Riding a sportive is a superb way to explore a new area on your bike. You are fully supported by event staff and surrounded by other enthusiastic participants. Wiggle hosts a whole collection of sportive events all around the UK.
In this Wiggle Guide, we aim to give you some pointers on how to ride, train and prepare for a Sportive. For specific advice on the kit that you should bring to an event, have a read of our Sportive Checklist.
What are Sportives?
Sportives are mass-participation timed events, they allow cyclists of all abilities to ride fully signposted routes, with support such as mechanical assistance and feed stations. A sportive is not a race! Sportives could be likened to the marathons of the cycling world; for example the Ride London event in the UK drew many parallels to the famous London Marathon. It's the taking part that counts, not the fastest time.
Sportives can be a great way of setting a season goal, and with distances for all abilities there is something for everyone.
Sportives normally start and finish in the same place; this creates a great atmosphere in the "event village", but also makes it far easier logistically for riders and organisers; you can just turn up to an entirely new place and ride some fantastic new roads.
Training for Sportives
Training for a big event like a Sportive is just as important as training for a race event. The challenges with training for some sportives is to replicate the 'foreign' terrain and conditions that you may encounter.
The first thing to tackle is the distance. If your sportive is 100 miles for example, then you need to be comfortable with riding that sort of distance. That means getting out on your bike and getting the miles in; building them up gradually until you are happy that you can ride the event distance. Remember though, being fresh for the event is key, so you don't want to leave this training to the last minute; with a week or two to go you should be "tapering" down and reducing your distances to ensure your body is in peak condition.
The second major thing to consider in your sportive training is the elevation that you are going to have to climb in the event. To get an idea of how this is going to make your legs feel, your training needs to reflect increased elevation demands, just as your mileage does. This can be a hard task to achieve if you live in a flat area; however there is a solution: Hill Repeats! Work out the height of the biggest hill in your event, divide it by the height of the hill you are training on and make sure you do that number of climbs back-to-back one day. It's going to hurt, but it's the best way to improve! You might find it motivational to use an app like Strava to record your times on repeats so that you can see if you can beat them on your next ride.
Just as your body needs to adapt to the demands of the terrain, so too will you need to adapt to the equipment and nutritional products that you are using. Don’t go into an event with shiny new kit and trying a new energy drink; it can result in unfortunate scenarios including an inability to change gear, clothing that’s chafes and a stomach that is setting goals of the next portaloo rather than the finish line!
How to ride a Sportive Event
If your training has gone to plan, then even a long distance sportive shouldn't be too uncomfortable. However, what might be a shock to the system is the climbing. The 2000 meters of elevation that is found in many "hard" sportive events can be a real strain on the body. Even if you are a good climber, it is advisable to take the first few climbs in any event at a slightly easier pace; don't overdo it too soon, you can always pick up a few places later on in the event!
Most sportive events have "feed-stations" where you can get off your bike for a few minutes and re-fuel before the next challenging sector. Take this opportunity to stretch out and loosen up; long descents on the drops can be a strain on your back and shoulders, and it's best to stay loose and flexible rather than cramping up!
Safety is a key concern for any sportive organiser. For example, if for some reason you need to stop on the course, make sure you are aware of other riders around you; don’t suddenly stop or slow down without signalling. Make sure no one is on your tail, and then stop where other riders can see you before it's too late.
Vary your ride position to make use of different muscles on longer events. Try sitting forward on the saddle and using your thighs, get out of the saddle to use your weight, or pop onto the drops and use your glutes! This is a great way of sharing the strain on different muscle groups and avoiding problems like cramp that can occur with repetitive movements.
Fuelling for a Sportive
Being properly hydrated and staying fuelled up is key to completing a sportive. Aim to drink a 750ml bottle each hour during the event. There should be no problem with re-stocking as events have plenty of well-provisioned feed stations. If your system doesn't agree with the drinks that they serve up at feed stations, then take your own sachets or tablets that you can mix up when you get to a stop.
Just as liquid is important, so too is food. Nibble at bars, jelly sweets, sandwiches and fruit throughout the event. Proper food is important; even the pros don't just rely on quick-release energy gels on long events. Try to save gels for the end of the ride when you are at the bottom of your energy stores and finding it hard to eat.
Enjoy the ride
Most importantly, enjoy yourself. You don't need to get a top spot to have a good time; so take a look around, enjoy the scenery, maybe take a few photos. Take a friend along as well and chat to fellow riders; you have trained hard in preparation for the event, so enjoy every moment.