Seven things every road cyclist will experience on their first sportive - Road Cycling UK

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Seven things every road cyclist will experience on their first sportive

From start line jitters to the feed station frenzy, here's what you can expect on your first sportive

We enjoy a good sportive here at RoadCyclingUK. We love the camaraderie, the challenge and the satisfaction that comes upon completing a tough ride that takes you outside of your comfort zone.

This type of organised, mass-participation cycling is a brilliant way to give your season structure – providing a target to train for and an easy way of ratcheting up the distances you complete, by entering longer and more challenging events.

– Eight dos and don’t for your first sportive –

Many cyclists will complete their first 100-mile ride – a landmark for any rider – as part of a sportive, because the signposted route, feed stations and circuitous route mean they don’t need to worry about anything other than the covering the distance itself. That being said, there are also usually shorter route options for those who are less experienced.

Regardless of the exact sportive you enter, we think there are a few experiences every road cyclist will have when they tackle their first sportive.

The challenge of a sportive often creates a spirit of camaraderie among cyclists (Pic: RideLondon)

Good vibes

There’s something about sportive riding that seems to create a better atmosphere than your regular rideout. Maybe it’s the fact there are so many people there all with the same goal in mind that creates that camaraderie, or maybe it’s just the buzz of the challenge ahead – either way, you’ll experience good vibes aplenty at your first sportive.

Start line jitters

It’s only natural to question your ability a little bit on your first sportive, especially if you’re trying for a hitherto unconquered distance.

– Five essential items for your sportive kit bag –

Many sportives have a long route around the hundred-mile mark, as this is something of a mythic milestone. Completing your first ‘century’, as it’s known, is a big moment – but it’s also pretty daunting. Relax, don’t start too fast, and enjoy the ride!

Nervous on the start line? Relax and enjoy the ride… (Pic: Fat Lad at the Back)

Pacing problems

One of the trickiest things to get right on your first sportive is pacing – particularly if you’ll be going above and beyond what you’ve done in training. You don’t want to go out of the blocks too fast and end up running out of energy, but equally, you’ll regret it if you hold back too much and end up wondering how quick you could have gone.

Riding in a group will help save you energy (Pic: Velothon Wales)

Being a groupie

We wouldn’t quite go as far as to say riding in a group during your first sportive is essential – it can add a little bit of extra stress to things if you’re not experienced with it, so it isn’t for everyone. But if you do want to save some energy, then there are few better ways than by sharing the work with other riders.

– Technique: Stephen Roche’s group riding tips –

The best way to ensure you have a ready-made peloton to ride with is by signing up with a bunch of mates, but you’ll find that small groups tend to form along the route anyway, with riders of the same ability and speed naturally finding one another over the length of the course. Don’t be shy, just say hello, ride safely, and do your fair share of turns on the front!

If you’re nervous about riding in a group, read our tips here, and check out our guide to group riding signals and calls.

Feeding frenzy

If you are pushing the pace along and starting to flag, one of the best things about sportives – in fact, about road cycling in general, when it comes to the cafe stop – is arriving at a well-stocked feed zone.

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

Good sportive organisers will position a couple of food stops along the route, where riders can top up on sugar, water and carbohydrates – courtesy of a groaning trestle table plonked in a layby somewhere under a gazebo. This is your opportunity to gorge yourself on cake, flapjack and jelly beans – though don’t over-do it!

A good sportive will have at least a couple of well-stocked feed stations on the route (Pic: Media-24)

Calorie confidence

There will be a point in any sportive when you experience that glorious moment you begin to feel good; really, really good. This will usually hit you after one of the feed stops, as all that lovely sugary stuff you just stuffed into your face hits the burning furnace of your fired-up metabolism and is sent pulsing through your bloodstream. Harness the power of jelly babies, friends, and you will simply fly up those climbs.

Chances are, at some point in the ride you’ll feel like you’re flying – but be prepared to suffer, too (Pic: Velothon Wales)

‘In two miles there’s only ten miles left…’

The flip side of that post-feed stop sugar high comes when you begin to run low on energy once again and you start to crash as the distance bites and climbing becomes ever tougher. Nagging self-doubt begins to creep in. Have you bitten off more than you can chew?

– Essential guide to road cycling hand signals and calls –

As you make your way to the finish line of your event you may find that you need a little incentive to keep on going, and breaking up the remaining mileage into manageable chunks is a great way of doing this. Whether you’re taking comfort from being ‘over halfway’, or performing complex equations to make the total distance remaining seem smaller – you’d be amazed at the different tricks and schemes you can come up with. If that fails, try converting the remaining miles into kilometres (multiplying by 1.6), then converting it back again. That’s sure to keep you occupied! The most important thing, however, is to dig in – you’ll get there!


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