Having now completed a number of sportives - I often think back to my first event last year, the "Ride the Route" event, a celebration of the Olympic route. I turned up at the event HQ at 6AM - no gels, no route map, an untested hand pump, a bottle of Evian and more than a little nervous ! ! ! My second event was little better - pockets stuffed with sandwiches, flap jacks and enough clothing to cover all eventualities (I even carried spare cleats).
I am reminded of this occasion now - as I prepare for the upcoming Cycling Weekly Dorking sportive and have jotted down a few notes and reminders that may come in useful - any addendums to the list will be greatly appreciated. I generally try to split the Sportive in to four parts: Build Up, The Day Before, The Event, and Post Event.
For many of us - riding in a sportive gives us a unique opportunity to practice certain skills - including riding up and down hills, ride with large groups of other riders and eating/drinking mid-ride. For these reasons - it is important that you are as comfortable as possible on your bike and at ease with your bike handling skills. Try to get out on your bike as much as possible so during your event you have confidence in your ability and your fitness. Pay particular attention to cornering and any hill climbing/descending.
As well as riding the bike - you may also be required to perform some rudimentary repairs of your bike. It is a good skill to be proficient at repairing or replacing inner tubes. In my experience - there is no end of offers for support and assistance and sportives are very friendly environments - but it is always useful to be able to perform roadside maintenance oneself.
Ensure that you have a puncture repair kit, spare inner tube(s), pump and tyre levers. Multi-tools with Allen keys and wrenches are also handy as are cable ties and rubber gloves for those who are squeamish about getting oil under their nails. If possible attach as much as these to the bike as you can - this may mean investing in a pump holder and a saddle bag, otherwise the rear pockets of a cycling jersey are good to cram things in.
It is highly likely that you will need some kind of refuelling on the sportive. My preference is to carry two water bottles - one filled with a carbohydrate drink and one with plain water. Ensure that the water bottles are in good working order and the seals are ok - I once pulled out a trusty well-used water bottle on a cold day to take a slug - and ended up covering myself in freezing cold water.
I also like to carry my preferred gels and maybe a peanut butter sandwich for the start of the ride. Fuel stations on route may stock two types of food - "eat me now foods" such as flapjacks, cakes and sweets and "take me with you" foods - such as gels. They generally also have provision for water and energy drink. It is prudent to try anything that you are likely to consume on the ride during the build up period to ensure that it all agrees with you and your tummy. Event organisers generally announce the type and brand of energy gels, bars and drinks that the food stations will be providing so it should be possible to try these in advance.
Knowledge of the route is always handy as is a route profile with feed stations clearly marked so that you have some idea of the terrain and what lies ahead. I like to print out a profile - mark out the feed stations and generally keep in my head where the hills are and what time I should be hitting each hill. It's also nice to see how far away you are from your next flap jack!
The Day Before
One Golden Rule - DONT CHANGE ANYTHING (caveat - unless you really, really need to). Don't adjust the saddle, don't decide to fit a new pedal type, don't change the gear/brake cables etc. If it doesn't need changing - then don't change it ! ! ! Clearly - during the build up - keep an eye on things like brake blocks and tyre wear - it is preferable to swap out worn parts on the build up rather than immediately before the event.
Many a Monday morning bad back/knee has been born from a well meaning late in the day saddle adjustment or cleat re-alignment.
Ensure that water bottles are washed and gels/powders are prepared. Lay out your clothing so that you can get up, changed and out without waking the rest of the house. Wandering around the house at 06:00 on a Sunday morning semi clad in lycra looking for arm warmers is no way to win friends and influence household members!
If you have a camera/lights and a GPS ensure that everything is charged. Check the location of the event HQ the route/train times and always check the weather.
The evening before a long ride - I like to eat a pasta meal. I know some people who accompany this meal with a beer under the auspices that beer has a high carbohydrate content. It may be a idea to lay clothing out - from shoes to helmet - to see that everything is ready to go.
My own routine involves heating some porridge - filling up the water bottles and mixing up the drink. I like to organise my rear pockets so that gels are in one pocket, phone/keys/wallet/cards/ID in another (preferably with a zip) and camera in another. Once again - try to eat things that you are comfortable with and that you know will not upset your body.
Arrive at the HQ relaxed - check the tyre pressures and ensure your clothing is comfortable and gels etc easily accessible.
Listen to the ride briefing - I neglected to do this thoroughly once - and paid a painful price. Enjoy the day, take in the scenery and above all - try to talk to other riders and make friends. Find a pace that suits you. I personally try and approach each sportive with a plan and some kind of time in mind - for the Etape du Tour - I printed out the profile marked feed stations and timing schedules as the Etape has particularly aggressive Broom Wagon timetable.
Do not be put off by speed merchants who fly past you - more often than not you will see them again at some point later on in the ride.
A nice cup of coffee - a protein shake and tell everyone what a great day you had ! ! It's always nice to know that you have expended a great deal of energy and burnt a lot of calories - these will need replacing - so do not feel guilty about tucking in to an extra slice of cake when you get home.
Onwards To Dorking
A cursory look at the route profile for this Sunday's Cycling weekly sportive in Dorking does not leave much to the imagination. A short climb up Ranmore Hill right at the start will spread the field out. Will those who set out eager on this punchy start, have enough in the tank to tackle Box Hill later in the day - not to mention the short punchy climb of White Down? The climbs of Leith Hill and Box Hill also offer a challenge - but my own particular bogey men are definitely Ranmore and White Down.
With my recent experience of a terrific fall at Biggin Hill in mind - I have earmarked two descents to take particular care on. The descent of Ranmore Hill leading to Box Hill towards the end of the ride - is a steep country road with a T-junction and a right hand turn. Also - Pebble Hill coming down from Box Hill offers a challenge- a steep descent - but with a level crossing at the bottom. All descents are likely to be leafy - so the surface could be slippery - particularly if there is any recent rain. Riders beware ! ! !
The ascent of Box Hill is undoubtedly the highlight of the day - and should be enjoyed. Hopefully the Olympic rings will still be on show - and the views over Surrey - this time of year will be beautiful.
I am looking forward to this event and I’m thrilled that it is well attended -even legend Chris Boardman is chomping at the bit. Let's all hope for a lovely autumnal day and some spectacular views.