eat and chew. Moderate, straight descents are a good place to eat and drink, but be careful about fiddling with wrappers and bottles during twisting, fast descents.

Nature Breaks

When you gotta go, you gotta go, but hopefully this is timed with one of your other stops for fuel refill. The less you stop the bike, the better your overall time. If you’re in a hurry and arrive at the aid station with a friend, give him/her your bottles to refill and put back on your bike while you hit the porto-jon. If you need food, give that person a shopping list. A quick streamlined visit can save you minutes, especially if it means leaving the aid station with a strong group. And it may sound silly, but try to minimize how far you have to walk in your cycling shoes. If you’re there for a nature break, pick the bike rack or parking spot as close to the bathrooms as possible. If there is anything slow about cycling, it’s walking in cycling shoes.

Nature Break Advice for Women

For women like me, who wear bib shorts, here’s a tip for speeding up your pit stop. Wonder Woman might have changed clothes quickly in small spaces (or was that Superman?), but getting out of a sweaty jersey in a porto-john can be… tricky. To save time, take your jersey off before you leave your bike and lay it open across the handle bars. Go do your thing and then get back out, jersey zipped up, and roll.

Learn to Read the Group

Part of riding and racing is knowing what’s going on around you. Try to identify the cyclists in your group who are riding the best, who have been fuelling, and who are predictable. Align yourself so you have access to their wheels. When the group is not rotating, try to maintain a draft-heavy position in the front third of the group. When you find yourself racing for the podium, you also need to note where your closest competitor is and how to either ride up to her or keep her behind you. You’ll have to read the group and make decisions. Participating in competitive group rides before your Gran Fondo will give you opportunity to refine your tactical skills.

We hope these tips help you have prepare both physically and mentally for the Tremblant Gran Fondo and Crossroads Festival. Please reach out to us with questions about your Fondo experience!

About Brite Coaching

Brite Coaching is a Canada-based endurance coaching company servicing athletes globally with the founder, Christine Fletcher, residing in the heart of Mont Tremblant (after 25 years in Vancouver, BC). Brite Coaching offers personalized coaching to all levels of endurance athletes from cyclists and mountain bikers to triathletes and runners. Our team of experts span from exercise Physiologists to ex-professional athletes, bike fit experts, sport & wellness-specific nutritionists, strength & conditioning trainers and mindset coaches.

We blend our expertise and experience with the latest evolving training methodologies and athlete individuality to help aspiring and experienced athletes seek fulfillment with their own athletic pursuit.  Becoming an athlete is a personal journey and one that is best served when we have perspective, guidance, purpose and intention. While most athletes desire speed, we also want them to enjoy the process, find strength in the pursuit and power in their soul.  Optimal performance comes from delivering your best in that moment and nothing less.


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