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Exclusive Interview With US Gran Fondo Champion Jill Patterson

Edited at 9:01 AM EST to fix and update inaccuracies related to Patterson's race record.


Jill Patterson, 41, from Virginia won this year's women’s national Gran Fondo title with a time of 1:15:50.43. Fellow Virginia cyclist Rachel Jordan, 28, was second in 1:19:12.26 and local legendary rider Debbie Milne, 53, finished in third place with a time of 1:21:58.63.


Jill Patterson on the podium after the US National Gran Fondo Championship.

Jill Patterson on the podium after the US National Gran Fondo Championship.


It was a beautiful day for cycling as over 200 riders toed the start line for the USA Cycling Gran Fondo National Championships in Asheville, North Carolina. The 100-mile route took riders through the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains, with four timed segments totaling 1 – 1.5 hrs of racing. In the end, only a select few racers came out on top to claim the coveted Stars and Stripes National Championship jerseys and the title of “USA’s Best Gran Fondo Rider”.


In the women’s event, Jill Patterson from Virginia took home first place honors with a time of 1:15:50.43 with fellow Virginia cyclist Rachel Jordan taking second place at 1:19:12.


Jill Patterson is a force to be reckoned with on the bike. The American rider started road biking while living in Japan, and quickly made a name for herself in local races. She was soon recruited by the Asahi Muur Zero women's team, where she rode for three years and competed in international UCI stage races in China, Thailand, and the United States.


In 2016, Patterson returned to the US and began following a more structured training program. The results have been impressive, with big increases in her endurance, power, and fitness levels. Patterson prefers long and hilly Gran Fondo and road race courses but also started adding gravel race victories to her belt.


As a cycling coach, Patterson loves sharing her passion for and knowledge of cycling and racing to help people achieve their goals. Her coaching philosophy is built around the idea that everyone is unique, with their own strengths and weaknesses as well as motivations for riding. This allows her to tailor each coaching experience 100% to the individual rider.


Patterson has had some incredible results spanning over her entire career. This year Patterson took first place at GFNY Vaujany & GFNY Lourdes Tourmalet. In 2020 she won 1st place at GFNY Ecuador (5th overall). Last year, she took 1st place at Ride Sally Ride crit (1/2/3 women) as well as wins at SweetWater Whiskey Rebellion 200km gravel race and Stokesville Little Switzerland 100km gravel race. And back in 2019, she won the GFNY World Championship - an impressive feat indeed!


A full list of her career achievements is available on her website, linked at the bottom of this article.


There's no doubt that Jill Patterson is one of the top amateur cyclists in America right now. We managed to get an exclusive interview with her earlier this week.


Many cyclists attribute their successes to sweet spot training, if you had to condense your training plan to one most beneficial factor, what would it be?

I target my training to the event I will do, and because Gran Fondo typically have a lot climbing, I ride climbs of all lengths and choose my power accordingly based on the length of the hill.


For example, if a climb is around 30 minutes, I will aim to ride it around sweet spot or possibly even FTP. This summer I spent a lot of time in France and those climbs can be 60 or more minutes, so I was often riding those at tempo.


Close to where I live I can train in an area that has climbs that take about 5-10 minutes, and I try to do those at VO2. By climbing hills of all lengths and being very purposeful about the power I am climbing at, I am able to hit and train most of the zones I will likely need to tap into during my key events.


Many training plans span across 5 or 6 days a week, what does your usual training schedule look

like?

I am on my bike about 5 or 6 days a week. I usually take at least one or two full days off the bike per week, and only do easier cross-training like yoga on those days so that they are true rest days. Each week I do about 2 key rides where I am doing focused harder intervals, and those can be very challenging training rides. The other riding days are typically easier, such as tempo, endurance, or skills-focused.


My philosophy is “ride easy to ride hard”: it’s much more beneficial to do some easier rides so you have energy and strength to really push it on the hard rides, rather than always pushing somewhat hard and running in a constant energy deficit and never truly hitting the high power and intervals you could do if you were better rested. One of the most common mistakes I see athletes make in their training is not doing easy days easy enough, and not going hard enough on hard days.


What other factors would you tell other cyclists are important outside of training, such as diet or sleep?

Sleep and nutrition are both crucial for seeing your true potential on the bike. If you don’t get enough sleep, you won’t be able to recover from training, and you might not be able to go into the next key workout with enough energy to hit the target power to make it beneficial. I try to get at least 8 hours of sleep per night, and a few days per week I try to sleep in an hour or more than usual. I also love naps when I can find the time!


