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What is a sportive?

New bike buyers have never had it so good — the sheer quality and range of bicycles available can seem overwhelming. But if you’ve bought a drop-bar road bike especially, those overwhelming choices don’t stop when you leave the shop. If you want to challenge yourself on some long-distance organised rides, there is another incredibly broad and varied market to negotiate.

Cyclo-sportives — or just ‘sportives’ — is the British term for organised challenge rides on the road. In Europe they tend to be called ‘Gran Fondos’. Although sportives don’t have to adhere to set criteria, they generally provide waymarked routes with a choice of two or three distances; supplied feed stops where you can refuel; mechanical support should you have a problem with your bike; a ‘broomwagon’ to pick up any riders who are struggling; and your ride will be timed.

The beauty of sportives is that the routes are designed to be safe but challenging. You don’t have to think about where to go, you simply follow the signs. While they aren’t races, as your cycling progresses you will also see your performances improve. They also offer you the chance to enjoy new parts of the country, and there is a certain camaraderie about sportives — they really do show cycling and cyclists in their best light.

Here, we’re going to talk about what you should do in the build up to your first big event. Our cycling insurance policies cover you for sportives but preparation is actually the most important part of any challenge ride, so follow our guidelines and you should have a great experience.

Pick your sportive

While sportives offer a safe and structured chance to ride around otherwise foreign landscapes, for your first event we’d recommend something a little closer to home. Local knowledge can be a big help: if you know a hard climb is coming up, you can adjust your efforts accordingly. Also, have a look at the organisation running the event and see what services and facilities they provide, and what other sportives they run. Most organisers make route maps available online —familiarise yourself with it.

Distance

Even more important than terrain is distance. Don’t aim too far initially. Most sportives offer a short route option of 30-40 miles — do this one first before stepping up. A six-week training programme should be adequate for a 40-mile ride. Try cycling every other day, gradually increasing your distances week by week. If you leave it too late, though, avoid crash training in the days before the event. It’s far better to be well rested on the start line.

Nutrition

One important thing to consider is how your body reacts to various nutritional substances while cycling. So if you intend to use energy or hydration products on the ride — such as gels, bars or fluids — do test them during your training. You don’t want an upset stomach mid-challenge.

Clothing

As with nutrition, make sure all your clothing is suitable for the likely conditions and — more important — provides adequate comfort for the distance you will be attempting. Sportives often start early, so consider taking arm and leg warmers which can be removed as the weather warms up. Also remember that sportive organisers won’t let you ride without a helmet, so have one ready.

Pedals

Finally, as part of your training it’s worth learning to be confident in clipless pedals. Used in conjunction with carbon-soled shoes (which can be bought for around £80) they will provide a small but significant power delivery advantage. Trust us, you’ll welcome any little assistance five miles from the finish.
"There is no glory in Practice.. But without Practice there is no glory"
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