Planning and taking part in a sportive can be daunting for some, not being sure what to wear, to take with you and riding in a large group of people if you have never done it before can be a frightening prospect. Bike Bible have collaborated with Sportive Calendar UK and have made this guide to aid you in your sportive.
Firstly, what is a sportive? A sportive is a mass participation event for cyclist, they can come in many different forms from Charity Rides, Gran Fondos or Cyclosportives. They are different from Audax or Racing events in that they are not a race and not timed events. Participants are generally told at the start or prior to the event that it is not a race and that it should not be ridden as such. Gran Fondos are normally longer events and all events follow a set route.
“A cyclosportive, or often simply sportive, is a short to long distance, organised, mass-participation cycling event, typically held annually. The Italian term Gran Fondo is commonly used for these events in the United States, Australia and some other English-speaking countries”. – Wikipedia
Choosing & Booking The Event: Firstly you need to choose and book your event. With hundreds if not thousands of events over the course of a year there are plenty to choose from, we would recommend for your first outing choosing one close to your home, this will not only aid with you feeling more comfortable hopefully knowing the area and the routes and if an issue should arise you are close to home and family/friends should you need rescuing. You should also consider distance and climbing for the event – we all like to think we can tackle anything that an event can throw at us but try to keep it realistic! If you have only ever ridden 30 miles in one go and only have a short time till the event – there is no point entering a 100 mile sportive with 10,000ft of climbing! Try to stick to a distance and difficulty you think you can either handle or have suitable training time for. British Cycling have a rating on their booking system from 1-5, 1 being the easiest rating and 5 being the most difficult – more details on their grading system can be found by clicking here.
Training For The Event: Now you have chosen your event you need to train for it, the longer the distance and the more climbing in the event there is the more training you are going to need to do. We recommend planning your sportive calendar months in advance that way you can tailor your training and map out your events over the year using some of the lower difficulty events as training for the “big one” of the season. Do your research prior to the event and if at all possible do a recce of the route be it digital, riding or driving it – Mark Cavendish is famed for his relentless research of bike race routes using Google Maps to ensure he knows every inch of the course and what he is in for, catering his training and race plan to the event. This makes sure that there are no nasty surprises for you say a 16% 3 mile climb thrown in that you had no idea it was there! We are not saying to go to massive lengths to research but make sure you know what the route has in terms of distance and hills. If the event has some climbs in it in the run up to the event try mixing your training up with some intervals and hill repeats. Bike Bible Cycling Club has partnered with KIS Coaching on an article for training for hills click here to see it. Distance wise we would recommend at least trying to match the distance prior to the event, if this is not possible get as close to it as possible, as a rule of thumb if you can ride a 30 mile ride – 50 is easily achieved on the day, and for 100 mile events if you have completed a 70+ mile ride you should have no major problems but always attempt (if possible) to have completed as close to the distance prior to the event if possible. You will also find if you haven’t ridden in a large group before that it can be a lot easier for you, put simply, riding in a group you are shielded from the elements such as wind etc. and will get “sucked” along with the group much easier than doing it solo. In the lead, up to the event you may want to consider a taper – we do not advise doing nothing at all in the week leading up to the event but also do not do excessive training rides, try doing a few commutes via bike or doing a few 20 mile rides in the early part of the week and then resting 2 days before it, this will keep the muscles supple and blood flowing but also allow the muscles rest time to recover ready for the event.
Nutrition & Hydration: Key things to remember when it comes to ensuring a stress free day on the bike are to always try things you are going to use on the day PRIOR to the event in question, if you are to be trying out some new gels or hydration tablets or carbohydrate drinks – sample them in training in the weeks leading up to the event, this is to ensure that they agree with your system and offer everything you need for the ride, also to ensure you are not suddenly left in a awkward situation with an upset stomach! Or in the case of one of the riders at BBHQ who sampled caffeine gels on a ride – left extremely jittery and jumpy on the bike having never sampled them before! The same goes “carb loading” prior to the event, a lot of people recommend this for people when they are taking up cycling events, we would recommend to do your research into this properly and its benefits and disadvantages, also to try this before the said event as it is not for everyone and can leave you feeling very sluggish and unwell on the day. We recommend you have a balanced meal the night before the event and something substantial for breakfast but not to heavy so the night before possibly a pasta dish with some chicken and slow release carbs, and in the morning try some porridge with bananas and honey to give you a balanced protein/carb and sugar balance. During the event we recommend you eat something every 40-60 mins depending on the intensity of the event in question – but eat before you feel hungry – once you start to feel hungry it’s already too late and your body and efforts will start to suffer.
