The Wiggle Essential Sportive Guide

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Posted Sunday 22nd April 2012 –

Wiggle have had an increasing presence on the sportive scene over the last few years with their own Wiggle Super Series and with support of events such as the Dragon Ride and Magnificat. They’ve taken a lot of their knowledge and condensed it down into the Wiggle Essential Sportive Guide which they’ve allowed us to reproduce here for our readers. It’s well worth a read if you’re planning a major event this year or have plans to head over to the continent to take on the challenge of one of the major European sportives.

Their Essential Sportive Guide appears below or you can find the original article over on the Wiggle Blog.

With the sportive season fast approaching and the spring weather getting better, we thought we would post a little guide to riding sportives. Some of you may have ridden loads in the UK or Europe, others might be new to this type of cycling but those who have experienced it will probably agree its a great way to enjoy our sport.

Sportives are traditionally mass participation events which allow cyclist of all standards to take part, kind of like the London/NY/Paris Marathon of the bike world… Whilst in Britain they are seen as ‘not real races’, over on the continent top places are generally contested by pro riders, ex pros and up and coming amateurs and often make the sports pages of regional news. In fact some of the larger events – Maratona dles Dolomites, Cape Argus etc. are even televised live for most of the day!

They are a fantastic way of goal setting if you are an amateur cyclist – building up to your ‘big event’ helps you maintain training motivation for the rest of the year.

Some sportives follow famous race route – The Etape du Tour & Paris Roubaix challenge being the obvious examples, others are just great rides that have been turned into big events. The latter are often easier logistically as they tend to be looped so you start & finish in the same place, much easier than ‘transferring’ at crazy’o’clock or post ride when you really don’t want to be on a bus for hours. The other great thing about having the start/finish village is that there is loads going on if your family decided to come support you too.

All in all, Sportives are a great way of enjoying a challenging ride in often stunning scenery surrounded by several thousand like minded riders (usually) without having to worry about traffic.

We have already covered riding spring classic sportives in our Paris Roubaix Challenge guide here so this one will be focused more on alpine events.


How to train

Training for such big events can often be difficult if you live somewhere flat or very urban, so the key is to get the most out of what you can do, European sportives tend to be around the 100 mile + mark so one of the most important things it to get comfortable with that kind of distance, and yes this will probably eat up a lot of your weekends prior to the event! building up in 10-20 mile increments will help you improve your stamina without totally putting you over the edge & putting you off riding, so if you can manage 30 miles try 40 the next weekend and so on – the key is getting at least one 100+ ride in before you go (ideally at least a month beforehand) then tapering down a bit just before – just some short rides with a high intensity or medium rides at a gentle pace*.

The biggest shock to the system will be ‘oh that’s what a 1,600m climb feels like‘ because here in the UK (and in many other parts of the world) we just don’t have them on our doorstep. The way to make this shock a lot less painful is to try and simulate them with what you do have. Whatever hills you do have locally get out and ride them repeatedly – if you can throw them in towards the end of your rides that’s even better (as you will already be fatigued from the rest of the cycle). Hill reps are good too, work out the biggest hill in your event, divide it by the height of the hill you are training on & make sure you do that number of climbs back to back one day… then do it again but faster! When you are on the hills it is unlikely they will be as steep as alpine climbs so try using harder gearing (the old ‘train hard, race easy‘ philosophy) and just before you go to your event maybe get hold of a slightly bigger cassette so you have a ‘get out of trouble’ ring for when the going gets tough.

It’s also useful to find the steepest hills in your area and train on those too & if you aren’t sure where to find them websites like climbbybike.com and strava.com have list of climbs in your area.

Make sure you ride in a variety of positions on the bars too, alpine events feature a lot of descending which is best done on the drops & can be extremely uncomfortable if your muscles aren’t used to that position.

It’s important to get used to the equipment, clothing & nutrition you will be using too – don’t go into your event with shiny new kit & trying a new energy drink – worst case scenarios include inability to change gear, clothing that’s shaving layers of skin off you and a stomach that’s setting goals of the next portaloo rather than the finish line!

