You’ve signed up to your first sportive and have no idea what you’re doing? No worries, this handy guide will help you get to grips with what you need.
What is a sportive?
First of all, before we get down to business and tell you all need to know about taking on a sportive, let’s clear up what a sportive actually is.
A sportive is a mass participation cycling event. In several countries, including the UK, they are billed as ‘non-competitive events’ so will not have the same sort of racey element that sportives in mainland Europe do.
Although seen as non-competitive, sportives will almost always be timed, so there is still a healthy level of competitive spirit. Sportives are aimed at all riders of any fitness, experience or skill level. So if you’re a new cyclist interested in getting into more competitive cycling, then a sportive is for you.
No matter your cycling level, a sportive will almost always have a great course with marked directions, feed stops and mechanical support so they are the perfect way to ease yourself into the world of cycling events.
Double check the event details.
There are a lot of logistics that go into riding a sportive so make sure you know exactly what’s going on. You will have access to all of the relevant information, either through the website or through the info that the event will have sent to you.
Make sure you know:
- Where you need to be to start
- What time you need to be at the start
- Whether you need to sign in on the day
- What you need to take with you — ID, helmet, entry form, etc.
- What you need to wear — specific jersey, gloves, etc.
- Any parking arrangements
- Any other logistics that the website/event info states
Having all your stuff packed up and ready to go on the night before the sportive will lead to a more relaxed and straightforward morning.
Get your training in.
You wouldn’t take a test that you haven’t revised for, so don’t treat a sportive any differently. One of the best ways you can prepare for a long bike ride is to train. The main reason training is so important is so that you can get your body used to the physical feat that you’re undertaking.
But with sportives, there’s a lot more than you will need to get used to. For example, re-fueling during your ride is very important. You will need to get accustomed to drinking and getting energy on board while you cycle. This means drinking lots of water to keep your body hydrated and taking on energy gels or sweets to keep your sugar and energy levels up.
You will also need to get used to dealing with hills. Most sportives will pride themselves on the hills that they have — where’s the challenge in doing a sportive on a dead flat course? Not only will you need to get your body accustomed to the physical hardship of tackling a tough uphill, but you will also want to practice descending down hills to make it easier and faster to descend safely and quickly. Descending well just comes down to keeping a cool head, common sense and building confidence. Learning how to descend is a skill that will serve you well throughout your cycling career, helping to keep you safe, in control and enjoying the speed rush.
Last but not least, getting used to cycling in a group is vital. Learning how to cycle safely in a group of riders is not only more sociable but also helps to conserve energy. There are lots of little bits of etiquette when it comes to cycling with people. This guide from British Cycling helps to outline how to ride in a group.
Practice at all of these things will ensure that your big ride will run smoothly and comfortably.
Prep your bike.
Make sure that your noble steed is just as ready to take on the sportive as you are. The last thing you want to do is to get a few miles in and realise that your wheels are loose or that your brakes don’t work. You can either get a bike service at a workshop or just go over the bike yourself. Make sure you check that your brakes work, your gears change smoothly, all the nuts and bolts are tight and that everything is where it should be to make it a smooth and stress-free day.
Another useful thing to do is to learn how to fix a puncture. Flat tires are the bane of every cyclist’s life so make sure that you’re prepared to deal with the inevitable flat. You can either use a puncture repair kit, to fix the problemed inner tube or you can replace the inner tube all-together (personal favourite). Make sure you have a spare inner tube and all necessary tools with you so that if you are cursed with a puncture, you’ll quickly be able to deal with it.
In the last few days before your sportive, make sure you’re eating regular, well-balanced meals, but taking on more carbs over the course of the day. You will also want to increase your water consumption to keep your body properly hydrated.
On the night before your big ride (after you’ve packed), again, have a good, well-balanced and healthy meal. Avoid taking on too much fibre and don’t go crazy with the carbs if you’re not used to eating lots of them.
Although you might be quite nervous on the morning of the event, a good breakfast is very important. Don’t have too much stodgy food but make sure you take on a decent amount of carbs to give you the energy and calories that you need for later on.