Sportives are a hugely exciting and fulfilling event that every road cyclist should take part in.
Riding among hundreds of cycling enthusiasts of all abilities can be a profoundly enjoyable and valuable experience, not just for the atmosphere of the day but your development as a cyclist.
The chance to test your fitness, develop your technique, and compare your skill and strength is enjoyed by thousands of cyclists every year for good reason.
And once you get the sportive bug, it’s difficult to get rid of it.
To help you prepare for your event, we have assembled ten key tips for taking part in a sportive.
To see a list of sportive events near you, check out British Cycling’s sportive listings, or for events around the European continent, visit www.cyclosport.org. Alternatively, click here if you’re in the USA or here if you’re in Canada.
Once you’ve picked you’re event, it’s time to start making the necessary preparations.
Build a training plan
Depending on the length of your sportive, you’ll need to get into training mode to ensure you can complete the course. Sportives are non-competitive events, but you want to ensure your performance matches your abilities and ambitions. Whether your event is 60km or 200km, you should be confident riding that distance, and give yourself the best chance to ride a personal best on the day.
Give yourself at least 16-18 weeks to build up your distance with regular long distance miles, combined with cross-training, riding elevations, and a healthy and balanced diet.
Develop your endurance
Riding these big distances is tough, so expect to hurt both in training and on the day. It’s part of being a cyclist, and one of the reasons why you do it.
That doesn’t mean it won’t be hugely fulfilling. Your training can be tough, so ensure you develop strategies to keep your training on track. Set long-term goals and stick with them, and create a varied training programme that is interesting, challenging, and achievable.
Join a riding club or go riding with friends to keep your motivation up, and ensure you’re getting enough rest and recovery.
A great strategy to employ is using a turbo trainer, which will help you stay committed to your schedule no matter the weather or last-minute changes to your schedule.
Track your progress
Because cycling takes place over such long distances, progress is incremental and improvement is marginal. Many cyclists rely on technology to track their progress over the course of weeks and months, while today's gadgets have a wealth of functionality providing visualisation that pinpoints weaknesses and strengths.
The ability to dive deeply into your progress can be very effective, giving you clear goals and illuminating the areas where you should focus your training.
Sports watches, bike computers, and power meters can all contribute to helping you achieve your training aims.
Learn the key techniques
There are many key techniques to master before taking part in a sportive. From riding rolling hills to eating and drinking while on the bike, the demands of a sportive may be very different from your average ride.
One of the most important skills, however, is riding in a group. A sportive may be one of the first times you’ll find yourself as part of a bunch, and there are a number of safety techniques to learn in this area before heading out for your first event.
Check out the below video from Wiggle below on group riding for a quick guide to mastering this important skill.
Cycling nutrition is a huge subject, and one that is important to understand ahead of a sportive. There are three main elements to cycling nutrition – energy, hydration, and recovery. Over sportive distances, you’ll need to ensure you have taken on enough calories to complete the journey and avoid hitting the wall, or ‘bonking’. You need to ensure you keep hydrated, and feed your starved body after excursion with the building blocks it needs to repair and rebuild stronger muscle fibres. This applies to both training and event day.
Look and feel the part
The difference some quality gear can make to your overall sportive experience shouldn’t be underestimated. Being part of a sportive is an exciting time, so embrace all it entails. This includes your general appearance as a serious participant and an all-embracing member of the cycling community. Top-quality cycling apparel also provides significant performance advantages, an aspect that should not be overlooked. Elite jerseys, for example, provide sweat-wicking technology, breathable fabrics, and an anti-chafing cuts. Ensure you’re kitted out with excellent base layers, jerseys, shorts, shoes, and accessories to get into the spirit of the event.
Understand the culture
At its most fundamental level, the sportive is simply a large social gathering – it just happens to take place while everyone is in the saddle. That means there are rules for behaviour that many newcomers may not fully appreciate. We’ve gathered together a few key elements of sportive etiquette to help you avoid any faux pas on the day.
Warn others about hazards
Maintain good communication with your riding companions, especially in a bunch. Speak up clearly if you see a potential hazard.
Don’t overlap the wheel of riders in front – this is dangerous and frowned upon.
Don’t bring blinking lights
Blinking rear lights can be a big distraction for following riders. Lights are best avoided altogether, but if you must, ensure the blinking function is switched off.
Sportives are a social event, so speak to riders as you pass, especially if they're having a rough time of it. A few words of encouragement can be an important boost.
If you run into trouble with a mechanical failure or a puncture, don’t be afraid to ask other riders for assistance. Make sure you return the favour too.
Make sure you’re self-sufficient. Bring spare tubes, tools, and repair kit, at least.
It’s important to keep your rubbish, such as discarded gel packets, in your jersey pocket.
Manoeuvre with care
Don’t brake or steer in erratic ways. If you must make a sudden move, indicate this to your fellow cyclists with a hand gesture and call.
You will need to listen out for warning calls and be aware of your surroundings.
There’s a time and a place for aero bars. The sportive is neither.
Bring enough water and energy bars or gels.
A successful sportive is about being prepared, so don’t make this rookie error. There are usually food stations along the route, but come prepared.
A sportive is the perfect opportunity to tune up your bike with a few key upgrades. These can be modest or significant depending on the quality of the parts you already have, and, of course, your budget. All things being equal, there is a rough order in which to get the maximum advantage for your money. A new set of tyres is usually the best place to start, aiming for a set to improve your rolling resistance and puncture repair.
A fresh wheelset is often the next consideration. Quality rims can be expensive but will drastically improve the performance of your bike, making it more efficient, easier to accelerate, lighter, faster, and better into the turn.
A reliable brake set is the next focus for investment as it will make a major contribution to your overall speed by reducing the length of time you need to brake.
Once these elements are in order, a set of lightweight bars will help cornering and improve your riding position.
At this point, the drive train becomes the focus, with the cassette being the first component getting an upgrade.
Basic bike maintenance
Having a clean and well-maintained bike ensures it's in good working order and will greatly reduce the potential for a malfunction during the sportive. Ensure your cables are sound and working correctly, lubricate your drive train, check your tyre pressures, and ensure everything is tight and secure for the big ride.
Get your tactics right
Tactics on the day can have a significant impact on your success during the event. You’ll need to understand how to correctly pace yourself throughout, how to take advantage of drafting opportunities, how to maintain your momentum, and where you can pinch small advantages to shave off watts where possible.
Riding on steady flat ground by yourself offers few opportunities to save energy, but hills, declines, and group riding all present a chance to save your energy. For example, it’s very easy on rolling roads to push too hard without being aware of it, only to struggle later on. Surges and power spikes will accumulate fatigue in your legs, so maintaining a steady cadence using your gears is important in hilly sections. Meanwhile, keep the pressure on the pedals on the downside of inclines to carry more speed into the next rise. Shift down smoothly as the road starts to rise again, maintaining your cadence and power output.
On open rolling roads, wind is often significant, so share the workload in a group and hold a good aerodynamic position to ease the impact.