Hydration is also a key point but also a fine line between overhydration and not getting enough fluids. If you drink too much not only will you need to stop to relieve yourself more often but also could be flushing out important salts and minerals, getting it right is key. Using hydration electrolyte drinks is key to aiding with keeping hydrated, there are many different variations on the market coming in various flavours and methods of use, trying these prior to the event is a good method of finding one that you like. Look out for sample packs and small packs of these before investing in large tubs or packets in case they are not for you. As a rule of thumb cyclists should aim to drink around 500ml of fluids per hour, but not all in one go, a good gulp every 10 mins or so is a good method of keeping hydrated – and again once you are feeling thirsty it’s too late you are already becoming dehydrated and will suffer as a result.
Top Tip: Enure to try new products prior to the event if you are planning to use them on the day to make sure they are for you, and remember to keep hydrated and fed thought the event to avoid the dreaded dehydration and the horrible “bonk”.
The Bike, Spares & Clothing: Ensuring that your bike is in good condition and working order prior to the event will make sure that you can not only complete the event, but are not left high and dry awaiting collection by the broom wagon or left with a taxi bill to get home! Look over your bike around a week prior, check for damaged or worn out parts – this way leaving you a few days to source, fit or repair anything that you find ensuring no last minute issues to sort on the day. Do give your bike a good clean and mini service such as oiling and lubricating parts the day before will ensure its running in tip top condition for the day – a clean well maintained bike will be easier to ride meaning less effort needed to complete the event. Check over your tyres for wear and debris that could cause punctures or blowouts, ensure your tyres are pumped up to the required pressure, and that your brake pads etc. are not too worn. We would not recommend making major adjustments to your riding position in the week leading up to the event as this may cause you to be uncomfortable or cause injury – instead if you need to make adjustments make these gradually in the lead up to the event. The day before make up a ride tool kit – making sure you have a minimum of 2 spare tubes, tyre levers, pump or Co2, spare patches and multi tool – this way you have everything you should need if you encounter a mechanical on the day. When it comes to your clothing choice – again, we recommend to try new items if you are planning to use them on the day prior to the event to ensure they are suitable for you and comfortable based on the distance you are doing. Also consider packing a lightweight rain jacket that can fold into your jersey pocket and arm/leg warmers if planning to wear short sleeves.
The Event & Recovery: On the day it’s best to try to relax as much as possible and have a good night’s sleep prior to the event, wake up with enough time to eat and get your bits and bobs ready and yourself to the event in good time to register and any carry out any last minute prep such as toilet break etc. At the start ensure you do not set off with too much effort – i.e. shooting off from the start line like a “stabbed rat” and depleting your energy levels too early. Pick a steady pace that can be maintained until at least two thirds of the way through and if you feel there is enough in the tank pick up the pace for the last few miles. If it is your first-time riding on an event or group – ensure a few things to make sure you are safe and others around you are safe – always signal your intentions to change road position or turn, point out obstructions to other riders around you, and always pass people safely leaving enough room as you would a car, please try to remember it’s not a race and to be courteous to other riders. Feed up at the feed stations – don’t over consume but take on fuel and water, also if they allow it pack a few spares into your jersey pocket for later in the event. Once completed the event we recommend taking on some recovery aid – be this your usual glass of milk or beer or in our case at BBHQ we use a recovery protein shake alongside a protein and carb rich meal – a favourite of ours here at BBHQ is chicken with brown rice with some kale and spinach mixed in – we find it best to have a protein shake within 30 mins of ending exercise and a meal within an 1 to 2 hours is advisable to replenish the used calories and also kick start the recovery. For particular challenging events we also recommend trying compression socks which can also aid in the recovery process. The day after the event most people choose not to ride – we would say this is the best time to ride, take in a slow pace bimble for a 1o miles or more at a recovery pace it helps with the recovery and keeps the legs moving.
We hope you found this guide of use to you, and this article is one of a series of planned articles aimed at offering advice on sportives and riding in general – please check out our other guides by clicking here! – Bike Bible.