Getting acclimatised is important, if you don’t live somewhere high up/hot & sunny it can really affect your ride – if you can afford to get there a little in advance its really worthwhile, it allows you to work out what clothing to wear, adapt to the altitude (if it’s in the mountains), get some training rides on the hills beforehand (don’t overdo it though!) and enjoy being there. Turning up the night before can be pretty stressful and a head full of worry never makes for a good night’s sleep!

If you really want to get the best out of your event then the increasingly popular sportive training camps can get you primed for your challenge, some of them take place in sunny climes like Majorca or Lanzarote (a welcome escape from the winter gloom) & others even ride parts of the event route – either way if you have the time & money they are great getaways in their own right.

What to expect

Riding a UK sportive is great, its like a club run only bigger and you get to discover routes you didn’t even know were on your front door step, meet other local riders & make the most of your weekends, riding them can also be a brilliant way of getting the big training miles in for some of the Euro events. A few of the UK sportives have managed to secure closed roads and those of you who have had a chance to ride without traffic will know exactly how great it is! Unfortunately British councils & other road users are still a little cold towards closed road events but hopefully with cyclings growing popularity that will begin to change.

In Europe its a whole different story – closed roads are pretty much the norm and the number of locals out by the side of the road cheering you on makes you feel pretty fantastic (and a little bit Pro!) Feed stations tend to be a grand affair too with local producers often eager to showcase their foods, I’ve been fed salami, parma, fried potatoes, pasta, soup and even pizza at feed stations abroad – and thats on top of the generous helpings of energy products on offer.

Race support is common too with Mavic, Vittoria & Campagnolo providing motorised mechanical assistance in many events – a look behind the scenes shows they take as much pride in this as their support of the pro scene!

How to ride

Typically most sportives are around the 100 mile mark or more, if you have been clever about your training this shouldn’t be too uncomfortable, what you might not be used to is the amount of climbing with many routes including 2,000m or more of ascent. Your leg’s probably won’t be used to this, even if you are pretty good at hills so it’s wise to make sure you don’t over do it on the first climbs. Sit at a pace you are comfortable with and aren’t over exerting, that way towards the end of the ride if you are still feeling fresh you can put that extra energy into a good effort and will likely pick up a good number of places in the ranking.

Another thing it’s difficult to train for is the lengths of descending which can be tough on your shoulders, neck & arms as the best position for handling & reducing drag is down on the drops, this is where the training should help. If it starts getting painful make sure you change position (ideally not at speed round a hairpin!) and stretch a bit.

If for any reason you need to stop whilst descending make sure you are aware of other riders around you – don’t suddenly stop or slow down without signalling and making sure no one is on your tail, stop where other riders can see you way before they get to you too, i.e. not near a bend!

Throughout the ride make use of different muscles to avoid overworking your legs, sit forward & use your thighs, get out of the saddle and use your weight or pop onto the drops and use your bum! That way you are sharing the load and are less likely to cramp up from the same repetitive movements.

Lookout for local bike club jerseys and pay attention to what they are doing on descents – chances are they have ridden these roads countless times and know the safest way to do so.

Hydrate & re-fuel – you may still be feel OK but your body has a habit of pretending it’s fine until it is too late! You should aim to drink a 750ml bottle each hour – which means you are almost certainly going to need to visit feed stations… as good as many of these will be the sports drink they serve can often be a little weak or worst case particularly unpleasant tasting! It’s not a bad idea to carry at least a few drinks sachets – High5 make these handy pouches of powder and Nectar Fuel have a similar product but in liquid form – both of these are portioned into the correct dosage for water bottles. It’s also a good idea to drink plenty before and after the event too to prevent you feeling awful the next day! It’s a similar story with food, by the time you feel hungry it’s often too late to sort out the deficit! Nibble at bars, gums, sandwiches and fruit & maybe take a gel every once in a while – though it is useful to keep these for the end of the ride when you are feeling pretty low and it’s difficult to chew/stomach real food! Caffeine gels are good for a pick me up but can make you pretty shaky & usually a big high of energy is followed by an awful low!

Last but not least enjoy yourself! Unless you have put in a monumental effort in training it is unlikely you will get a top spot (in Europe that is the domain of the ex-pro and pro-sportive riders) so take a look around, enjoy the scenery, maybe even take a few photos (they may not be a good as the official event photos but they will certainly bring back memories!) Chat to those around you, you have worked hard to get to this event so make the most of it!