Top tips for your first Sportive
Ensure your first cycle event goes smoothly
It’s your first Sportive and you’ve picked a course that suits you. You’ve prepared well by putting in the miles on the road and you feel up to the task. But what else do you need to ensure that your ride goes as smoothly as some freshly laid tarmac? Here are a few tips to help you on your way.
Matt is a former British Road Race champion who represented GB in the Olympics, World Championships and Commonwealth Games. He is now a regular commentator for EuroSport and a presenter on Global Cycling Network
Good preparation is essential
Like everything, you’ll gain a psychological advantage by knowing that you are as well prepared as possible, so try and establish a routine that includes making sure you’ve covered everything. It’s your first sportive so get into good habits early and all being well, this won’t be your last.
Make sure your bike is maintained
Your bike really should be in good serviceable order, with tyres not worn and without holes. Also make sure they’re pumped up to a reasonable pressure (90-100 psi is ideal). Check your gears and brakes and ensure your chain is lubricated and clean. If you haven’t already, get another bottle cage fitted to your bike as having another bottle on board will save you the trouble of stopping at every feed station. It’ll be a bit heavier but the overall benefits will outweigh the negatives, especially in warmer weather.
Gearing for your sportive
Given that you’ve chosen your particular sportive, you should be fully aware of the sort of terrain the event will be covering, so ensure you have suitable gear ratios. Fortunately most bikes now come with a wide ratio of gears so it shouldn’t be a problem, but do double check especially if the route is a very hilly one containing climbs with severe gradients. It’s not much fun being caught out and being reduced to walking.
Fuelling for a sportive
You’ve made all this effort to get into shape so don’t let yourself down by not carrying enough liquids or food. Be on your guard though when you use energy products and never try something new on the day of your event or you run the risk of a rebellious stomach. It’s important to ensure you’ve tried a product before the day, because the digestive system can be very sensitive when put under pressure. Using something you are familiar with will help avoid potential problems, so go with what you know works for you.
Getting your clothing right for a sportive
Make sure you have a gilet with you and/or a cape (plus gloves if riding in the winter) in addition to your usual kit. Don’t get caught out when the weather shifts, as it often does, so be prepared. Even if the forecast is favourable your cape is a trusty insurance policy.
The night before a sportive
Save yourself valuable time and reduce stress on the morning of your event by being organised the night before. Get your kit bag packed with all the things you’ll need for the day ahead. A good idea is to make a checklist of all the things you have to take and keep it in your kit bag for every event. Make sure your bike is prepared with spares all close to hand ready for loading. Lay out all you’ll need for breakfast the night before as well as making up your race drinks too. Then, when you wake up, you’ll have a relatively hassle free morning with no last minute panic, leaving you to focus fully on the job at hand.
Pacing your race
One of the main factors in relation to getting through your first sportive is not to waste precious energy by going into ‘the red’ (a pace that you cannot sustain, putting you into oxygen debt). To do this, avoid the temptation of following riders who are above your ability or riding at a speed that will eventually see you getting dropped. As well as feeling fatigued you’re then in danger of getting demoralised too. This is especially important on hillier routes with multiple climbs. When you are climbing, ride within yourself at a pace you are confident you can maintain whilst keeping the gears low.
It’s really beneficial to ride with a group or at least one other rider of a similar ability and this shouldn’t be hard given the amount of riders in a regular sportive. If you do end up with someone, take it in turns to ride in the wind, whilst regularly talking and offering encouragement to each other. This will help to keep the pace and your morale higher!
You won’t get far without spares. If you can, pack your spares in a saddle bag (they attach just under the saddle) rather than your back pockets, leaving room there for your phone, food and cape. Take two inner tubes, stick on patches, tyre levers, mini-pump and multi tool with a chain link remover. This little set up will mean you’re covered for most eventualities and also have peace of mind.
Break down the sportive mentally
It’s very easy to be nervous and a touch daunted by the task at hand, especially in your first event. Rather than think of how challenging the ride is going to be as a whole, why not break it down into easier ‘bite-sized’ chunks? Look at the route in detail beforehand, even make yourself a handy little map with lists of locations at set distances to tick off in your mind as you go. Using the designated feed stops to divide the ride up into manageable sections is also a technique that works well. This will make each segment an achievement in itself, keeping your motivation high for the whole ride. Good luck!