From sportives to road racing or even just a personal challenge that you have in mind, what’s obvious is that as cyclists we’re a competitive bunch – sometimes against ourselves and sometimes against others. Whatever your motivation it’s important to ensure that aside from the right planning and preparation the challenge itself is right for you and your ability as a rider.
Whatever your motivation it’s important to ensure that aside from the right planning and preparation the challenge itself is right for you and your ability as a rider.
There’s no point biting off a chunk of the hardest sportive in Europe in January as a goal only to find out it’s more than you can chew come July, so it’s important to find the right event that brings fulfillment and satisfaction to your life as opposed to sleepless nights and possible failure. Here we take a look at five factors to consider when choosing your next event.
Severity of Course
Understand your ability as a rider and look for a realistic challenge that will test your limits but one that is attainable if you put the right amount of work in. If you’re new to sportives then don’t get carried away and brainwashed by the word “epic” on the entry form. It may seem like a wonderful idea at the time but remember the further you are from home the longer it’ll take to get back should the circles you were effortlessly turning at the start suddenly turn to squares mid ride.
If you’re new to sportives then don’t get carried away and brainwashed by the word “epic” on the entry form.
Look at all the elements that make up the ride including what options the organiser may offer to cater for all abilities. Check the amount of elevation for each and decide what is the most suitable based on your level of fitness and experience. As a rule of thumb a mountain stage of the Tour de France will have around 4,000 metres of climbing so use this as a benchmark when making a decision.
Check the amount of elevation for each and decide what is the most suitable based on your level of fitness and experience. As a rule of thumb a mountain stage of the Tour de France will have around 4,000 metres of climbing.
Research the course, the climbs, where it’s possible to fill bottles or stop for food. Although riding the route in advance will undoubtedly help, in practical terms familiarising yourself with the event may come down to speaking to riders with past experience or seeking information online. If it’s the lure of the mountains and a European sportive that’s your goal then Cyclefilm’s series of recon videos may be of help.
Whilst it can be all too tempting to opt for the longest distance in an attempt to gain bragging rights amongst your peers, be sensible and look to match distance with what’s realistic in terms of an achievement, where you are with your training and how long you have to prepare.
For the most part you may be training alone which means you seldom have anyone to share the workload with or face the wind whilst you try to recover. Take this into consideration and remember that riding efficiently and saving energy in the bunch will mean that you may be able to step up a level in distance than you’re normally used to. For example, if your goal is to conquer a century ride then make sure that your training builds up to regular 70 mile solo rides. Smart riding, adrenaline and courage on the day will all help you go the extra distance.
Smart riding, adrenaline and courage on the day will all help you go the extra distance.
One guarantee with the weather is that there are no guarantees with the weather, it’s as simple as that! An oversight here can be the difference between success or being swept up early by the broom wagon. However, with the right planning you should be able to overcome the elements to achieve your goal.
Keep an eye on the forecast especially the week, and immediate days, before the event. If you’re going to be in the mountains then remember that the weather can change in a moment. 30 degrees C and sunny in the valley can turn to wind and sleet by the summit faster than you can get your rain cape and gloves on (the same kit you thought you’d have no use for at the start of the day).
Pack kit for all conditions, it’s better to have something available but not use it than be caught out as mother nature takes control.
Pack kit for all conditions, it’s better to have something available but not use it than be caught out as mother nature takes control. Likewise, remember that your nutrition strategy should suit the conditions. You may find that you’re a lot hungrier if it’s colder than you thought or that your fluid intake far greater in the summer heat so think about both in advance and be ready.
Time to Prepare
Winter is the perfect time to lay the foundations of fitness and plan the season ahead. Use this time wisely to build gradually towards your goal, setting markers along the way to keep track of where you are with your preparation. Don’t be afraid to reassess things if need be, juggling work, family and training commitments is a process that should be fulfilling and fun not a daily chore. Be realistic with your time and commit to a structured approach for your event. You’ll find in doing this you’ll be more disciplined with your training and efficient with your time.
Test your kit thoroughly under similar conditions that you may experience during your event. Your favourite kit may be great for a two hour post-work ride but could throw up some surprises when you’re in it for twice the time or more.
Use this period to test your kit thoroughly under similar conditions that you may experience during your event. Your favourite kit may be great for a two hour post-work ride but could throw up some surprises when you’re in it for twice the time or more. The same goes for nutrition, get used to what works best for your body well in advance and don’t change your tried and tested methods on the day when you find an unfamiliar gel, bar or energy drink sachet lurking in the bottom of your sign on goody bag.
With all the miles you’re putting in, remember to keep an eye on wear and tear of your equipment too. Service your bike 2-3 weeks before the event to allow yourself enough time to check everything is working as it should be. The last thing you need is a mechanical failure on the day to scupper all of your hard work.
It’s likely that the event itself will place a considerable amount of physical and mental stress on your body so it’s important to be organised and make sure you have everything under control to avoid adding to this. Easier said than done I know but by looking at each area in advance you’ll be able to limit this as much as possible. How far away is the event? Can I drive or do I need to fly? What about car hire, hotels, restaurants, what time can I get breakfast from and, most importantly, where am I going to keep my bike overnight?
Once again it all comes down to advanced planning. Make sure that you give yourself enough time to recover from your travel, check the bike over and take it for a spin whilst loosening the legs up. If it’s a mass participation event then book a table for dinner at your hotel or nearby restaurant instead of taking the chance and rolling up on the night only to find everywhere is full just as your stomach starts to grumble ‘you idiot’.
Don’t leave anything to chance. Go through your own check list, align all the pieces and you’ll sleep much easier.
Don’t underestimate how tired you may feel after the event and consider your options for the return journey to account for this. Start your recovery process as soon as you step off the bike by having food and drink available at the finish. If you’re booking through one of the official operators for the event then some of these things may already be taken care of. Don’t leave anything to chance though. Go through your own check list, align all the pieces and you’ll sleep much easier.
Good luck in choosing and working towards your next event. If you need any more advice then feel free to contact me directly on Twitter @cottydale and I’ll do my best to help more.
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