Food is also so important, and you can sabotage great training and preparation with improper fueling and hydration. I have done poorly in many races because I didn’t eat enough or didn’t eat the right thing at the right time, or I hydrated poorly. It’s so important to have a good diet both on and off the bike, and that is something you have to purposefully “train” alongside your physical condition.


We first caught up with you while you were a coach under Peak Coaching Group, but it looks like you moved onto your own coaching platform, can you tell us a little about it?

I was with Peaks Coaching Group for several years and learned a lot through them. I grew as a coach while I was with them and in 2021 I decided to leave them and start my own coaching business, Jill Patterson Coaching. I coach athletes through that platform, and I am also a coach for GFNY.


I am very fortunate to live in an area with many cyclists, which has helped me maintain a full coaching roster since leaving Peaks Coaching Group. Word of mouth in the local cycling community combined with exposure from my higher profile wins has been beneficial in growing my business.


You have raced around the world, what are some of your most memorable events in cycling – not just racing, but even casual riding?

I love traveling to ride my bike!! I have cycled in Japan, Ecuador, Italy, France, China, Thailand, Colombia, and Uruguay. I hope to continue adding to that list. Meeting people from all over the world and feeling an instant connection because we share the common love of cycling is something I cherish. Even if we don’t speak each other’s language, we speak “bike”. This allows us to understand and experience the fun of cycling together!


I will always have a big spot in my heart for Japan because that is where I started cycling. That was where I did my first group ride and where the “fire was lit”; I loved the social nature of riding in a group. Getting dropped motivated me to get faster and stronger so I would eventually be the one dropping others. Climbing my first long hill in Japan is a memory that sticks with me vividly. What would be an easy 15-minute climb for me now was incredibly difficult at first. It helps me look back and think about how far I’ve come since starting cycling.


I haven’t been back to Japan in years but it is definitely something I want to do again in order to cycle on some of my favorite roads there at some point!


Women’s cycling is still rapidly growing, especially with the latest addition of the Tour de France Femmes. Around 80% of our audience are male. What do you think are some of the challenges related to introducing road cycling to women and what can people do to help the sport continue to grow?

A lot of people start cycling as a social activity, either with a close friend or with a cycling group. That is how I started cycling - first with a friend, and then I joined group rides. Sharing cycling with others motivated me and made me want to continue in the sport.


My journey from beginner to higher-level cyclist always felt very organic because I was able to choose riding partners and group rides that challenged me at the appropriate level; they weren’t too hard and they weren’t too easy. They were “just right”, and I think that having that supportive social cycling community at the appropriate level is crucial for introducing women to the sport, and keeping them in the sport.


If someone jumps into a group ride or race and gets dropped right from the start, time after time, that can be very discouraging and frustrating, and that person might eventually give up. To continue to encourage women to enter and stay in the sport, we need to make sure to create a place (group rides, races, etc) for riders of all abilities where they feel welcomed and challenged at the appropriate level so they can learn and grow stronger.


What is one thing nobody has asked in an interview yet that you would like to address? And any final thoughts?

Ironically, the thing nobody has asked in an interview is “what is the most common question athletes ask you”? I often get asked questions along the lines of “what is the ‘right’ way to train?”, and “am I doing it the ‘right’ way?”.


There are definitely “wrong” ways to train...for example, I wouldn’t recommend doing only two short endurance rides per week to train for a Gran Fondo...but I can’t say that there are definite “right” ways to train. People aren’t machines, and we can’t follow a magical formula that will always produce the perfect and the same results. We all have unique physiological makeups, we respond differently to different stressors (both on and off the bike), what motivates us can be very different from person to person, we have different goals and reasons for doing what we do, and on top of all that, we aren’t static in time! Who I was as a cyclist four years ago is very different compared to who I am, and what I need and want, as a cyclist now.


So my answer to, “what is the ‘right’ way to train?” is, it depends! Please keep an open mind to how you train and keep experimenting. If one approach isn’t getting you the results you want, try a different approach. And, above all, keep it fun!! Most of us started and continue to cycle because it’s fun. So please keep playing :)


@gfondonatseries on Instagram covered the event.



More info about the Gran Fondo National Series can be found on the official website.


More info about Jill Patterson and her coaching program can be found on her offical website.

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