Completing your first mass bike ride or race may seem a daunting prospect, but it needn’t be with these simple, first-time-friendly tips…
RECCE THE COURSE
Make sure you’ve reconnaissanced the course beforehand. Ideally this would be in person but often that’s just not practical. All’s not lost, though, as race organisers supply detailed course maps, which you can elaborate on by using a mapping tool like Google Maps.
WORK AS A TEAM
Make sure you practice riding in a group during training, whether this is with cycling mates or a club. It’ll give you confidence when you’re riding close to other cyclists on the big day. It’s also more fun and will result in greater fitness gains – a hint of comrade competition’s always good to make you dig deeper than you would alone.
Though still a way off, when it comes to the week before your sportive, remember to reduce training volume. When you’re training, you’re looking to provide a physiological overload to make you stronger and faster. When it comes to the ride or race, you want to clear out the fatigue to ensure you’re fresh come event morning. Tone down volume by 50% to guarantee you’re at your best and just remember: reducing ride time will lead to more speed, not reduced fitness.
ACE OF PACE
The old saying goes, ‘To finish first, first you have to finish.’ Don’t set out like Kittel only to tire quickly. Most sportives are purposely long – in other words, a challenge. Have an idea of what pace you can maintain and, though it may be hard mentally, aim for negative splits. This is where you’re faster over the second half than the first.
Make sure your bag’s all packed and you’re ready to go two or three days before the big ride. In fact, if you’re heading somewhere in the UK that’ll require accommodation for a night or two, ensure you have one bag for sportive gear and one for leisure. In your sportive bag, make sure you’ve ticked off: helmet; bike shoes (if wearing); cycle clothing; accessories like sunglasses, gloves, towel and socks; and nutrition.
Test ride your bike at the beginning of week leading up to the big day because that’ll allow you time to take it to the bike shop or fix it yourself if there are any issues. There’s nothing worse than awaking on the morning of the event to discover your gears aren’t shifting smoothly or your tyres are worn. Don’t let poor preparation deflate your chances of reaching your goals. Amen!
There’s one thing guaranteed about the UK – the weather can change quicker than Greipel down the finish chute. That’s why you should keep a close eye on the weather forecast in the build-up to your race. Even if it’s sunny, if you’re starting early you might want to wear a lightweight jacket that you can then scrunch up into your rear pocket as you warm to the task at hand. Then again, remember not to overdress because it’ll mean ditching your clothes at roadside.
Sportives usually have feed stations packed with energy gels, bars, flapjacks and bananas, so there’s no reason you should run out of energy. But key things to note are: aim for 40-60g carbs per hour; have two bottle cages (and bottles) on your bike – you can top up at feed stations; and check the profile so that you feed correctly. For instance, if a stiff climb’s coming up, have a gel rather than an energy bar.