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Tips on riding a Gran Fondo from Olympian Darren Gardner

Squamish, BC Olympian Darren Gardner, a six-time national champion and 2018 Olympian in snowboard racing, will be riding in his second RBC GranFondo this Fall

Tips on riding a Gran Fondo from Olympian Darren Gardner

You don’t have to be an Olympian to ride the RBC GranFondo Whistler, but some experience on sport’s biggest stage certainly helps.

Here are his top-five tips for new participants:

1. Pacing

In snowboard racing, it is all out for 45 seconds, but the pacing of the turns is very important. You have to manage your adrenaline. Knowing how to pace myself really helped me in my first Gran Fondo as well.

In the RBC GranFondo most of the work happens in the final stretch, between Squamish and Whistler. You are climbing for most of it, so if you’ve let your adrenaline get the better of you and gone too hard early in the ride, and you are pushing too hard early, you won’t finish well.

Trying to stay with a group beyond your ability probably also means your legs will be giving out on you earlier, and you’ll be using up your energy reserves too early.

2. Stay calm

In snowboard racing you have lots of space, but a Gran Fondo is really different. There are a lot of people crowded together! And a lot of riders aren’t used to having other riders so close, almost on your wheel, which can make them anxious.

So my tip is stay calm. When you tense up and grip your bars too hard and make sudden movements in a group ride bad things happen. Be mindful of where you at all times. It’s best to be directly behind or in front of a person, or right at their side. Never ride in another rider’s blindspot!

‘Get comfortable being uncomfortable’ is a mantra I use to help deal with things in snowboarding like crazy weather or equipment malfunctions. It’s a useful mantra for group-ride cycling too, with so many riders sharing the same road.

3. Prepare your body

Sleep and nourishment are really important.

Definitely bring two water bottles, so that you can ‘drink to thirst’ (lots of small sips, without the worry of running out). Hydration is critical. I fill one bottle with water, and one with a sports drink like F2C.

Darren in action at the FIS Snowboard World Cup, Italy

Photo: Darren in action at the FIS Snowboard World Cup, Italy

It’s also important to not change up your eating patterns too much before the event. On the days of my biggest snowboard races I really don’t change things up too much. Definitely don’t try new foods the night before or the morning of an event. Just eat like you normally would before a long training ride. There are plenty of aid stations on this ride to replenish your food supply as well – and check out the event website to see who is the official nutrition partner so you can familiarize yourself with their products before race day (F2C Nutrition is Whistler’s in 2023). Do keep in mind though that food during the event is really important as your body is burning through fuel at a much faster pace than normal. So keeping your body loaded with fuel (food and drinks) will help you get to the finish line.

4. Let it run

I love to go fast, and am certainly comfortable flying down a mountain, which not everyone may be, but on descents I’d really recommend ‘letting it run.’

Every moment you can make the mountain work for you instead of against you is a bonus, and will help you conserve your energy. If you are comfortable, keep hands off the brakes if you can on descents. With practice it soon becomes easier to descend safely.

In snowboarding we are constantly pushing the line between control and speed, and the person who can master this line usually wins the day. I think it’s a good balance to keep in mind at the Gran Fondo too.

The section to Squamish travels along the iconic Sea to Sky highway, one of the world’s most scenic routes

5. Enjoy the scenery

I’ll never forget crossing the Lions Gate Bridge at sunrise, and the beauty of so many riders enjoying it. In a six-hour event where you are really pushing yourself it can be easy to lose sight of your surroundings, but try to take in the scenery. You’ll never forget it!

Gardner is one of two local RBC Olympians who will be riding (Bobsleigh pilot Chris Spring is the other, and you can read this story next week!).

Join Darren this September 9 – register for RBC GranFondo Whistler now. Online registration closes September 6 at midday.