Everything you need to conquer your first Cycling Sportive

26th October 2020

Well done!

If you are reading this then you have either just signed up to your first Sportive, or you are seriously considering signing up.

Arrived here by accident?!? Then read our guide on which Cycling Event is right for you.

This guide is going to get you ready to dominate, conquer, smash, <insert other winning adjective here> your first Sportive.

We are going to cover choosing a sportive (skip this if you already have), the kit you will need, training and nutrition.

So what are you waiting for, dive right in… oh and don’t forget to leave a comment at the end with your best tips for others tackling their first sportive.

Use the links below to skip sections:

 

Chapter 1

Choosing your first Sportive using the Goldilocks technique - not too short, not too long

Choosing your first Sportive

 

Goldilocks knew what she liked… not too hot, not too cold.

Let’s apply that same principle to choosing your first Sportive.
 

 

But first, sit back, relax and have a think about why you are doing this… is it to challenge yourself, is it to prove a point or maybe to raise money for charity?

Choose your reason and get it focused in your mind and let's start our journey...

You probably want it to be a bit of a challenge so the simple rule of thumb is to choose something a bit harder than you might normally do already.

For example, if you regularly do 50km rides at the weekend, why not look to do something around 80km in length?

Normally ride on the flat? Try a hilly one!

Depending upon where you live, you might not be that used to hills, so again choose something where the elevation is a little bit higher than what you are used to for a bit of a challenge.

Here are some other key considerations:

  • Location - pick something close by as extra travel just adds another dimension of worry! 
     
  • Friends - why not try and get some friends to do it with you… all the training will be much easier if there is a group of you!
     
  • When is it / the weather - aim to choose something spring, summer or autumn where there is more chance of better weather. 


So how do you actually find something that meets all of the above criteria?

Easy - Wheelie Good Tours.

Our search feature allows you to look through ~200 Cycling Sportives to find what’s right for you.

You can filter by date, location and route distance but unfortunately not the weather!

Here’s how:

  1. Visit https://www.wheeliegoodtours.com/cycling-events
  2. There are two main ways to search
    1. Use the map at the top and fly around looking at all the events near you
    2. Use the filters on the left-hand side to filter by date, route distance, bike type and more...
  3. Click through to find out more details and sign up on the organisers website

 

Chapter 2

What equipment you absolutely must have and what’s a nice to have

Equipment for your first Sportive

 

This is a big topic, worthy of a full guide in it’s own right (good idea - coming soon).

However, here’s the lowdown on what you must have and what would be nice to have.

 

TIP: Click here to register for free in less than 2 minutes with WheelieGoodTours and get a downloadable checklist of this kit list!

 

Must Have

A Bike!

Goes without saying really, but which type of bike, that is the question!

Most sportives are best suited for bikes that like the fast open road i.e. proper road bikes, but for shorter distances you can get away with bikes suited more to leisure rides.

TIP: use the search filters on our events page to look by bike type to find an event that matches what bike you currently have, saving you money!

Equal to actually having a bike is having one that is road-worthy and well maintained. Check out the links below to give you some idea of the kinds of maintenance activity you should be doing on your bike.

Cost: Anywhere from £0 to £1000 for your first event

Useful further reading:


 

Helmet

Pretty much any Sportive worth entering will require you to wear a helmet so please do!

Make sure it's tested to European CE EN1078 and bought from a reputable retailer.

Everyone has a differently shaped head so some helmets will feel comfier than others - worth going into a bike shop and trying some on!

Also think about getting a hot head, not because you are angry, but from all that cycling… the vents in the helmet will help get some cooling area onto your head.

Cost: Anywhere from £30 to £60 for your first event

Useful further reading: https://guides.wiggle.co.uk/how-choose-perfect-cycling-helmet

 

Shoes (to match your pedals)

If you want to take your event seriously then its worth investing in some proper cycling shoes with the appropriate cleats to fit your pedals.

Cleats are plastic or metal attachments to the underside of your shoes which actually slot into the appropriate pedals and mean you are connected to the bike, allowing more energy transfer from your legs to the bike and into speed on the road.

As with most of these recommendations its worth checking into your local bike shop before making a decision as there are multiple different cleat/pedal systems and correct setup is important to avoid injury.

You could probably get away with the normal flat pedals and gym trainers, but this is an area that with a little bit of financial investment you can get a significant and easy improvement to your overall speed and comfort on the bike.

