Every year there seem to be more and more organised cycling events or sportives, usually in aid of a charity, which bring together enthusiasts in a non-competitive environment, giving them the opportunity to push themselves a little more than if they were cycling solo.
Sportives are a great way of exploring some different cycle routes in other parts of the country, but without having to worry too much about where you’re going! Once you’ve entered the event, you’ll be given a number to attach to you and your bike and then it’s just a matter of following a clearly signed route. As well as not having to worry about getting lost, most rides also offer mechanical assistance in case you run into trouble along the way and, often, there are marshalls too, helping at busy road junctions.
With all this support, it’s easier to challenge yourself a bit more. You can be confident that you’re following a structured route which has been carefully planned in terms of distance and terrain. Most rides offer a choice of routes according to your abilities. From 20 mile fun rides suitable for novice riders, through to 100 mile plus routes (some taking in parts of the Grand Depart!), there really is something for everyone.
While not a competition, as many sportives use timing chips, it’s a good opportunity to push your pace and try and beat your personal best. For optimum performance, training, as ever, is key. It’s a good idea to devise a structured training plan, working up to cycling close to the distance of the sportive – this will give you the comfort of knowing that the distance is within your capability. As well as spending plenty of time in the saddle, also make sure that you do lots of other types of exercise to increase your overall fitness and lessen the chance of aches and pains on the day. Don’t’ forget to watch what you eat in the days leading up to the race – make sure you load up on plenty energy-giving carbs!
When the big day arrives, make sure you have all the gear you might need with you. Wear cycling specific, sweat wicking tops and padded shorts or tights – make sure you have cycled in them before and know they fit well and are comfortable. Most rides will not allow cyclists to participate without a helmet, and if you’re planning to cover a reasonable distance, clip-in pedals are a huge advantage, giving a better, more energy efficient ride.
Even if it’s sunny when you set off, don’t forget you’re in Britain and you could be in torrential rain in half an hour, let alone five hours into a ride! Always take a waterproof jacket – there are some great, compact cycling jackets available which fit into a small, pocket-sized bag. Layering is key and ‘warms’ or arm warmers are great for this as they’re easy to be pulled up or pushed down while you’re cycling. Leg warmers are handy too. Take cycling glasses or sunglasses with you and don’t forget the sun cream – you never know!
While most sportives include well-stocked food and drink fuelling stations along the way, it’s vital to also have your own food and water with you so that you can grab an energy boost whenever you need it. Generally, it’s recommended that cyclists have some food every 30 minutes, plus water every 15 minutes.
Finally, do not leave home without an on-bike repair kit! Make sure it includes a small multi-tool and some spare inner tubes (a small CO2 inflator also makes the job of changing a tyre much swifter) – you may be very glad that you came prepared! While space is obviously limited on a bike, most equipment these days has been carefully-designed with high tech materials making it compact and lightweight.
While it might seem like there’s a lot to think of before you take on a sportive, once you’ve taken the plunge and done one, being well prepared for these events will become second nature. Just visit the British Cycling website www.britishcycling.org.uk/events/ to find dates for events in Yorkshire and further afield, and get pedalling!
Author: Tony Booth