So you are wanting to take part in you first cycling sportive event. You know it’s going to be a challenge but it is your chance to put some real miles into your cycling. But where do you start? Here’s our tips for cycling in a sportive event.
1. Finding an event
Thanks to cycling’s massive and ever increasing popularity in recent years it has meant that there has been an increase in cycling events all over the country (and the world). This means that for first time participants, there is a great range of events to choose from and equally as good resources to find events. Websites like British Cycling, UK Cycling Events and Bike Events are just some of the websites that provide information and entry to cycling sportives.
2. Choosing an event
The first thing to think about is the location. If it is your first sportive, it may be worth thinking about entering an event that is local to you. Familiar cycling routes and land marks can make ride seem a little easier. Rides are graded in terms of there difficulty and lots of events will offer different distances – often 100, 50 and 25 miles for the same event. Everyone wants to ride the 100mile or 100km event but it is important to be comfortable with your choice.
3. Ride with friends/clubs/groups
Regardless of the event you choose to ride, it will be easier to ride it with people you know and maybe people you already ride with. If you choose to enter an event that is going to push you, for example it is your first century (100 mile/km) ride – having the support of friends, family or club mates riding with you will help you through it. Choose the event and work out your training plan together. And on the day – try to ride together.
My first 100 mile event I rode with my brother and a friend. By 60 miles my brother was 10 minutes up the road and my friend was about 20 minutes behind me…..and I was suffering on my own somewhere in the middle.
4. Train, train and train some more
DO NOT turn up to a sportive event having bought a bike a few weeks previous and not ridden it so it is ready for the day. The chances are you will not make it round. Instead, assuming you have booked an event in advance, work out a training plan that will build you up to riding the long distance. Riding a sportive for the first time is not only physically demanding but mentally too. Ride when and as often as you can but build up your distance slowly. Just because the 100 mile ride is in 3 months, it doesn’t mean you have to go out and ride 100 miles every weekend until the event. Instead, work out a plan that will build your distance up over a series of weeks, up to the event. If it is possible ride some of the route that you have entered (assuming it is a local event). This will help you familiarise yourself with the landscape, hills, turns and junctions. In the week leading up to your ride, try to cover some easy miles. If you go out and ride a big distance two days before the event, your legs are likely to not have fully recovered on the day. Likewise, not riding at all can have a similar affect and your legs will not be happy after the first 10’s of miles. It is also a good opportunity to try different nutrition and hydration to see what works for you. You won’t want to get to the day and find out half way round, the gels or bars you have chosen actually upset your stomach.
5. Learn your bike
In our opinion, this is something cyclists should do regardless of planning to ride in a sportive event. Many parts of a your bike can be fixed and adjusted by just knowing how it works and making sure you have the right tools. We’re not saying that you need to become a certified bike mechanic, but learning some of the basics can be incredibly useful. Most organised events are marshalled and have mobile mechanics who will assist with roadside repairs. But they may take a little while to get to you on the course (depending on size of the event). So learning things like changing a puncture, tightening brakes, and adjusting gears are all handy things to know on any ride. There are lots of resources online and good places to look are the YouTube videos from GCN (Global Cycling Network) who make some excellent ‘how-to’ videos.
6. Be prepared
Another good idea is to make a checklist of things you are likely to need. Make sure your bike is checked and in full working order the day before the event – check out our Pre-ride Bike Checks for tips. Make sure you have the relevant tools for and roadside repairs or punctures, including a multi-tool, spare inner tube(s) and/or a puncture patch kit and a mini-pump. Keep an eye on the weather forecast in the week leading up to your ride so you can make sure you have the right clothing on the day. Most of you know how unpredictable the UK weather can be so it is always a good idea to have a packable windproof jacket – even on a summers day. Make sure you have your kit ready the night before and you have checked your helmet and shoes (if using cycling shoes) are all safe for use. Get you nutrition ready, including bars, gels, energy drinks etc. Make sure you also have some emergency money. Then – go to bed early and get a good nights sleep!
7. On the day
Get up early and have a good drink and breakfast before you set off. Porridge or non-sugary cereals and nuts are a good idea. This is because these provide slow release carbohydrates which take longer to absorb into the body and breakdown and help maintain your blood sugar levels. They will also help prevent you getting hungry too early in your ride. Make sure you arrive at the event in good time, whether you are riding to the start or driving there. If you cycling to the event it can be a good way to warm up, but what ever you do, don’t over do it. You don’t want to end your day before you’ve started. Make sure your friends and fellow riders know where you are supposed to be meeting and go and sign in together. On the ride, don’t go mad at the start! Just because the first segment is a nice fast stretch and the group who look like Team Sky’s reserves have gone zooming out of the blocks like a team time trail – it doesn’t mean you have to. It’s not a race!
Obeying the rules of both the road and the event (if you are doing an off-road sportive) are very important. However, it is also very important, fast or slow, to ride at your own pace. Look out for other cyclists riding the event. Sportives attract people of varying ages and abilities so be polite and be patient. Encourage and assist others where possible. Make sure you keep yourself fuelled properly and take on board plenty of hydration – especially if it is warm. Sportives will have ‘feed zones’ and many will have a compulsory, timed stop about half way round where all participants have to stop for a break. Don’t be afraid to use them. Take the time to stretch your muscles, go to the toilet and speak to other riders.
8. Enjoy yourself and your ride
There may be some things we have missed but hopefully these tips will help get you in the right frame of mind for your sportive event.