Cost: Anywhere from £60 to £100 for your first event

Useful further reading: https://guides.wiggle.co.uk/cycle-shoes-buying-guide

 

A good set of bib shorts/tights (temperature dependent!)

Spending hours on your bike means it's important to protect the key contact point - your bum!

Cycling-specific bib shorts or tights have two features useful for cycling: a large padded area covering your bum and extended material to go over your shoulders meaning they won’t slip off or move around on your ride.

Choose shorts for events likely to be in warmer weather and the tights option for those colder events.

Cost: Anywhere from £30 to £80 for your first event

Useful further reading: https://guides.wiggle.co.uk/bib-shorts-buying-guide

 

Gloves

Another key contact point with the bike is your hands, and don’t think gloves are only useful for when the weather is cold.

A good pair of gloves will dampen the vibration from the road reaching your arms, shoulders and neck as well as protect you in the event of a crash.

Fingerless or full-fingered will depend on your preference and the expected temperature.

Cost: Anywhere from £15 to £50 for your first event

 

Cycling Socks

The final key contact point with the bike is your feet and cycling specific socks will be a cheap addition to your wardrobe providing comfort and heat management - nothing worse than sweaty feet!

Cost: Anywhere from £5 to £10 for your first event

 

Cycling Jersey

Another cycling-specific clothing item worth investing in, a good jersey will help wick away the sweat from your body keeping you cool throughout the ride.

Most will also come with 2-3 pockets on the back, perfect for keeping your tools and food during the event.

There are short-sleeve and long-sleeve options which will depend on the expected temperature at event time.

Cost: Anywhere from £30 to £50 for your first event

Useful further reading: https://guides.wiggle.co.uk/how-choose-your-perfect-cycling-jersey

 

Lightweight Rain Jacket

We said earlier on to try and pick an event where the weather should be nicer… but we know that nothing is guaranteed!

So, picking out a lightweight rain jacket that you can store in your jersey pocket at all times will give you piece of mind.

Cost: Anywhere from £30 to £80 for your first event

 

Maintenance Tools

Knowing how to do basic maintenance on your bike is important as even though a lot of sportives have some level of mechanical support, you don’t want to be waiting around for help when you can do these basic elements yourself in less than 10 minutes.

We think the two key skills you need to be able to do yourself are (see links below for how to actually do these):

  • Repair/replace a punctured tyre
  • Adjust various items on the bike including seatpost height


And to do that it’s key to have the following items stashed in your Jersey pockets (or in a small bag that sits under your saddle to store all these items, see the "nice to have" section):

  • Mini pump - make sure it has the appropriate attachments for the different tube valve types. Your inner tube will be either Presta or Schrader and the pumps are often able to service both meaning no adapter is required.
  • Spare inner tubes - make sure they match your tyre size. Easiest way to know what’s right is to look at the markings on the outside of the tyre where it will say something like “25-622” and/or “700x25c”. Match these codes up with the inner tube packaging and pack 2 of them!
  • Tyre levers - you will need these to get the tyre partially off the wheel before replacing a punctured inner tube. They come as a set of two and can often be found for free on the front of cycling magazines.
  • Multi-tool - like a swiss army knife for Cyclists this item contains miniature versions of the most regularly used bike tools including Allen Keys, screwdrivers and more.


Cost: Anywhere from £0 to £50 for your first event

Useful further reading:

 

Suncream

Hopefully you are blessed with sunshine all throughout your training and on the day of your event… if so, you will need suncream!

It’s important to choose a brand suitable for sport as you will be sweating a lot and need to ensure that the applied suncream doesn’t drip and run or get in your eyes… nothing worse than suncream in your eyes!

Cost: Anywhere from £5 to £20 for your first event

 

Drinks and Food

We are going to talk more about nutrition shortly but the key thing is that whatever you decide, you bring it with you on the day!

For drinks, we would recommend carrying two 750ml or large bottles on the bike in appropriate bottle cages - most bikes have space for two.

For food, we recommend carrying this in your jersey top, using the pockets at the back.

Cost: Anywhere from £5 to £20 for your first event

 

Bike Computer

A bike computer is useful for measuring your current and average speed plus the distance travelled so far.

Also it will have a clock so you can keep an eye on any relevant cut-off times (organisers sometimes put cut-off times in which if you don’t meet then the race is over for you, for safety reasons).

