Knowledge Level: Beginner
If you have been focusing on a target event, you want to put in the best performance you possibly can on the big day. Although unavoidable bad luck can befall us all, if you adopt the British Cycling and Team Sky approach of “controlling the controllables” you can certainly significantly improve your chances of not just finishing but finishing to the best of your ability. Guard yourself against disappointment or a ride in the broom wagon by avoiding these top ten common mistakes.
Setting realistic sportive goals that reflect what you have achieved in training is essential. Although you don’t necessarily have needed to have completed the event distance in training, you should have ridden close to it, have done so fairly comfortably and at a pace and over similar terrain to your target event.
You should have trained consistently in the build-up to the event and, at the very least, if you already have a decent fitness base, completed a plan similar to our seven week panic plan before tackling a 100km sportive. Ideally though, you should have a solid winter’s training behind you and, especially if you’re a novice rider, a full 25-week structured plan, like our beginner’s plan, is the preparation you should have undertaken.
For longer or more arduous events, skimping on training is definitely a recipe for a poor result, not finishing or at least a long day suffering in the saddle. There are always stories of riders successfully winging an event on minimal training but these are always a tiny minority compared to the ill advised epic failures of under prepared cyclists.
Be honest with yourself about the training you’ve done and if you haven’t put in the kilometres, consider postponing your sportive challenge and targeting an event later in the year.
Unrealistic or poor pacing
Your training will have taught you the pace and intensity that you’re able to sustain on the bike. Heart rate and power provide an objective and reliable measure of intensity and either or a combination of both should be used to pace your sportive. Don’t expect a miracle event day boost and, right from the start of the ride, stick to the heart rate or power zones you established in training.
If you’re riding with mates or find yourself in a group of stronger riders, if you’re being pushed out of your target zones, don’t thrash yourself trying to stay on their wheels. Sit-up, ride at your own pace that you know you can sustain and wait for a group more suited to your ability to come along.
As with pacing, your fuelling strategy for pre, during and after long rides is something that you should have practiced, refined and nailed down in training.
Stick to your plan religiously, don’t do anything different and, if you’re unsure what food will be available at feed stations or haven’t been able to try the products on offer in training, plan to be self-sufficient.
Pacing and fuelling are intrinsically linked so, if you push harder than you’re used to, your fuelling strategy will probably fail. This will leave you feeling boated, unable to stomach food and potentially with gastric distress.
Keeping well hydrated is not just essential on hot rides but also on the coldest winter day. Again, training is the time to determine your hydration needs and to experiment with which drink mixes and concentrations work best for you. Event day is not the time to try new products so, consider making up measured doses that you can simply add to the water supplied at feed stations.
If you’ve trained really hard for a specific event, you don’t want your bike to let you down on the big day. If you’re mechanically gifted, give it a complete overhaul in the lead up to the event or, if you’re not confident in your own skills, book it in with your local bike shop a couple of weeks before the sportive. Don’t leave it until the last minute as they may need to order in some parts and any new cables will also need some time to bed in. Give it a thorough clean before you travel to the event, check all bolts are properly tightened, ideally with a torque wrench if you have a carbon frame or components, and that chain, cables and pivots are properly lubricated.
As well as taking these precautionary steps to avoid punctures, carry spare tubes, levers, pump/CO2 inflator and know how to use them. Also, make sure you have a decent multi-tool that has a chain-tool and that you have a “quick link” that is compatible with your chain. Work through this checklists of the basics you should carry on every ride.
Unwise clothing choices
It’s always better to have too much spare clothing rather than too little, especially if your sportive takes in mountainous or upland roads. A sweltering day in the valleys can easily be freezing up high and getting chilled on a long descent can easily end your ride. At the very least always carry a windproof gilet but, with modern wind and waterproof jackets packing down so small and weighing so little, consider carrying something slightly more substantial. Arm and leg/knee warmers are great on mixed days and for cool early morning starts and a pair of full finger gloves and a windproof beanie for under your helmet can make a real difference when descending.
Don’t rely completely on the route being 100% correctly way-marked. Route markings are sometimes tampered with or removed and, when riding hard, it can be easy to miss a turn. Study the route beforehand, print out a map as back-up, make some key turn instructions to tape to your stem and, if available, download a .gpx file onto your GPS device or mobile phone. Make sure you attend and listen to the pre-event briefing, pay particular attention to any last minute route alterations and make sure you know what colour route markers you’re following. Many sportives have different markers for different length routes and, in popular riding areas, signs for other previous events may have been left up. Finally, don’t just mindlessly follow the rider ahead or the group you’re in. Keep a keen eye on the road ahead and constantly cross reference with information you have. If something doesn’t quite tally, don’t just carry on riding, stop and check it out.
Some crashes simply can’t be avoided but you can certainly lower your risk by riding appropriately to the conditions, ensuring your bike is well maintained and set-up correctly and by possessing good bike handling and group riding skills.
If the weather or road conditions are poor, adjust your goals for the ride accordingly and ride within the limits of your ability. This especially applies to descending as it’s always better to back off slightly and get down safely than risk all in pursuit of a minute or two.
When performing your pre-ride bike checks, pay particular attention to your brakes, especially brake blocks, tyre pressure and wear and that your gears are not slipping.
Event day nerves
Some nerves the night before and on the morning of an event aren’t a bad thing but you need to ensure they don’t impact of your final preparations. The best way to do this is to try and make sure that all your kit, equipment and food is checked, laid out and methodically packed the night before the event. Work logically through the list and go to bed reassured that everything is packed and ready to go.
Don’t stress if you have trouble sleeping, studies have shown that a single poor night’s sleep has little, if any, effect on physical performance the following day. Give yourself plenty of time in the morning and go through exactly the same routine as you would before a long training ride. Have confidence in the training you’ve done and avoid getting sucked into nervous pre-ride “who’s done how many miles” conversations with other riders.
Not making the start line
Not starting is the easiest way to not finish and, although reasons such as illness or a family emergency can’t be avoided, many non-starts are down to poor logistical preparations. Follow all the tips above about minimising nerves, give yourself plenty of time if travelling on the morning of the event, set a couple of alarms or, if you’re planning on staying over near to the event, book your accommodation plenty of time in advance. Avoid nervous start line fiddling with your bike, the last thing you need is a stripped seat-clamp bolt five minutes before the off and, if you’re riding with friends who you know are slightly chaotic in their preparations, just look after yourself and roll off when you’re ready.
If it still doesn’t go to plan
You could follow all of the above to the letter and, due to some uncontrollable factor, still not have the ride you were hoping for. If this happens, take any positives, you may still have got a decent training ride in, learn from any mistakes you did make, honestly re-appraise your pre-event expectations and move on. The sportive calendar is packed with events so, as long as you’re not injured, you’ll be able to find one to replace your ride that went wrong.