Gran fondo Gorges du Verdon (Grand Canyon of France) is a race that of course really isn’t a race, but as anyone who rides a fondo can attest that it is never just a Sunday ride. I started with the team that I race within France at about 730 to get an early start. We set out for about 90 miles, over 10000 feet of climbing, and an awesome day in Les Gorges du Verdon, France.
We started in a small village called Salernes, and proceeded to another old village called Moisac Bellvue and then to the lake of St. Croix.
There we had tiny picturesque little roads sometimes climbing between 8 and 15% and descending into a beautiful village with descents up to 19% on typical switchbacks observed in the Tour de France. The village was called Moustiers Saint Marie (above), and it is labeled as one of the most beautiful villages in France. It is perched up against the rocky falaise that has an entrance into the Gorges du Verdon or the Grand Canyon of France. Mind you there is about 3000 feet of climbing just to get there. Once in the Grand Canyon of France we went on a road called the “Routes Des Cretes.” There, the views got even more spectacular and the climbing harder. Also the heat was climbing as it was about 90°F. The key was to eat and drink a lot during the ride which I’m not sure many of the French riders were prepared to do.
My preparation before the fondo was pretty simple. First water, then I had a 4 eggs with copious amounts of salt. I also had a good cup of coffee with about 4 tablespoons of heavy cream.
For nutrition during the race, it was pretty simple as there were 4 feeding stations. The French like to do things a little more naturally than we might do in America. At no time were there any packaged bars or gels available. They had little baguette sandwiches with country pate, butter, bananas, oranges, dried fruits, coke and water mixed with some pure cane sugar syrup (no High Fructose Corn Syrup).
I carried some of these sandwiches and fruits to eat later on the ride. I think that I ate a total of 5 of them throughout the ride. In my bottles I put copious amounts of tri salts, one bottle had ketone salts, and the other a Tianchi packet.
The start of the fondo was a fairly reasonable pace as there was much climbing ahead. As we got to about 5000 feet of climbing, the groups started to break up. As usually happens during a fondo at about mile 50, this is where many riders start to hit the wall, struggle, call it whatever you want. The French were melting in the heat. I was fine as I had just come from Las Vegas and well adapted, where the temperatures reach 110! Most riders were basically surviving to the next aid station to get their next fix of Coke or fruit. By this point in the ride I was doing pretty well. When I stopped at the aid station I had already eaten a couple of sandwiches, 3 pieces of dried fruit, 4 large bottles, drank all of my ketones, and was doing good otherwise. When I arrived at the 60-mile aid station I waited for the others and I took a small sip of the Coke and a couple bites of a country pate sandwich.
As we set out for the next 30 miles to the finish, I just rode myself to the finish and very grateful there was a tailwind. I did not have the soreness in my legs that I expected after riding 85 miles. Admittedly I did lack some energy but was doing fine otherwise. When I was finished with the ride, I drink some cold water and did not feel like eating. I felt that I ate enough on the bike and I simply waited for dinner. Most everybody else went back and ate the pasta and bread dish served at the finish line.
Then we got to talking about nutrition and riding fondo’s and a lot of French eyes opened very widely. I explained to everyone that I don’t eat many carbs except strategically while riding and racing my bicycle. They were flattened that I didn’t carb load or take in a bunch of carbs during the ride. I explained to everyone that I had been doing this for a while and that I find myself often doing 2 to 3 hour rides on salt and water. Everything depends on the intensity of the ride of course. I tried to explain the main thing is that I am fat adapted for lack of a better word. The French eat a lot of fat, especially compared to American, so they understood the fat part, but they still eat a lot of carbs when they ride. As my body is very well organized to metabolically use fats when I am at certain thresholds. And it just so happens that I can ride at a higher threshold and use fat more than the typical rider next to me.
I also think that the amount of salts I consumed from the Tri salts and ketone packets made a difference. I felt fine the entire ride and did not lose a ton of weight. Who knows, the benefit of the ketones may be the salt they contain, and not the ketones!
So when it comes to nutrition and longer distance events such as fondo’s, it is hard to argue, at least in my experience, that a fat optimized metabolism is the way to go. This may or may not apply to everyone, but I can tell you that it has changed the way I ride fondo’s. I no longer struggle the last 20 miles, or eat a bunch of gels systematically each 30 minutes or an hour. I kind of just go with how my body feels and always make sure that I drink enough water and salts.
I hope my example sets with the French people I was riding with, because if you practice Optimizing your Fat Metabolism enough, riding fondo’s and the like can become a more enjoyable experience. But I am pretty sure they are still just turning their heads as tradition is hard to break in an old country like France! At least the riding is beautiful and epic.
Thanks for reading!