This is a bit new to me so I thought I’d share my path in to the great world of cycle sportives. If you want a recommendation I’d say try a Polocini event.
If you’re new to cycling and you don’t want, or you’re not ready, to race it’s still nice to have a bit of a focus.
Riding for the simple pleasure of cycling is great but as your fitness grows, as hills start to get very slightly easier you might start to wonder what you’re actually capable of.
Ticking off distances and durations go some way towards this as does increasing the total ascent of your rides. You’ll see other riders when you’re out on the roads and you’ll start to get a feel for your position in the grand order of roadie speed.
Maybe you’ll get a bike computer and start to record your rides. Track your heart rate, cadence and speed to show a climbing performance over time.
Eventually curiosity will get the better of you and you’ll upload the whole lot en masse to Strava when you will be instantly rewarded with a pile of personal bests (pbs) and maybe a few King, or Queen, of the Mountains (KoMs & QoMs).
Some Strava Segments will bring pride, others disappointment. The disappointment will bring forth rationalisation – the riders ahead of you in the table di their rides in warmer weather, with less wind, or even in a bunch riding one behind the other… on a level playing field you would likely have performed relatively better.
So now you need a level playing field. One course, one day, one set of conditions, all the riders… You need a Sportive.
What is a Sportive?
It’s as described above a ride in the company of others where you can challenge yourself and measure your performance relative to other riders. Sometimes called a Fondo, Grande Fondo or Etape it’s all the same thing.
Sportives are run by organisers who will determine the course, provide timing, set up some feed stations and, within reason, look after your safety and wellbeing.
Some Sportives are closed roads and some are on normally operating highways, you can expect to pay a lot more for the former.
Courses will invariably involve hills. Hills maketh the cyclist and big hills maketh the sportive.
Sportives range between 30 and 130 miles
How best to prepare?
Ride your bike lots, if you know you can ride the distance you’ll enjoy your day more.
Have the right bike: ideally you want a road bike that is light, strong and comfortable.
Make sure you’re ready for all weathers. This being the UK it is likely that at some point during your Sportive you will be too cold, too warm, too wet and very possibly too dry.
A good waterproof, arm warmers, gloves, hat and gilet will all fit comfortably in your jersey pockets and even if they’re not needed they will provide confidence that whatever the weather you will have a fighting chance of completing your sportive.
You’ll also need room for one or two spare inner tubes, a pump, a multi-tool and a few patches so that minor mechanicals will not stop you reaching your goal. Being quite heavy these are often best placed in a small saddlebag.
Any motion requires the constant fueling of the engine. Don’t do a Sportive in an attempt to lose weight, your body needs enough fuel, of the right kind, to maximise your performance.
This doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money on the latest pro-endorsed chemical nutrition bars and gels but it does mean that you probably shouldn’t try to do the whole thing on cake alone. Eat what makes you happy and make sure that your getting some complex carbs along with your simple sugars.
Don’t get hungry and don’t get thirsty… little and often throughout your ride winds the day. Make sure breakfast is carb heavy, plentiful and that it’s taken a couple of hours before your ride.
So now you’re set, ready for the big day.
Get there early and take some time to get orientated and calm your nerves.
There will probably be a fair bit of waiting around so try to keep warm but remember to remove your warm layer before setting off.
Once underway ride at a pace you know you can sustain… riding fast out of the blocks and hoping to hold on isn’t going to work… breakaways fail even in sportive riding!
Taking it steady and finishing strong wins every time.
Be ready to ride in close proximity to others even if you’ve done it before. Ride predictably so that the people around you can trust you and don’t worry if you have the odd bit of excitement… everyone is in the same boat.
It won’t take long before you can start to really enjoy the benefit of riding in the bunch, but make sure you take your turn on the front… if only to remind yourself of how great it is not being on the front!
Finally, don’t forget to look around and enjoy the ride, you are doing this for fun after all!
We hope you have a great ride, your first Sportive is a big step and should be a proud moment in your cycling career.