Whether you are an experienced rider or new to road cycling there are few things you need to keep in mind.
Go With What You Know
One of the best pieces of advice I have heard, when it comes to any long ride is, whether it is a sportive or a long day out with your friends, don’t try out new kit, nutrition or riding position. Use your training rides to work out what to eat, which is the best handlebar or saddle position or to break in a new pair of shorts.
Turning up at a 90 mile sportive with untested kit or brand of energy food that is different from your usual can make for a miserable day out. Six hours of chaffing from a saddle that is the wrong shape for your rear-end is no fun whatsoever. No matter how tempting it may be to wear your new Castelli shorts that you got half-price in a sale online; if you haven’t tried them out already, don’t do it! Wear the shorts that you know are comfy all day long.
Stick to what has worked for all the training rides leading up to the big day. Don’t go changing anything the day before your ride.
Dress to Impress
Looking good on your bike is imperative. However, making sure your clothing is suitable for the weather is far more important. Particularly if your event is in Spring or Autumn (or you live in Scotland). Make sure you keep an eye on the weather forecast on the days leading up to your sportive and plan your attire accordingly. After you have decided what you are going to wear it is always sensible to pack your go-bag with extra clothing in case the weather forecast gets it wrong.
Removable sleeves and leg warmers are a great addition to your bag of clothing too. If your event starts early in the morning you can put them on while it’s still chilly. Then, as the day warms up, you can remove them and stash them in your jersey pockets.
Even if the weather forecast is for 20°c and brilliant sunshine; pack a light rain jacket which you can stash in your back pocket. Pack a light gilet too, just in case it is windy. You can decide at the start of the event, when you are loading up you jersey pockets, if you are going to take them or not. However, if you haven’t taken them with you, and the weather isn’t what you expected, what you were hoping would be a great day out on the bike can be a pretty miserable one.
Food and Drink
Having the right food in your pocket can make or break a ride. Especially if you have signed up to do the long route in your chosen sportive. However, what works for one person might not work for another. Experimenting with different foods or sports nutrition when on training rides will give you the best incite into what to eat on your sportive. Don’t try and fuel a long ride on sugary snacks alone. You need slow-release carbs to keep your energy levels up. Otherwise you will bonk (run out of energy). Beware of fuelling a long ride on energy gels alone.
Some people love energy gels. Others hate them. I personally like the boost of energy you get and under the right circumstances (when racing or when you are flagging at the end of a long ride). However, like many people, if I eat more than two or three gels I suffer from nausea. A lot of people don’t seem to have that problem though, so try them on a training or club ride and see how you get on. Be careful with energy gels though; they cause your blood sugar levels to fluctuate wildly.
The sudden rise in your blood sugar, which energy gels provide, can also be followed by a sudden lowering of your sugar levels soon afterwards. So if you consume one when you still have another few hours on the bike you should eat something more substantial as well (such as a cereal bar or malt loaf). This will give you some slow-release carbohydrates in addition to the fast-release sugars of the gel and keep you fuelled for longer.
A great way to ensure that you have plenty of energy stored, ahead of your sportive, is to ‘carb load’. This means eat lots of food with high carbohydrates for 24–48 hours before your event. Foods like pasta, bread and potatoes will build up your energy stores and fuel you through your ride. However, throughout your ride, don’t forget to keep eating easy to digest foods (bananas, cereal bars, cake) to keep your sugar levels up.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!
Equally as important as eating properly is drinking… lots! Your body is made up of 60% water. If you’re dehydrated your performance is going to suffer. Two or three days hours before your big ride start drinking plenty of water, interspersed with the occasional isotonic sports drink. This is particularly important for those of us who don’t drink enough water, but drink a lot of juice, tea or coffee. Beware though! If you leave it too late and start guzzling water the night before your sportive you’ll end up having to stop lots to pee. So start a few days before.
Start your event with two large bottles full of water. Add hydration tablets or energy mix to your bottles, if you are doing a long route and if have used them in training rides and they have been of use. If not stick to water. There are normally feed stations around the course on most sportives. Use these to top up your water and food if you have run out. Ensure you keep drinking throughout the ride. It is very easy to forget if the weather is cold or wet.
As you stand at the start line of a sportive waiting for the marshall to give you the signal to start riding the adrenaline is pulsing through your veins. All the other riders around you are keen to get going and with all the excitement it is far too easy to start out at a pace that you cannot maintain. This is fine for the first few miles, but if you continue to ride beyond your limits you will almost certainly burn-out way before the finish and end up grinding to the finish suffering.
Ideally, if you are on your own, find a group or other solo rider that rides at a pace you are comfortable with and join them. Whether you are riding solo, or start with a group of friends, if you find the pace is too high – drop back. You will find another group will come along behind you that you can join up with.
Take Your Turn
When riding in a group there is an etiquette that should be adhered to. Otherwise you will not be very popular with your compatriots on the road. Here are a few tips on how to ride in a group:
- Take your turn on the front
- Point out hazards to the riders behind
- Never increase the pace either intentionally (half-wheeling) or unintentionally
- Signal which way you are turning at junctions
Do Some Training
Sportives are supposed to be fun. To ensure you enjoy your day out ensure you have trained to a level that will mean that the ride is not beyond your fitness level. If you have signed up for a 50 mile ride make sure you can actually ride 50 miles. If you have only ridden 20 or 30 mile rides in the months before your event you may well end up struggling to complete the event. Don’t sign-up for an event that is beyond you in the hope that you will be fine. Most sportives offer two or three routes of varying lengths. Pick the one which you know you can manage.
One Last Thing
Have fun! Sportive are great, even when the weather is not. The camaraderie amongst riders is always fantastic. As are the marshalls and organisers. Enjoy your day on the road; take the time to soak up the atmosphere and scenery and the most important thing of all… smile!