Sportives (Cyclosportive/Gran Fondo) are now a staple part of cycling both in the UK and abroad. With the most famous UK sportive probably being the Ride London event. Ribble have sponsored Velo Birmingham in 2017 and 2019 and Velo South in 2018 and these types of events are a great day out for cyclists of all ages and experience. They are extremely popular due to the fact they are held on closed roads and feature well marked routes, feed stations and mechanical support. They are well organised and a great way to spend a day of your weekend. But the big question is ‘Are you sportive ready?’
If you have entered one of these closed road sportives for the first time we thought it would be a great idea to share some tips for pre-ride preparation. In conjunction with our recent bike maintenance blog this should ensure that nothing is left to chance and you are as well prepared as can be to go out and enjoy the event.
It sounds obvious but getting some training miles under the belt will dramatically improve your ride performance. It’s no secret that there is a direct correlation between level of fitness and how much enjoyment you take from riding the bike. The fitter you are the easier it is, though reaching a decent level of fitness is hard work and more than worth the effort! Whenever you can, dust off the bike and take it for a spin for a few hours and reap the benefits on sportive day!
What to take?
Rule #1 of cycling is BE PREPARED and by this we mean set off with at least the absolute minimum to get you out of a jam. Though sportive organisers will normally provide mechanical assistance it’s probably best not to rely on this too heavily. There are certain essentials that you should take on every ride;
- A couple of tubes – note we do not say A spare tube. If you puncture whilst out and about it is advisable to have that 2nd spare to fall back on just in case.
- A pump – Take a mini pump and/or CO2 pump. A CO2 pump helps you to inflate a tube faster but is heavier and requires you to also carry a spare cartridge. A great solution is to take a mini pump AND a CO2 inflator. Most mini pumps are supplied with a bracket that allows you to bolt them onto a bottle cage. Therefore leaving you more room in your pockets for food or tools.
- Tyre levers – Ensure they are of good quality, poor quality ones will bend under pressure. Avoid alloy ones if possible as they can damage the wheel rim and/or tyres. Whilst also voiding any manufacturers warranty.
- Saddle bag / frame fit bag – You can carry tools and spare tubes in a jersey pocket but it is more convenient to carry them on the bike leaving the jersey pockets free for energy food or clothing.
- A multi tool – The absolute minimum you will need is a multi tool with a set of allen (hex) keys for any emergency tightening of bolts. Though we would also recommend one with a built in chain tool just in case of a chain snap.
This will largely depend upon weather conditions, but also your own body. Some people find they perspire more than others and may feel happier with slightly less layers. The key word here is layers, check the weather conditions for the day and wear clothing appropriate to what you can expect.
Everyone will have their own preferences but during the spring / summer especially here in the UK where the weather is very changeable a great combo is;
- Undervest – a thermal (e.g merino wool) for cooler rides or a coolmax wicking vest for hotter days.
- Bibshorts / shorts – padded shorts are a must. If you don’t want to go full lycra then use padded undershorts (think boxers/knickers with padding) with your normal clothing over the top.
- Arm warmers – Easily removed when the temperature rises and just as easy to stash away in jersey pockets or bags.
- Leg / Knee warmers – As with armwarmers, easily removed when the temperature rises and easy to pack away.
- Short Sleeve jersey – Great for warm weather rides and if the ride is a little cooler you can add the aforementioned armwarmers and a thermal undervest.
- Gilet (vest) – The gilet is essentially a bodywarmer or sleeveless outer vest. It will in most cases be showerproof and windproof. Unless it is absolutely pouring down the vest is a great option and can be stowed away quite easily.
The reason a combination of the above is so good is that it’s easier to regulate body temperature. You can remove items as required and stash them easily in jersey pockets or saddle bags. However, if you overheat when wearing bibtights and long sleeve jackets / jerseys there’s little you can do to regulate the heat. If rain is expected you can opt for a waterproof gilet or a stash-able, lightweight, rain jacket.
If the weather is cooler then layering becomes even more important and in these instances it will probably be necessary to wear a base layer, mid layer and outer layer!
Fuel / Food
Though most sportives will offer feed stations it is best not to rely on them too much. A breakfast of toast and porridge is a great choice as it contains the necessary carbs. The key is to get the carbs in before the ride commences.
Ideally the best source of the nutrition you will need is from sports nutrition products as they contain all the good stuff you will need without the fibre and fats that you should avoid. These slow down the absorption of the food your body craves. However, not everyone can stomach sports nutrition so if this is the case concentrate on foods that are high in carbs.
Once the ride commences eat little and often, if you eat too much during the ride or at the rest stops your body diverts blood supply to aid digestion. This has a detrimental effect on your performance as a result.
Riders who aim to take it easy may wish to mix sports nutrition products with regular food such as bananas, dried fruit , Jaffa Cake, cereal bars and Jelly Babies etc. Basically anything that contains the necessary glucose. If you are aiming to ride competitively then sport nutrition products are better sources of fuel to aid performance.
As with food you must hydrate properly, it is essential to replace electrolytes to counter the effects of sweating and dehydration. Electrolytic drinks and Isotonic gels are the best form of hydration by far and some electrolyte drinks also contain carbs as well so are ideal.
Don’t be tempted to hydrate well before the start line and then leave it an hour or 2 into the ride before you take another drink. It is essential that you continue hydration within the first 90 minutes for your body to continue working efficiently. Nobody wants to experience the horror of the dreaded ‘bonk’. For the uninitiated it is when your body burns up all the glycogen and runs out of fuel to burn. This results in dizziness, blurred vision and weakness (not pleasant!).
When you commence the ride set a pace that you feel comfortable with, one that you feel can carry you through to the end. It’s easy to see other riders riding faster or even be in a group with faster riders and to feel the need to speed up. Let them go on and concentrate on setting your own pace. A nice easy cadence also reduces the strain on your joints and muscles.
Above all else this is the key component to any ride let alone a Sportive, if you have prepared for it adequately then you can just set off and enjoy yourself. Take the time to take in the scenery and soak up the camaraderie that exists during these events.