Gran Fondo Essentials
What you need, and what you don’t, for your first big ride overseas
If you’re new to sportives, particularly ones that involve overseas travel, consider the ins and outs of getting on a plane with your bike in advance of race day. Bike bags, wrenching and kit – you need to manage it all. With the same preparedness you bring to morning rides, you can smash the event (and the logistics). If you don’t plan, you’ll face running through airports with your frame bubble wrapped (which I’ve seen). Don’t let that happen to you. Rent a bike Renting a bike for a European gran fondo might seem counterintuitive, especially if you have a nice rig of your own. But with high-end rentals so widely available across Italy, Spain and France, you can save yourself a lot of headache by leaving your bike behind. No need to wrench on either end of your trip; no worrying about whether your frame will be nicked or damaged in transit. Renting (which can cost from 120–250 euros a week) might even be less than the fees for flying with your bike. The peace of mind you gain by not having to deal with a bike in transit is well worth it. Pro tip: find out if your seatpost will fit into your rental. If it will, take your post and saddle. Then, your European ride will have a familiar and more comfortable fit and feel.
Bring your own food When I tackled the Maratona dles Dolomites this past July, I arrived in northern Italy with food in hand. I had fuel even though the ride had exceptionally well-stocked food stations. During the leadup to the event, Nutella and spelt cakes were my staples for sustained energy: a formula that worked for 5,000 km of pre-event base miles. Why deviate? Ask yourself when packing if you can live with whatever the food sponsor makes available, or if packing a 400-g tin of spreadable chocolate is essential to your performance. When it comes to ride day, it’ll likely be a combo of both that serves as fuel.
“Knowing you can crush a climb will lead to a better state of mind and will make getting to the finish line that much easier.”
Show up early Arrive at the fondo’s venue early and ride the roads, especially the climbs. Ride every day and from different directions, easing off the gas the day before the event. Visualizing where you are on the course helps you overcome distance and elevation challenges mentally, particularly if you find yourself grinding on fondo day. Knowing you can crush a climb will lead to a better state of mind and will make getting to the finish line that much easier.
Have wrench, will travel If you decide to bring your own bike to the event, bring the tools you need to set it up. You’ll need your own pedal and 5-mm torque wrench, grease and paste and a floor pump. Don’t rely on a local shop or your bike hotel for these essentials. Being selfsufficient eliminates variables and will have you on the road almost immediately after you check-in. Kit: Bring one of everything Riding in high mountains means facing variable weather. On the Passo Gavia in 2016, I faced scorching sun at the base and golf ball-size hail at the top. So what did I take away from this? Not only should you bring all the obvious essentials, but have one of everything in your kit. A long-sleeve jersey, arm warmers, a gilet, a jacket – with weather changing hour by hour, these are all must-haves. It may be summer at home, but that doesn’t mean it will be hot when you arrive at your event or at the top of a climb. Having options in your bag means you won’t incur any unnecessary costs and you’ll be prepared for any weather when you approach the start.