Over the past seven editions of The Hub’s Sportive Training Guide, we’ve shared a wealth of training know-how, cycling techniques, and equipment insights. Now event day is finally here, there are still a few things you need to know.
In this final analysis of sportive preparation, we will look at how to plan your race, common pitfalls to avoid, and last-minute things to remember before you put foot to pedal.
We’ll also look closely at one of the most important aspects of your preparation – nutrition.
The first section will look at race strategy – your overarching plan for the event. The second section will focus on sportive tactics, the methods you’ll use on the day to achieve your goals.
Before you set off, it’s important to work out your event day planning and strategy with achievable goals based on as much data as you can gather.
Your strategy should include your sportive pace, your understanding of the route, and your plan of approach.
How to work out your sportive pace
There are a number of steps to setting your sportive pace.
Step 1: Examine the route
An accurate look at the route you’ll be taking will be of considerable benefit for your preparations. Check the event’s website, where you can often find a detailed map, or trace the route out using Google Maps, and zip along on Street View to familiarise yourself with the course. If you have a GPS cycling computer, it’s a good idea to download the map to your device so you can get turn-by-turn guidance using programmes like Strava. Make sure your pacing calculations also consider the course’s elevations.
Step 2: Identify your goals
Before setting your pace, you need to identify your goals for the sportive. Remember, a sportive is not a race, so your first goal needs to be simply finishing the course. This primarily means avoiding either the dreaded bonk or the cut-off time, if there is one; it’s this aim which should supersede all other pacing considerations. Your second goal is to achieve a time you’ll be happy with.
Step 3: Draw on your training performance
From your performance in training, you should have a good idea of your Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE: see Part 3 for more information) during a long ride and be able to work out what an achievable pace looks like. Don’t expect an event day miracle – if anything, the adrenaline you’ll feel on the day will zap some of your energy resources, so aim for a time that fits within what you’ve already achieved during practice. If you have been monitoring your progress using a cycling computer, heart rate and/or power monitors, as suggested in Part 3 of our guide you will have clear data on which to base your pacing.
Once you’ve taken these basic considerations into account, it’s time to set your pace.
Your pacing during the sportive should start slowly, building to a more intense effort in the final third of the event.
Using your RPE scale if you don’t have a computer or power or heart rate monitor, the first third of the Sportive should be in the 4-5 range, the second third in the 5-6 range, and the last third in the 6-7 range.
This should line up with your average speed goals, taken from what you usually achieve in training.
This approach is important for retaining your body’s glycogen (stored energy) levels for the last portion of the event, which is important to avoid bonking – more about this later.
Those with a Garmin GPS can programme an alert into their on-board computer to monitor their heart rate, providing a beep if they breach a certain level. If you have a power meter, you can track your Functional Threshold Power, using it to keep an eye on exertion levels throughout the event, ensuring you’re maintaining a sustainable effort.
While these digital measures are much more accurate than the RPE scale, it’s still important to ensure you’re following the ‘start slow, finish strong’ model to maintain those important glycogen levels.
Once you have your event strategy planned, you can move onto the tactics you want to employ during the day to give you an edge.
Get in a group and conserve energy
A major element of your event day tactics should include your approach to riding in a group. It’s a good idea to decide beforehand if group riding is something you want to do – and if so, by how much – as it will affect your overall pace.
On flatter sections, group riding can save you around 30% of energy, depending on your speed and position in the bunch, so if you plan on spending time in a group you can be more ambitious in your aims.
It’s important not to do this at all costs, however. Trying to hang on when a group’s pace is beyond your abilities can spell trouble. Meanwhile, the benefits of group riding diminish significantly during climbs, where it is wiser to stick to your own steady pace, so bear that in mind for sections containing a lot of elevation.
Check out Part 4 of our sportive guides for more details on the skills you need for riding in a bunch.
