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National Championships

Jill Patterson Hoping to Leverage Homefield Advantage for the Win at the 2023 Gran Fondo National Championships

With multiple wins in previous editions of Gran Fondo Maryland, Jill Patterson looks to use her experience to take home the National Championship jersey.

Gran Fondo is Jill Patterson’s favorite type of race. And if you check her results over the past four or five years, it’s easy to see why.

Her resume is littered with wins in that discipline on the local, national and international levels. Patterson hopes to add another national title to her long list of accomplishments next month when she competes at the 2023 USA Cycling Gran Fondo National Championships, Sept. 17 in Frederick, Md.

“What resonated with me (with Gran Fondo) is that it’s like mini races within a bigger event,” Patterson said. “It’s timed segments. Segments can be short – some of them can be like 5 minutes—or they can be really long. Some are 30 minutes or longer. Each segment has a different strategy, so it’s a really fun mental game.

“You can stop at the rest stops because your overall time doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter when you cross that finish line. You can be dead last and still win the race because it’s just the timed segments that count. If you’re with a good group of people and friends, you can take your time between the segments. You can talk; you can laugh. It’s a little less stressful sometimes, and if you bungle one section, you can rest and recover, and you have another chance on the next segment.

“I like the variety. I like how it caters to athletes of all abilities. I like how I can race with people of all ages – men, women, it doesn’t matter. We’re all racing together. We’re scored separately, but we’re racing together. To me, that’s really fun.”

Patterson started riding and racing about 10 years ago while living in Japan. She competed in local races and eventually joined a Japanese team. She traveled with them to a few international races before moving back to the US and joining a local team here.

“And I found Gran Fondo, which I did not know about when I was in Japan,” Patterson said. “I was doing a lot of hill climbing, and the international races I was doing were stage races. I was always a long-distance, hilly rider. And a lot of the racing around me (in the US) were Criteriums, which really didn’t suit my interest or my ability, but then I found Gran Fondos, and I immediately fell in love with them.”

Patterson started racing Gran Fondo after one of her first sponsors in The States – Pikesville Jewelry – introduced her to the format and suggested she try it. Her first Gran Fondo race was the series in Frederick, Md., in 2018, which she won.

Patterson’s next step was the GFNY series, which holds races worldwide. She finished second at the 2018 GFNY World Championship and first at the 2019 GFNY World Championship.

“That was a very big win,” Patterson said. “That was kind of the start of my cycling career.”

Since then, Patterson has won most of the Gran Fondos she’s competed in. In July 2022, she took first at the Gran Fondo National Series Asheville National Championship and was the 2022 USA Cycling Gran Fondo National Champion.

“I think the hilly nature of most Gran Fondo courses suits my natural strengths as a rider,” Patterson said. “And I have been deliberate with my training to train for the specifics of each course. I study the courses ahead of time, so I know what I’m getting into and train specifically for that terrain.”

Patterson is very deliberate about her training. She says she trains solo and in groups and carefully chooses the groups that will challenge her at an appropriate level.

“I learn group riding skills and tactics during those (group) rides that I apply to my races,” Patterson said. “And when I train solo, I train to power, so I know exactly how much to push myself to see as many fitness gains as possible.”

Patterson has developed her coaching business alongside her racing career. She started as a part-time coach with another company but eventually built up her client list to the point where she could become a full-time coach on her own two years ago. She is a USAC Level 2 Coach and USAC Power Certified.

“And now I’m here – full-time coach and still racing here and there,” Patterson said.

Goals for the 2023 Gran Fondo National Championships

Patterson has done this race in Frederick three or four times and has won it each time. So she minces no words when talking about her goal for these National Championships – she wants to win.

“This is the first time it’s the National Championship through USA Cycling, so that’s pretty exciting,” Patterson said. “Now I can actually get a (Stars-and-Stripes) jersey. I have won it every time I’ve done it in the past, so I kind of have that as the precedent that I’m trying to live up to. I’m the one who is marked, so there’s lots of pressure, for sure. We’ll see if I can do it another year.”

One of the biggest things Patterson has going for her in Frederick is the homefield advantage.

Not only has she raced there a few times in years past, but it’s only about an hour from her home in Arlington, Va., and it’s one of her favorite places to train. A few weeks ago, she did 10 loops on the first segment, a popular climb among local riders.

“Familiarity with the course is always an advantage,” Patterson said. “You can gain familiarity by studying the maps, and you can have a decent idea of what you’re getting into. But it’s one thing seeing it on a map and translating it in your head and then actually riding it. I have the advantage of actually riding it. I know what it feels like. I know where I struggle and then other parts where I have the advantage.”

In addition to knowing the course, Patterson expects to see many familiar faces at the starting line.

“I’m looking forward to seeing all these friendly faces I’ve come to know over the years,” Patterson said. “That’s really special to me. I’ve seen them evolve as racers, and they’ve become my friends. It’s kind of like a social day for me.”

To pull off another win in Frederick, Patterson will concentrate on her racing mindset, making the most of her training between now and the race and fine-tuning her strategy.

She’s taken a bit of a break from competition and has done only one race this year – the Dirty Kitten 80-Mile Gravel Race in July, where she finished first in the women’s elite class. She says getting back into that racing mindset is imperative.

“I need to get my mind there first,” Patterson said. “As for my training, I am where I am. I can make some gains, so I need to work on my top-end power. I have a very good endurance base up to a certain point, but I need to put the finishing touches on threshold and VO2 above-threshold efforts.”

Then there’s strategy. Patterson said it’s crucial for her to ride with as many people as she can in each segment because she’ll benefit from drafting in a larger group. That’s especially important in the last segment because it’s the longest and the one in which riders can gain or lose the most time.

“But it’s also so far into the race that often the groups shatter,” Patterson said. “So that is my biggest challenge. I need to think about that and prepare myself.”

While winning is her goal, Patterson says it could still be a successful race for her if she doesn’t win, as long as she’s proud of her effort.

“That would be a big win for me if I feel like I did my best and did well,” Patterson said. “If it’s not good enough to win, then so be it. It’s still good enough.”

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