What’s the best way to solidify your bike skills and lay down some serious base fitness over Winter months? Cycle sportives! If you’ve never done one, make this the year of the sportive.
What Is A Cycle Sportive?
Bike sportives are official mass participation cycle events. They’re usually held on the road, but you can occasionally find off road and mixed terrain sportives. For this article, we’ll talk about road sportives since they’re the most common (and probably most useful to you).
Sportives can be organised by cycling clubs, by local charities, or as one-off fundraising events. Although they are official, they’re not a race. Sportives welcome everyone from speedy guys with aero kit to people who just want to pootle. They tend to have a friendly, laid back atmosphere, rather than the competitive air of a race. The event might have a mass start, or staggered starts with smaller groups. Don’t expect to ride the whole event in a tight pack like triathlon cycling. You are more likely to alternate between long stretches by yourself (or a new friend!) and periods of riding within a pack of strangers. Roads won’t be closed, but will be signposted with marshals at key spots.
Sportives tend to offer more than one choice of distance within the same event (usually ranging from 20 miles to 80+ miles) so there’s something for everyone.
Why Should Multi-Sport Athletes Do Sportives?
Cycle sportives are a fantastic addition to your off season, or to the mid-point part of your training block. Doing a sportive will boost your cardio fitness, give you a ton of confidence on the bike, and help you build impressive base fitness. The perfect prep for your next triathlon season.
Get fitter: training for a sportive means getting out on the bike at least twice a week even for a relatively short event. That kind of riding will get you fitter - no doubt about it.
Get faster: the extra time on your bike will boost your base speed, and give you the opportunity to practice climbing, descending, and holding race pace.
Get lighter: if you want to lose some weight, increasing your bike mileage is a great way to do it. Cycling is non-weight bearing and burns serious calories.
Get braver: putting in hours on the bike will break down any mental barriers you have about biking, from hills, road surfaces, traffic, riding with others… and more.
How To Find Local Bike Sportives
Entering a cycle sportive is just like finding a running or triathlon race. Check out the British Cycling website https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/sportives or try https://findarace.com/sportive or https://www.sportive.com/sportive-calendar. Bear in mind that some smaller or one-off sportives might not get picked up by event database websites, so Google sportives in your area to find charity events. Your local road bike club will have insider knowledge of the best local bike sportives (and you can join them for group rides during training).
Training For Your First Cycle Sportive
Like any distance event, you’ll need to get the miles in for your bike sportive. Approach it like training for a half marathon or marathon. Build up your weekend long ride until you’ve ridden the full distance, and be sure to leave enough time after your long ride to recover for the event. Throw in one or two mid week rides to get your weekly total mileage up. If you need to work on specific skills (climbing, descending, pace) then dedicate the shorter mid week rides to that. Here’s how training might look for a 50 mile sportive.
6 weeks to go - weekend long ride (20 miles) + 2 x 8 mile midweek rides
5 weeks to go - weekend long ride (30 miles) + 2 x 10 mile midweek rides
4 weeks to go - weekend long ride (40 miles) + 2 x 12 mile midweek rides
3 weeks to go - weekend long ride (50 miles) + 2 x 8 mile midweek rides
2 weeks to go - weekend long ride (20 miles) + 2 x 8-10 mile midweek rides
Sportive week - short midweek ride to check bike components and to spin out your legs
10 Tips For Cycle Sportives
1 Check out the route and be sure to train on similar terrain (hilly, flat, narrow roads etc)
2 Service your bike well in advance so you have time to buy any new parts
3 Fit extra bottle cages if necessary (carry more than one bottle for the sportive)
4 Carry a spare inner tube or puncture repair kit and tyre levers
5 Fit at least one of your bottles with an electrolyte blend like Hydro https://projecte2.co.uk/collections/hydrate/products/hydro-drink - perfect hydration for bike sportives
6 Carry some Hydro tabs https://projecte2.co.uk/collections/hydrate/products/dr-hydro-tabs-srp-10-x-20-x-90g in case the sportive takes longer than predicted
7 Most sportives have well-stocked food stops but carry a banana or Energy Bar https://projecte2.co.uk/products/energy-bar-60g as back up - you’ll get hungry!
8 Gels are a good idea - quick and easy to use, taking up minimal space. Hydro Plus https://projecte2.co.uk/collections/hydrate/products/hydro-gel-plus-15-x-60g-raspberry-flavour-1 will give you a well timed energy boost too!
9 Decide on a goal - do you want to stick to a pace, get a finish time, or just enjoy?
10 Pack a change of clothes or extra layers for the drive home, and have extra water and food in the car!
Bonus 11: Enjoy yourself! Sportives are fun, relaxed, and a great way to indulge your love of cycling.