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If you’re riding a sportive with us, we want to use our experience to help you with your ride when the big day arrives. So we spoke to our Cycling Ambassador and the author of the 100 Greatest climbs books, Simon Warren to find out what crucial information you need to consider in preparation for your sportive. Simon is a vastly experienced rider, who as the title of the books suggest has completed hundreds of the world’s greatest climbs, so it’s fair to say he knows a thing or two about riding iconic climbs. So over to you Simon…
“It’s very unlikely that if you’ve entered a big sportive that it will be your first event and if so you will already have a decent degree of fitness and competency on two wheels. Hopefully you’ve been riding, or training regularly and your body is in good shape so let’s look at what else you can do to make your big day a success. First thing I would do is enter a trial event of a similar length and comparable altitude gain. Of course you can’t replicate an Etape du Tour in the UK, we have no 25 kilometre long mountains but you can replicated a long day in the saddle under ‘event’ conditions to see how you cope. I’d plan this if possible two/three weekends prior to your objective which is close enough to measure form but not too close to leave you fatigued. The reasons for a trial run are the same theatre shows have dress rehearsals, it’s to run through everything you will do on the day so there are no surprises.
” If you have to ride 100 miles it’s good to know the body is capable of covering the distance, it’s like installing a mental insurance policy you can refer to if you get into trouble in the later stages.”
This test event will also let you practice your pacing. Although I ride every sportive as if I’m being chased by a pack of wild dogs, this doesn’t mean you have to, but if you want to ride hard then you need to know what pace you can sustain for a long period. You will have an idea of this from training but placed in a ‘competitive’ environment riding within groups of varying sizes is very different to bashing out miles on your own. In your test event I’d suggest throwing caution to the wind a little and pushing a touch harder early on, just to see if you survive. If you blow after 30 miles then you will know you’re not ready for this, however if you are still feeling good after 80 miles then you know you are fitter than you thought. This will give you the confidence to then ride hard, or the knowledge to be conservative with your effort.
Next, use your test event to work out what and how often you need to eat and drink. If you’ve seen some new gels in the bike shop and want to try them out then this is the time. You don’t want to be testing a new product half way up a mountain only to discover it tastes like venom and for it to produce an involuntary gag reaction. You want to look forward to your energy supplies and know how they will fuel you. Also the test event is when you pack your pockets with gels to see how many you A actually need, and B, can actually consume before you get sick of them. There is no point in riding up a mountain with a kilo of sugar in your pockets if you’re going to carry it around all the way to the finish.
Finally, test your clothing. This isn’t as complex as fueling or pacing but it’s essential you are comfortable and have an option for a wet or dry event that you feel and of course look your best in.
So, you’re fit, you know you can last the distance, you know what you’ll be taking to eat and what you will be wearing, now is time to study the route, carefully. Many years ago I was in a car of mates heading down the Alps to ride the Marmotte when one member of our party asked.
“What’s the climb like?”
We turned round. “THE climb?”
“Yes, Alpe d’Huez, how hard is it?”
“You do know there are four giant mountains on the route don’t you?”
“No!” Came his shocked reply as the colour drained from his face – he had no idea.
“So let this be a lesson, look at the course, study it, cross reference it with Strava to see how long people are taking to climb the big climbs so you are totally mentally prepared for what lies ahead.”
We are now onto a week to go and although I’ve never mastered the art of tapering you want to have an easy week. Not a week off the bike but just gentle rides maybe with a few very short efforts thrown in to keep you sharp. It’s far more important you arrive fresh and ready to go then knackered from doing too much. During this week every day you wake up you will convince yourself you are ill and dying of the flu. You are not ill, you are anxious. You don’t have a cold, or worse, but if you keep thinking you have then you will make yourself ill (At least that’s what my mum would always tell me). However, to make sure, I would recommend avoiding the following: Public transport, swimming pools, lifts, bars, cinemas, schools, work, friends and your family. Just to be sure.
Now if you can, and I know full well that days away from home are a luxury, travel two days prior to the event so you have one clear day to rest and ride the stiffness of the journey out of your legs. This your special day to eat, clean your bike, hang out at a cafe with your mates, watch some cycling on TV and basically do all the things you feel guilty doing at home when the family are waiting for you.
The night before the event, eat, plenty, don’t order double lasagna like I did once because you’ll be awake all night with stomach ache, just eat plenty of good food, carbs and protein, and stick to ONE BEER. Back in your room lay your kit out ready, pockets packed and make sure your bike is 100% ready with your number attached neatly making sure it doesn’t dig into your hands on the tops of the bars. Then set your alarm. The pro’s always say eat three hours before the race, well, this will likely mean getting up at 3 am so I wouldn’t bother with that, just work out how long it will take to dress, eat and importantly get to the start at your allotted time. No need to go to bed extra early, you won’t sleep anyway, you’ll be up every 15 mins checking your phone to see if it’s time to go.
In the morning, stick to your plan. Don’t worry that people are heading to the start before it’s even light, they will just get cold. If you have it all worked out just relax and do your thing. Destroy the breakfast buffet, pack a little sandwich up if you want something savoury in your pocket then make sure you go to the toilet at least three times. There is no need for apprehension, or nerves, none at all, you are doing what you love, most likely in an amazing setting surrounded by 1000’s of people who love the same thing as you, just enjoy it and of course push your body until it breaks!
I’ll see you in the mountains.
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