How do you “win” a ride (not a race) if there is no big prize for coming first? It’s easier than you think.

This past weekend, Canadian Cycling Magazine photo editor Matt Stetson and I rode the Gran Fondo Mont Tremblant. It’s a well-produced event that ran for the fourth time on the roads by the eponymous resort in Quebec, about 130 km northwest of Montreal. The event has four distances – 160 km (super fondo), 125 km (gran fondo), 80 km (medio fondo) and 45 km (mollo fondo). Each distance is subdivided into groups based on average pace. For example, Stetson and I did the 125-km gran fondo. We had the option of riding with the group that would average 33 km/h or the one that would average 28 km/h. We went with 33 km/h. Pace motos and ride leaders on bikes make sure the groups stay together and keep everyone on the right side of the yellow line. (The event has rolling road closures.)

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The Gran Fondo Mont Tremblant does not bill itself as a race. It’s a group ride through beautiful rolling countryside. As cyclists, we usually like to challenge ourselves with long distances or big physical efforts, or both. With a ride that has many cyclists with different abilities, such as Mont Tremblant, you need to challenge yourself in a way that matches the event. Here are some tips on how to do just that.

When there’s no racing, don’t race

Some fondos are more like races, while others are rides. If you are participating in the latter, don’t push the pace, especially at the beginning. Remember how you seem to see more crashes at the start of Grand Tours when all the riders are a bit jumpy? It can be the same for amateurs. If the name of the game is to take it easy, do so. It will be safer for everyone. As the event progresses, and riders sort themselves out accordingly on the road, then opportunities arise for going a little harder.

Enjoy the draft

Our group had 300 riders in it. (The whole event had just a little less than 2,000 cyclists participating.) I’m sure you’ve had the pleasure of riding a smooth paceline on your club rides. You know the feeling: everyone taking turns at the front as you all easily maintain a speed for miles that you’d never be able to hold as long on your own. At the Gran Fondo Mont Tremblant, we didn’t simply have the draft of a paceline, we had a proper peloton. Actually, at 300 riders, the pack was bigger than most pro pelotons. For the non-racers in the bunch, getting into the pull of such a big group is a novel and exciting thing. On the final rolling and mostly downhill run-in on Chemin Duplessis, the flow of the bunch almost pulled you right over the rises in the road.

Study the route

If you are looking to drop some watt bombs on your fellow riders, most events offer features for the hammerheads. At Gran Fondo Mont Tremblant, most distances had KOM segments called Montées Mazda, named for their sponsor. If you are serious about doing well on such segments, you have to plan ahead. When my bunch hit the first timed climb, it was at Kilometre 35.2 and it ran for 2.3 km. When we came upon it, I was chatting mid-pack. With the yellow-line rule in effect, it was difficult to move through the riders ahead who were struggling with steeper grades. I had to wait for gaps and pick my way through. It wasn’t a scenario for getting my best time. If getting a good time on a segment is a priority, you have to start setting yourself up well in advance. You would have to do it with more finesse than a pro. A pro rider is paid to get a bit argy-bargy in the bunch. At at a fondo, you’ll need to move up safely and politely.

The second Montée Mazda was on Le Nordet, a wide road that featured a bit of climbing before the challenge. While shorter overall, the 2.1-km section had a longer, steadier drag compared to the first timed section. It was great if you like pedalling uphill and if you had been saving your legs.

Keep an eye on your fellow riders

You never know who you’ll be riding with. In the final 20 km, I heard a familiar voice behind me chatting to another rider. When the pair slipped ahead of me, I saw that with was David Veilleux, the first Quebecker to ride in the Tour de France, doing the talking. He had started with the 160-km ride, but had joined up with my 125-km distance and mingled with the pack. His assessment of the big challenge on the Le Nordet was humbling. “I know that part. I rode there years ago,” he said. “It’s a nice road. It’s not that tough.” As soon as he said that, Stetson and I started laughing. The former pro wasn’t phased by the section that pushed many to their limits. “It’s not a col,” he added. “Camillien Houde in Montreal is harder.” He would know. He raced up the Montreal road during the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal in 2011, 2012 and 2013, his final year as a pro.

It’s a balance

Chats with other riders you’re suffering with, physical challenges, great roads, great event planning—those are the ingredients of a great gran fondo. You get the most out an event when you appreciate all of these elements. And that’s a win.


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