Sign up for a Sportive

Sign up for a Sportive (thats a fancy name for a bike race) to stay motivated and improve your fitness.

One of the best ways to keep yourself motivated and indulge your new-found love of riding is to set yourself a goal, and one of the simplest things for a cyclist to target is a significant distance.

Depending on your fitness level, that can be anything from 50 up to 150 kilometerss – anything that you realistically believe you can achieve in a set amount of time.

Whether you opt to ride your target distance on your own, enter a mass-participation sportive or take part in a charity challenge, one thing’s for sure – you need to train, and train in the right way. Below are lists of guidelines to follow that will hopefully help you in your quest to conquer your first big event.

Set your goal

First off, choose your event. Be realistic: if you took up cycling only a couple of months ago, don’t enter a monster slog through the French Alps. Challenging, yes; sensible, no.

Then think about exactly what you want to achieve on your ride. Are you completing, competing or conquering? Again, be reasonable. Set an impossible aim and you’ll soon lose motivation. Once you have your goal sorted, write it down and put it in your wallet, next to your computer, on the dashboard or fridge door - anywhere that you’ll see it often enough to help keep you focused.

Get long rides in

We all miss occasional planned rides, but even if you can’t do high mileage outings all the time, don’t miss the long rides at the heart of your training – they’re vital. Bad weather? Go out anyway; you could get bad weather on event day. Bike broken? Fix it, or get your bike shop to sort it – and learn how you could have solved the problem out on the road. Long rides are when your body gets used to handling the demands you face on the big day; they help you learn to draw on your fuel reserves more efficiently, and they get your head prepared for long, gruelling efforts.

Develop technique

Get used to incorporating technique work into your general rides, as well as devoting regular sessions to improving your skills. Find a long, winding hill and time yourself down it over several runs, looking to get quicker by laying off the brakes, leaning into the corners and learning when to put the power back on. Be careful – do this with a riding mate and only on quiet roads where you can easily see any approaching traffic. And don’t think that you can make up for poor climbing by flying downhill. Sheltering from the wind in a group saves you masses of power output from your legs and will improve your sportive finishing time, but it doesn’t necessarily come easily – there are tactics to learn here too, so practise in regular group rides and local road races. The more comfortable you are riding in close formation, the more time you can save.

Take breaks

You don’t get fitter when you’re riding, you get fitter when you recover afterwards, which is why you need to have at least one day without exercise every week, or more if you over-stretch yourself, plus an easy week each month.

Become fuel efficient

You need to drink when you ride to replace the water you sweat and breathe out, but for longer training rides and during the event itself you must use drinks to help provide fuel. Suffering ‘bonk’ – when your body can’t get the energy it needs and refuses to cooperate any further – is very bad news. For both training and the big ride, it’s key to go for a drink that you really enjoy the taste of – that way you’re far more likely to drink enough. Drink plenty before you go out on your bike so that you start off fully hydrated, and continue drinking afterwards – a little and often – to aid recovery. If you’ve trained for over an hour, make it a carb drink. Don’t wait until you feel really thirsty – that’s a bad gauge of need.

You should consume at least 1g of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight for every hour of riding. This can be in the form of carb-electrolyte drinks, gels, bars, solid food, or a mix of these. But your needs could be different from the norm so it’s important to experiment in training. That way you’ll be able to tell exactly what you can tolerate and what you need with you on the day. If riding an event, find out what food and drink will be available and at what points along the route. If you can’t stomach the energy drink on offer, take your own sachets. If you get sick of sweet stuff, check there’ll be something savoury for you to grab, or carry it with you.