I would choose something like the CatEye Grey Velo 7 Wired road bike computer as its cheap, has all the right functions and is easy to setup:

Cost: Anywhere from £5 to £30 for your first event

Where to buy: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Cycling-Computers/b?ie=UTF8&node=550013011

 

Chamois Cream

Cream to help stop the chafing! Apply on areas likely to chafe i.e. your bottom, groin and between your legs and it should help keep you comfortable throughout the ride.

Cost: Anywhere from £10 to £15 for your first event

 

Protective Case for your mobile phone, money, car keys etc...

An easy one to forget, but we recommend you carry your keys, mobile phone and some cash and a bank card plus a form of ID with you on the event.

The other thing to remember is a way of showing emergency contact details in the event of an incident. The event organisers will already have this, but consider some basic piece of card with a contact name and phone number on.

It’s a good idea then to have some kind of case for these items to both keep them all together and also protect them from any rain!

Options range from a kids pencil case (yes really) through to dedicated waterproof pockets.

Also important to remember to store the appropriate contact numbers for the race organisers in your phone in case of emergency!

Cost: Anywhere from £0 to £5 for your first event

 

A change of clothes and some basic toiletries

Don’t forget that at the end of the Sportive you will need to get home and whether thats in the car or on public transport, the last thing you want is to be sat in sweaty/wet/muddy cycling clothes for the journey.

Therefore you should bring along a change of clothes, a towel and some basic toiletries e.g. shower gel/soap and deodorant.

Even if there aren’t showers at the finish line (often there are), you can have a quick fresh up for the journey home.

Cost: Anywhere from £0 to £50 for your first event (but bring what you have already!)

P.s. Remember to register for free in less than 2 minutes with WheelieGoodTours and get a downloadable checklist of this kit list!
 

 

Nice to Have

Saddle Bag

A saddle bag is a bag that attaches to the underneath of your saddle… surprisingly! They are typically small enough that you won’t notice them riding but big enough for you fit in all your tools and maybe even your phone, keys and money.

It’s not essential though, your jersey pockets serve the same purpose but it would be a worthwhile investment for future events.

Cost: Anywhere from £5 to £30 for your first event

 

GPS Navigation Device

A step up from a basic cycling computer, a GPS Navigation Device will also tell you where you are on a map, allow you to follow a route and keep a record of where you have been for post-ride viewing.

Most Sportives will offer a downloadable file that can be loaded to your device to show you the route to follow alongside the on-road instructions.

Cost: Anywhere from £150 to £300 for your first event

 

Sunglasses

Now this will definitely be personal preference and of course sunglasses will be a good addition to any cyclist's wardrobe (and they make you look proper pro).

However, probably something you can invest in later, especially considering that for cycling-specific sunglasses you could be looking at a high price for the right levels of protection and comfort.

Cost: Anywhere from £25 to £50 for your first event

 

 

Chapter 3

How to train for your first Sportive (all whilst not quitting your job and leaving your family)

 

Training for your first Sportive

Most people have lots of other commitments and whilst I am sure you are committed to completing your first sportive event, you probably want a training plan that is actually realistic (like not spending 30 hours a week on the bike…).

 

 

So for your first Sportive it’s important to consider:

  1. Getting buy-in from those other commitments - make sure to actually talk to your family (weird I know) and discuss what your actual time commitment to training will need to be
  2. Starting the training plan with plenty of time until the event - doing 3 rides a week for 10 weeks is better than 6 rides a week for 5 weeks as it allows you to build up slowly and avoid a higher risk of injury
  3. Using your time efficiently - can you commute to work/school/uni by bike and use that time as one of your training rides? 


And the key points that make a good training plan are:

  1. An understanding of where you are starting from and where you are going i.e. something that adjusts to your current level of fitness whilst still getting you in a good position to complete the event
     
    TIP: Rate of Perceived Exertion vs Power vs Heart Rate (see https://www.cyclingweekly.com/fitness/training/cycling-training-plans-153049)
     
  2. One that recognises rest and recovery are as important as training days
  3. One that is realistic with the time input required (see above points about other commitments). Some of the ones we list below allow you to choose whether you just wanted to complete your event or whether you want to challenge yourself for a good finishing time, and then adjust the timing to suit
  4. One that recognises you need to taper 1-2 weeks before the event i.e. reduce the intensity right down to let your body recover before the big day

 

Alongside training to build up your fitness, you will also need to possess a certain amount of skills for riding your first Sportive.

