In part four of our definitive sportive training guide we’re going to look closely at the technical abilities and codes of conduct you’ll need when taking part in your upcoming event.
Participating in a sportive requires a new set of skills due to its unique combination of demands. These include riding in a bunch, tackling climbs, eating and drinking while on the move, and many more.
And if this is your first time riding with other cyclists, you also need to know the laws of the road when it comes to interacting with your fellow peloton pursuers.
There is no written rule book for road cycling, but there are many agreed good practice principals and common courtesies to which cyclists adhere, mostly observed in the interests of safety.
All these elements will be addressed in this instalment of the sportive training guide, with a bit of help from the experts at British Cycling. We’ll also help you avoid any fashion faux pas on the day with a look at some of this season’s best jerseys.
Cycling in a sportive is very different from your general weekend ride. You’ll probably find yourself in the middle of a large pack, tackling climbs at distances you’ve rarely encountered, while the distances will mean you’ll need to eat while in the saddle to avoid the dreaded bonk.
Negotiating such a combination of challenges requires a bit of extra know-how and practice, so let’s take a look at how you can appear pro out there among your cycling contemporaries.
Riding in a bunch
The main purpose of riding in a bunch is to take advantage of ‘drafting’.
Drafting is the practice of riding in the wake of another cyclist, using them as a shield against the oncoming air. It gives you a chance to maintain your pace while using less energy, making it a technique well worth perfecting.
The first thing to be aware of is that the duties of every group lead rider is shared among its members. If you wish to ride as part of a group, you’ll be involved in a rotating system, with each member taking their position at the front for around five minutes (depending on weather conditions) before filtering back into the bunch for an opportunity to regain your strength.
The most efficient formation for a large group is to ride side-by-side in pairs. Riding in close proximity to other riders poses a number of hazards, however. These include an obscured view of the road ahead, and the potential of riding into the back of the cyclist in front should they brake suddenly.
This has led to the development of a range of hand signals, many of which you’ll see during your sportive. The full range of gestures can be found in this short video from British Cycling.
Finally, watch out for standing out of the saddle to tackle a climb. During the transition from seated to standing, you can easily lose momentum, meaning you drop back into those behind you in the bunch, potentially causing a crash.
Riding rolling roads
Rolling roads are common on sportive courses and pose unique tests for the cyclist. Poor pacing and failing to take full advantage of declines can lead to burn out.
Take a look at this advice from British Cycling on how to handle rolling hills.
It’s very easy on rolling roads to push too hard without being aware of it and then struggling later on. With fresh legs, the temptation is to power over rises but each of these power spikes will accumulate fatigue in your legs.
Each of these hard, above threshold efforts, even if only 15-30 seconds long, will drain your energy resources. For long rides including rolling sections, try to ride evenly, keeping your output constant and effectively ‘flattening’ the road.
Keep the pressure on the pedals on the downside of rolling roads to carry more speed into the next rise. Shift down smoothly as the road starts to rise again, maintaining your cadence and power output.
Try to judge whether you’ll be able to ride the next rise without shifting chainring or whether its worth a surge to avoid a momentum-sapping shift into the smaller ring while halfway up. If you’re riding in a group, take your shifting cues from the riders ahead, especially if they’re local and know the roads.
Watch the wind
On open rolling roads, the wind is often a significant factor. In strong headwinds, sharing the workload in a group will make the riding easier. If you do find yourself on your own, holding a good aerodynamic ride position will help.
Get low and stretched out by either riding on your drops in a “sphinx position” with your hands hooked over the hoods. If you struggle to hold these positions for extended periods, work on them in training and build up gradually.
There are rules of behaviour in any large gathering, and sportives are no different. So to save you the trouble of learning the hard way, The Hub has assembled some of the widely accepted sportive dos and don’ts.
Be sure to keep good communication with your riding companions. Speak up clearly if you see a potential hazard.
Be sure to give enough space for those coming behind you while rotating in the group, allowing them to manoeuvre into position.
Don’t overlap the wheel in front – this is dangerous and perpetrators can expect a spectacular telling off for each infringement.
Blinking rear lights can be a migraine-inducing menace for following riders. Lights are best avoided altogether, but if you must, ensure the blinking function is switched off.
Sportives are a social event, so speak to riders as you pass, especially if they’re having a rough time of it. A few words of encouragement can be an important boost.
If you run into trouble with a mechanical failure or a puncture, don’t be afraid to ask other riders for assistance. Make sure you return the favour too.
Make sure you’re self-sufficient. Bring spare tubes, tools, and repair kit, at least.
Riding a sportive is about enjoying your surroundings, not ruining them. Keep your rubbish in your jersey pocket.
Avoid surprising other riders in your group, and don’t brake or steer in erratic ways. If you have to make a sudden move, indicate this to your fellow cyclists with a hand gesture and call.
As discussed above, you have to do your time in the wind. Whether you’re in a bunch or it’s just you and one other rider, make sure you move forward to take over point duties. This is a very common gaff, so don’t be that guy/gal.
You need to hear warning calls and be aware of your surroundings. That beloved Robbie Williams mega-mix will just have to languish at home.
There’s a time and a place for aero bars. The sportive is neither.
Don’t forget to bring enough water and energy bars or gels. A successful sportive is about being prepared, so don’t make this rookie error.
The difference some quality gear can make to your overall experience shouldn’t be underestimated.
Being part of a sportive is an exciting time, so embrace all it entails, including looking the part as a serious participant.
This is easily achieved with a top-quality cycling jersey (more on looking the part to come in future articles), which will bring with it a number of performance advantages, such as sweat-wicking technology, breathable fabrics, and an anti-chafing cut.
Have a look at some of the latest designs from Chain Reaction Cycles
The World Tour inspired Free AR 4.1 Jersey from Castelli is better than ever, with its aerodynamics saving you some 12 watts when riding at 40 km/h. The drag-reducing material is dimpled too, which means it wicks moisture away from your skin and is quick to dry.
With their Formula 1.0 Ultimate Jersey, Alé have pushed performance levels in a garment that represents quality and value.
Working great on its own to keep you cool in the summer heat or as a moisture-wicking base at other times in the year, the Rise Jersey from Craft is ergonomically designed to allow you to be at your best every time you’re in the saddle.
Don’t think for a moment this jersey is only about style. The Monument range features bodymapped fabric that keeps cooling airflow moving.
Everything in the jersey has been ergonomically designed for improved performance, from the ultrasonic seams that create less friction as your ride, to a close-fit collar that adds to the aero feel and even the pockets, which are made with Firm Hold Technology for improved support with less sagging and swaying.
Highly breathable and lightweight, the Morvelo Women’s Paisley Jersey is the perfect summer cycling accessory. The fit is close but comfortable and will suit any size and shape of rider.
An aero fit that doesn’t scrimp on comfort, the Women’s Formula 1.0 Sinousa Jersey puts you in the driving seat for improved performance during the summer months.
The heathered fabric lends an elegant look to the jersey but that belies it’s excellent performance. The fabric is super soft to the touch with excellent stretch for a comfortable fit.
Redesigned for 2018, dhb’s Aeron Womens Speed Short Sleeve is a valuable addition for any competitive rider.