Taking part in a sportive is a fantastic way of setting yourself a personal challenge. It’s not a race against others, you are simply testing yourself over a set course and aiming to complete it within the time standards set by the organiser. Whether you want to achieve your best time for cycling 30 miles or 130, we’ve got some tips to help make sure you get the most out of the event.
Leading up to the event
Make sure your kit is in good condition, especially items such as shorts, gloves and helmet. If it’s been a while since your bike was last serviced professionally do consider having it done. Don’t leave a service to the last moment. Get it booked in in advance and, if it means a day or so out of training, juggle your days around so that you’re not missing out on cycling. It’s also a good idea (if you don’t know it already) to know how to deal with a flat tyre, slipped chain and other problems that might impact on your day. Whilst many sportives provide mobile mechanical support, breaking down – and then hanging around for help – is just about the last thing you want to happen on the course.
The night before
Get everything ready. Lay out your kit so that you’re not rushing around in the morning. Whatever the weather forecast may be it is useful to take a waterproof/windproof along. You’re going to be out for several hours and the weather can change. So suncream may also need to be an option! Make sure you have any tools you need plus spare inner tubes. There will be feed stations at different stages of the course so you don’t need to take tons of food with you. Just make sure you’ve got what you need to get you from the start to that first feed station. Don’t forget to fill up your water bottles! Have a decent meal, relax and get a good night’s sleep.
On the day
Give yourself plenty of time to eat breakfast. Arrive at the start venue in plenty of time so that you are calm and relaxed – remember that you’ll probably have to go through a check-in process. And make sure you attend the pre-event briefing so that you are aware of emergency procedures and how to get help.
The vast majority of sportives take place on open roads so obey the Highway Code at all times. When you are cycling in a large group it’s very easy to forget about other road users, but you must still act sensibly at junctions, observe traffic lights and keep to the correct side of the road. Motorists can also find it difficult to negotiate a big group of cyclists and can sometimes be unpredictable, so always keep your wits about you.
Be aware of those around you – stopping suddenly and without warning could potentially cause a pile up. Good group riding relies on communication from front to back, and if you’ve ridden with a club you’ll have picked up how cyclists work together to shout instructions or use hand signals.
Respect local residents. If you’re eating nutrition bars, sports gels – or even bananas – on the way round, make sure you stick any litter in your pocket; you can offload them into a bin at the next feed station. Many sportives also start early on weekend mornings so be considerate as you ride through villages or towns – not everyone in the community will necessarily be supportive of these type of events, so don’t give them ammunition to complain by shouting loudly when non-cyclists prefer to be sleeping.
Don’t just follow the person in front of you – know your route. Sportives are usually well marked and marshalls are often stationed at junctions, so the chances of getting lost are minimal. But remember that many events offer several distance options, so if you’re planning to only ride the 45-mile course you need to know where the 90-mile route diverges!
Most importantly, pace yourself! Don’t set out too fast, give yourself time to warm up and settle into a pace that you are happy with. Don’t get dragged into thinking that you have to stick with one group and then struggle to keep up – if need be, drop away and attach yourself to a different group. When you are riding in a group you will have the luxury of going faster whilst expending 20-30% less energy, but don’t forget to do your bit and take a turn at the front.
Don’t forget to eat and keep yourself hydrated throughout so that you have the physical energy to get round and the mental energy to keep focused and motivated.
After your monumental moment of glory at the finish line
You’ll be hungry, you’ll probably be a bit sweaty and grubby. This is where a post-ride bag comes in very handy! Have a recovery drink packed, along with something to snack on (yes, a chocolate bar is a worthy reward at this point!). A change of clothing and an extra layer is a good idea and wet wipes are great for a quick wipe down.
Good luck and enjoy the challenge!