Now, some of these will come naturally through the hours you put in on the road and as you build up confidence.

However, one thing we recommend is to try and join a local cycling club where you will be able to learn from others as well as building your fitness. You can find a list of clubs on the British Cycling website.

Furthermore, the British Cycling Website has a really good set of guides and videos of the sorts of skills you will need: https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/knowledge/skills/sportives-ridesmart.

For the full detail on training for your Sportive, check out our guide to the best 16 tips on training for your Sportive (+8 training plans compared) here.

 

Chapter 4

The importance of nutrition - drinking and eating your way to success

 

Nutrition for your first SportiveIt will be really easy to throw all of your training out the window if you don’t eat and drink right on the lead up to and day of the event.

It is however a bit of a minefield with hundreds of varieties of products promising you energy, performance and more.

Luckily we are here to help you with your first Sportive.

 

Firstly some key points to remember:

  1. Don’t change anything on the day - you should be practising your nutrition alongside your fitness training plan so that the two things work together come event day
  2. Remember that most Sportives will have feed stations with a plentiful supply of food and drinks… however, plan to take enough of your own food and drink and use the feed stations as top-ups


Now onto the science bit - carbohydrates and electrolytes - these are the key words you need to know about, so here’s our basic explanation of what they are and why they are important:

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source when cycling and these carbs are stored in your muscles ready to use when needed. Sugar is a form of carbohydrate as are starch and fibre, and some combination of these items is found in almost every food.

Carbs can be classified by their Glycemic Index (GI) - a low GI carb is something like porridge which releases its energy slowly across many hours, whereas a high GI carb is something like a chocolate bar that releases a quick burst of energy.

Carbs can of course be found in normal foods, but there are also a range of cycling specific carbohydrate bars, gels and drinks.

These bars, gels and drinks are great because they have a sole purpose and that is to get carbs into your body - you wouldn’t want them as part of your normal daily diet, but used when cycling they are perfect.

In general, you want to do the following:

  • Before your ride - low GI food such as porridge and mid GI foods such as a banana to give you that long sustained and slow release energy
  • During the ride - high GI food such as carbohydrate gels, bars and drinks to give you a quick boost of energy, taken regularly
  • After the ride - low GI food to replenish your depleted carbohydrate stores


As a rule of thumb, you want to be looking to consume between 1g of carbohydrates per kg of bodyweight per hour of activity and spread this out, so you are eating something every 20-30 minutes.

Electrolytes (and fluids)

Electrolytes are things like salts and minerals such as sodium, potassium and magnesium and these are lost through sweat.

Your body needs water and electrolytes to carry out all sorts of tasks and you will soon notice if you don't have enough so keep drinking at regular intervals.

There are specific electrolyte fluid solutions you can buy but you can also get solutions which contain carbohydrates and electrolytes together, thus hitting both key things and reducing the amount you need to carry.

An example nutrition plan

So in summary, here is an example nutrition plan for the day of the event and the time leading up to it:

  • The week before - plenty of water and eat good solid normal meals with a mix of carbs, vegetables and protein
  • The morning - a big bowl of porridge and a banana plus usual coffee/tea. Drink 500ml of water about an hour before start time
  • During the ride
    • Take 2 750ml bottles - one with plan water, and one with a carbohydrate/electrolyte mix (see below)
    • Consume your recommended carbs through a combination of bars and gels 
  • After the ride - have a treat, you deserve it! But also look to consume a low GI meal within 2-3 hours to replenish all those used energy stores!


How to choose the right products?

Fortunately lots of companies who sell these energy products also offer taster packs which can be a great way to try before you invest. Remember that you should be testing these as part of your training, not on the day! So use the links below to find sample packs and try a few, but also consider the different flavours within a brand, some you will love and others you will hate!

Gels and Bars


Hydration

 

Chapter 5

What happens on the day of the event

 

Let’s take it step by step for what happens on the day event.On the day of your first Sportive

By knowing this in advance it will allow you to be better prepared, have reduced anxiety and nervousness about the unknown, and get you from morning wake up to riding your first Sportive in no time.

 

Let's start by talking about the week leading up to the event first…

  1. Taper your training - the final week before the event should be relatively low in training hours to give your body chance to recover for the main event
  2. Eat, Sleep and Drink well - This ensures your body is in tip-top condition come event day
  3. Prepare your bike and carry out basic maintenance using your local bike shop for a tune-up or watching this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8TIlNAXU1kk 


So onto the day itself...

