Eight tips for your first sportive

How to ensure your first sportive runs smoothly

The sportive calendar is busier than ever and many new cyclists are taking the leap and riding an organised event for the first time.

Events such as the RideLondon-Surrey 100 have put cyclo-sportives in the public eye, and of the tens of thousands set for this summer’s edition, there will be plenty of sportive newcomers among them.

More riders are signing up to their first sportives than seemingly ever before (pic: Roz Jones)

What do you need to know if you’re tackling one for the first time? Well, if you want to enjoy your day out then you can’t just turn up and hope for the best – especially if, like RideLondon, it’s 100 miles that you’ll be riding.

Here are our tips for training for a sportive and for the day of the event itself. And if you’re a sportive newcomer and fancy breaking your duck at RideLondon, you can enter our competition to win a place in the sold out event, courtesy of Continental Tyres – just head to the bottom of the page.

Get the miles in

First of all, you shouldn’t underestimate the challenge of a sportive. Just like you wouldn’t run a half marathon without any training, nor should you turn up to a sportive without at least considering what’s ahead of you.

Get the miles in beforehand – you should be comfortably riding 2/3 of your event distance in training

That means getting the miles in beforehand to build up your fitness. As a general rule, you should look to be comfortable riding two-thirds of your event distance in training – for a 100-mile sportive like RideLondon, that means clocking 67 miles (just a little more than 100km in new money).

 – How to plan your training to hit peak form for a sportive –

You can find plenty of expert fitness advice over in our coaching section and if it’s a big sportive you’re preparing for, there’s no harm in riding a smaller event beforehand either, which takes us nicely into our second point…


Don’t neglect technique

There’s more to riding a mass participation event like RideLondon than just conquering the distance – thousands of riders sharing the closed roads with you, don’t forget to think about technique.

Try to make sure you’re comfortable riding in groups

One of the most obvious differences between your average solo training ride and a sportive is the fact you may find yourself riding in a group – and will benefit from the shared workload if you do.

Technique: Stephen Roche’s group riding tips –

But group riding is a very different beast and it’s important to make sure you’re comfortable before jumping in at the deep end. There are plenty of benefits to joining a club and one of those is the fact that it will give you the chance to work on your technique in a group.

If you’re riding a big event like RideLondon, then you should also think about penciling in a smaller sportive beforehand. Not only will this give you a target to work towards as a stepping stone, and to test your fitness, but it will also enable you to get comfortable riding in with different cyclists.

Ben Swift’s tips on how to be a better climber… and descender –

Another thing to think about is descending – here are some top tips from Team Sky’s Milan-San Remo runner-up, Ben Swift, but as a general guide: brake before the corner, look through it and stay relaxed.

And while we’re talking about technique – there’s no harm in looking at your pedalling efficiency either.

Break it down into chunks

Your first sportive can be daunting, but if you break into smaller segments it can help you to prepare mentally.

Familiarise yourself with the route, and if you can’t recce it then check it on Strava or Google Maps (Pic: Strava)

If we’re using RideLondon as an example, you don’t have to look at it as a straight-up 100 miles – there’s a flat start, the Surrey Hills and then the return to the city for starters and each of those, especially the hills, can be broken up, too. On the ride, concentrate on ticking off those sections one at a time, so instead of having, say, 60 miles left, you have just 10 left of the current segment.

Pay attention to the profile too, as this will help you pace your effort better – you don’t want to burn yourself out early if the climbs come later on. You can also use Strava to get a better idea of what’s to come on a climb.

Ensure your bike is in good condition

It’s not just you that needs to be in good shape on the start line, but your equipment, too – so make sure your bike is in tip-top condition before you leave. The last thing you want to be let down by on the day is a mechanical.

Tighten up and ensure your bike is in good working order

Check the condition of your tyres – and the pressure – and ensure your brake pads are clean and don’t need replacing.

Five essential pre-ride bike maintenance checks –

The same goes for your wheels – take a close look at the manufacturer’s rim wear indicators – and if you’ve been using your bike for a while then your chain may need replacing. Use a chain keeper to take a look – or we’d recommend booking for your bike in for a service ahead of a big event.

– Five essential roadside bike maintenance quick fixes –

However, you can’t account for bad luck, so make sure you know how to fix a puncture – and take a look at some of the other quick roadside maintenance fixes you should know.

Take the right kit

When you commit so much to a big event, the worst thing you can possibly do is then throw it all into disarray by being unprepared with your kit.

It will be a miserable day if you’ve not checked the forecast and are unprepared for rain, for example – just imagine doing RideLondon in 2014, when the rain really came down, without suitable attire.

Lay your kit out the night before, and always ensure you have an extra layer in case of a surprise shower (Pic: Mike Cotty)

Always take a spare layer, in case a surprise shower catches you out – there are plenty of lightweight jackets out there now for that very possibility.

Buyer’s guide: lightweight jackets –

Spare inner tubes, tyre levers, a multi-tool, two full bidons,  a pump, phone and emergency cash should also be on your check list.

– Writing your ‘ready to ride’ checklist: items you shouldn’t roll off the driveway without –

It’s best to prepare it all in advance. too – lay it out the night before, or even pack the car and check it thoroughly – so you have nothing to worry about in the morning except getting to the start line.

Don’t start too fast

Pacing yourself is hugely important, and should be etched into your mind as you prepare for the sportive – and yet still many people will pay the price for going out too fast.

Ride at your own pace, and try not to get caught up in the occasion by starting too fast

It’s easy to get caught up in the occasion or trying to keep pace with riders much faster/fitter/more experienced than you.

Your first sportive: pacing and staying in a fast group –

It may be a mass participation event but it’s not a race, and it’s important to ride your own ride and not somebody else’s – keep plenty in reserve for any challenges in the latter part of the course.

RideLondon is a classic example of an event where, with a fast, flat start it can be easy to go out too fast and the pay the price once you get to Leith Hill and Box Hill.

Make sure you eat and drink enough

Nutrition also plays an important role on event day. Anyone who’s bonked – ran out of energy – will tell you that it’s not a pleasant experience, so, once again, don’t get wrapped up in the event and forget to east and drink.

Keep yourself well hydrated, and also pay attention to what you are eating (Pic: Science in Sport)

Most sportives will have well-stocked food stations so take advantage of them if you need to – but equally don’t go overboard – and also have your own supplies of tried-and-tested energy gels, bars or snacks.

– Nutrition: how to fuel for a 100-mile sportive –

Think about carb-loading in the build-up to the event and make sure you start the day with a good breakfast, regardless of how nervous you may be.

– Nutrition: what is carb loading? –

On the ride, stick to the old mantra of little and often to ensure you’re eating enough. The same goes for hydration, too, and you should aim to get through one 500ml bottle an hour. You should also think about taking a look at the course profile, too. If you know when you’re about to hit a big climb, make sure you’ve fuelled up in advance.

Enjoy it

Finally, make sure you enjoy it – take your time, ride at a pace you’re comfortable with and remember, it’s not a race.

Relax and enjoy your first sportive – remember, it’s not a race

After all, you’ve paid to be there so make the most of it. Sure, you’ll no doubt suffer at some point but that’s part of the challenge – as long as you’re not pushing too hard.

Completing a sportive, especially a milestone event like a century, is hugely rewarding.

Sponsored by Continental Tyres, the official tyre of RideLondon 2016



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