Plan your feed station stops
If this is your first sportive, it’s a good idea to take full advantage of every food stop. You should be aiming to consume 30-60g of carbohydrates every hour and 500-1000 ml of fluid per hour, averaging that over the course of the event.
Using a dedicated energy drink, bar, or gel will make it easy to track how much fuel you’re taking on, as going overboard can be tough on the tum.
If sticking to fruit or food stop sandwiches, you may have to get the calculator out to ensure you’re within the 30-60g zone.
As a guide, a 100g ham, egg, and cheese sandwich contains around 22g of carbohydrate, around the same as a banana.
You should also be drinking enough so that you urinate at every stop, another good reason to use every refreshment area.
Sportive feed station tips
As discussed in the second part of our sportive training guide, there are three main elements to cycling nutrition – energy, hydration, and recovery.
Eat balanced meals the day before with a slight emphasis on carbohydrates – around 50% if possible – and pay particular attention to your hydration levels.
A sportive is very demanding on your body so ensure you’re comprehensively fuelled for the event.
On the day of the event, eat a large breakfast around three hours before the start – if possible. If you can’t eat that far ahead of the event, keep breakfast light, and stick to the 60g of carbohydrate per hour rule.
To produce your best and maximise the benefit of your sportive, divide your nutritional needs into three stages: before, during, and after.
Before the event you need to fuel your body, ideally with easy-release stored energy in the form of carbohydrates, usually consumed as part of a great breakfast. But as many sportives often begin at 9am, ensuring you’ve eaten well at least three hours before the event can be an ask. This can make sports bars, powders, or drinks a convenient supplement to a smaller morning repast.
If you do manage to get in a full breakfast, aim for porridge with toast, an egg omelette or scrambled egg, and feel free to grab a coffee.
Right before the race, stay hydrated with an isotonic sports drink. If you have eaten three hours before, you may be starting to get hungry before the race, so top up with an energy bar.
During the race, you need to keep your hydration levels high and stick to the 30-60g of carbohydrates per hour rule, eating little and often while on the bike. Remember, the first stop is probably not for 30 miles, so make sure you have a few energy gels in your jersey before setting off.
If you find yourself sweating a lot, you’ll also need to top up your electrolyte levels as these will be lost through your perspiration. Electrolytes are necessary for the conversion of energy into movement, so running low can hamper your performance.
A good tip is to not wait until your feeling fatigued before taking your first energy gel or bar. Even if you’re feeling good, take your first energy supplement within the first 30 minutes, or even just as you’re about to set off. This will sustain you and stop your body from tucking in to those important glycogen stores too much.
Meanwhile, the advantages of caffeine are well documented, so if you hit a slump in the final third, this could pick you up and keep you going.
Your legs will have been pushed close to their limit, and will be crying out for the materials needed to carry out immediate repairs to the muscle fibres.
This is where protein strides in, providing the building blocks for strengthened muscles and a strong recovery process.
Ideally, you’ll get all your protein (around 1.3g per kilo of body weigh per day for the average cyclist) from real food. However, after a ride you may not be able to stomach a big meal, while dinner could be some way off from the finish line. It’s recommended that you consume protein within an hour of completing your exercise, and the convenience of protein bars and shakes to facilitate this makes them a great choice.
Spanning vast distances and packed with sometimes hundreds of participants, sportives are strewn with hazards capable of unseating the unprepared.
Usually it takes years of experience to build up an awareness of the various sportive banana skins, which is why The Hub has assembled the most common traps that befall those new to the event.
Starting too quickly
This is so commonly stated precisely because it’s the piece of advice most often ignored. Event-day adrenaline is one hell of a drug, as is the need to demonstrate your cycling chops in front of your peers. Trust us, it’s no fun watching those you left for dust at the beginning pass you with ease at the end. Start slow – finish strong.
Over inflating your tyre
You’ll be amazed at how often cyclists make this mistake. The first kilometre or two of every sportive is studded with punctures from those that got too pumped at the start of the race. You’re right, people never learn. No, we don’t know why either.