  1. Wake up but don’t do anything different to your normal routine - by now you will have practised your pre-ride nutrition and morning routine so stick to that. The last thing you want to do is change it now!
    1. Be mindful that if you are stopping in a hotel they might not have the same food you are used to, so either take your own or be flexible on what you train with
       
  2. Get everything ready - we recommend packing your kit neatly into a bag the night before but if like us you want to double and triple check everything, then use our checklist and unpack and repack everything you need to take with you (don’t forget the bike).

    We would also recommend getting changed into your cycling kit before you leave the house/hotel (bar the shoes, helmet and gloves) as this just saves time at the other end.

     
  3. Travel to the event leaving plenty of time for accidents and all the stuff in the steps below - make sure you have planned your travel route beforehand.

    You will need to leave time to complete the registration process (see below). 

     
  4. Think about security - large events like this are prime targets for thieves so at all times think about the security of your equipment, especially your bike.

    We recommend keeping your bike either locked inside your car or taking it with you for the registration process

     
  5. Complete the registration process - typically this will involve you showing some form of ID to the event organiser on-site who will then tick your name off the list.

    You will probably receive a goody bag and/or a timing chip (more on that in a second).

    This is a good time to ask any final questions to the event organisers.

     
  6. Add any timing chips / race numbers to you and your bike - following the organisers instructions, attach ALL of the race numbers and/or timing chips in their appropriate locations.

    These are the things that will make you recognisable and allow your ride time to be recorded.

     
  7. Get ready - Put on any more clothing e.g. shoes, gloves and helmet.

    Make sure your tools, nutrition and personal items (e.g. phone, money) are packed in your saddle bag / jersey pockets.

    Get your bike setup and ready to ride and add your drinks bottles.

    Read any final instructions from the organisers, make sure you know what route marking signs you are looking out for, often events have multiple routes with some sections the same and some different so make sure you know which you are following!



     
  8. Visualise your ride - maybe a little weird to some but we think its worth spending a few minutes thinking about all of the training you have done and what you will feel like when the Sportive is complete.

    Also, take time to ponder on why you signed up to the event in the first place and think positively about your performance - it all helps!

     
  9. Lots of Sportives will have on-site mechanics for any last minute tuning… be sure to find them out quickly if you need anything!
     
  10. Use the toilet one last time - you will probably need it
     
  11. Get to the start line - follow the instructions and line up at the start line
     
  12. Have fun! Remember to eat and drink in line with your nutrition plan!
    1. Also use the first few kilometres to warm yourself up i.e. don’t go off too hard but instead give your legs chance to get warm
       
  13. Once complete, follow any previously given instructions or speak to a member of the organising team. You might have to return your timing chip or it might be single-use, you will have been told previously.

    Ensure you get your medal if one is available!

     
  14. Complete any post-ride nutrition routine as discussed earlier, get yourself changed and go home, basking in the glory of a complete event!
     
  15. Book another one...


Of course this list is pretty general and will apply in most cases. However, for some of the bigger events it might be necessary to register in advance e.g. the Prudential Ride London event where you need to register in a completely different part of London the day before! So make sure you read those joining instructions…

 

Chapter 6

A collection of other useful tips & tricks we have collected along the way

Tips & Tricks for your first Sportive

 

Add yours in the comments so we can update the list!

 

 

  • Double check key details such as date, time, start location, registration details and route markings!
  • Ride at your own pace - be careful not to get sucked into a fast group and hit your limit too early
  • Enjoy the ride and the scenery!

 

Summary

Key points and your call to action...

 

So if you have to remember four things from our guide, then make sure it's these:

  • Choose the right event that’s local to you and a bit of a challenge
     
  • Choose a realistic training plan and stick to it
     
  • Train your nutrition as much as you train your legs
     
  • Prepare for what to do on the day and smash it!


A reminder that if you join Wheelie Good Tours for free you can get access to:

  1. A downloadable and printable kit checklist to make sure you don’t forget a thing
     
  2. Access to a simple list of all the products we recommended here to help you get on the road quicker and with less hassle
     
  3. Our regular inspirational newsletter showcasing the world’s best Cycling Events, sharing amazing Competitions and access to more tools, templates and checklists


Once registered, leave us a comment below, we would love to know how you got on with your first Sportive and please share any tips!

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