Pushing your heart rate early in the race will force your body to eat into its glycogen reserves, leaving you with nothing for the final third of the event. It takes around 22 hours to replenish glycogen, so it can’t be done at a food stop. When your glycogen stores run out, you experience hypoglycaemia, otherwise known as Bonkville – population: you. If you’re still feeling good toward the end of the event, however, then feel free to surge like Gainsbourg.
Avoid climbing out of the saddle
To stay strong all day, try to stay in the saddle during climbs and spin away. This will put less stress on your legs, keep your cadence high, and avoid recruiting larger muscle groups that can sap your energy. Rely on good gear selection, and, if possible, ensure you have a cassette with a 28t sprocket, along with either a 34t or 36t small chainring at the front depending on your strength.
Look ahead and anticipate
Bikes don’t have brake lights, so make sure you stay on the look-out for signals or signs of braking at the front of a pack. There is often a delayed reaction as stopping or slowing at the front ripples through the bunch to those at the back, so stay alert.
Be prepared to see fallen cyclists
Falls and crashes are more common than you would think at sportives, so be keep your eyes and ears open and maintain a safe distance during taxing elements of the route, sharp bends, and fast descents.
Descend with care
There are two dangers here – aero-tucked experienced riders descending at blistering speeds, and the inexperienced hammering on the brakes during the down slope. Maintain a predictable and steady line through the descent and ensure you look ahead and behind.
Before setting off for your sportive destination, there are a few final checks you should make. The excitement of the day can distract you from remembering some pretty important stuff, so here’s a quick reminder of some of the common things forgotten by sportive entrants.
UK sportives generally ask for little more than your confirmation number, but other countries can require reams of admin from each entrant. In France, for example, you can be required to present a medical certificate with an accredited stamp from your GP stating you are fit to compete. Make sure you thoroughly check the organisers website for terms and conditions regarding entry.
Charge your electronic shifters
A common error by those lucky enough to be riding with electronic shifting groupsets is forgetting to charge their batteries, so whether you’re Shimano Di2, Sram eTap, or Campangolo EPS, make sure you batteries are brimming with charge.
Double check you have all necessary spares, tools, inner tubes, puncture repair and the like. See part 7 for a full list of items you need for the ride.
Last minute prep
Lube your chain, wash your bike, and ensure everything is running like clockwork. Check out the below video for a few last minute pointers.
Be in good time
Look up how to get to the start venue beforehand, and note where parking is if arriving by car. Check when registration takes place, as some are the day before, while small events begin registration in the morning of the event, so allow yourself plenty of time.
Check your equipment methodically
Lay out all your kit, equipment, and food, and methodically pack the night before, checking off everything as you go. Not only will this mean you don’t turn up without your inner tubes, but you’ll also sleep better knowing everything is present and correct.
Your sportive is complete and you feel fantastic, having sped across miles of beautiful countryside and pushed yourself harder than you thought possible – what a great feeling.
Book a hotel near the finish line
Facing a long drive or a horrible return ride back to a hotel is just not worth it. Find a hotel near the finish so you can shower and change before celebrating during the evening. Remember, the nearest town to the finish line will be packed with starved cyclists, so best to book a table in advance.
Pack your post-event kit bag
While your attention has been focused on your event kit, don’t forget to pack a comprehensive bag for after the event, including recovery drinks or bars, fresh clothes, and whatever else you may need.
If disaster strikes, or your preparations don’t translate into the performance you wanted, don’t be disheartened. Sometimes things don’t come together on the day, but your chances of the next event being successful have just increased. Make sure you focus on the positives and learn from any mistakes you might have made.
Every cyclist will tell you, the best thing to do after a poor sportive is to immediately book your next one and get back on that bike. See The Hub’s definitive sportive training guide: Part 1 for links to sportive events around the world, and good luck.