Nailing your first sportive is an exhiliarting experience. You get a real sense of achievement that a distance that you might once have felt out of your reach, is within it.
If you watch professional racing on the TV, you can pick up some good clues from the Pro's, whether on a grand tour or racing domestically here in the UK about optimising your performance on the day. Here's a few things to think about: -
- Sip your drink regularly rather than take big gulps to stay hydrated. This prevents filling your bladder up quickly and needing more regular comfort breaks.
- Take your energy gels before you need them, not at the moment you bonk. You'll see team cars handing our energy gels 15 mins or so before a climb to allow them time to absorb into the system. When you've had a gel, take a drink too.
- Study the route profile and deploy your energy respectively. Pro's have the route taped to their handlebars so they know where they need to put in big efforts and where they can use time to recover.
- Avoid wearing too many layers of clothing. Pro's will be layering and de-layering all race, preferring to keep as little on as possible to keep cool. If you wear too many layers, you'll end up hot and often drinking a lot more as your body perspires.
- Ensure your bike is in tip top condition. Yes, they have a team of mechanics to do all the work for them however you can reduce your odds of a mechanical on the day by ensuring your tyres are in good condition, bolts are all tightened and torqued, your chain is lubricated and your brake pads are in good condition.
- Don't leave things to chance. Think Team Sky and marginal gains, controlling the controllables. Think about the entire day, leave good time to travel to the departure point where you can get ready without rushing. Think about the end of the day, have your recovery shake ready. Think about the ride and the things you'll need to organise in advance, particularly contingency clothing if weather conditions are changeable.
- Draft wherever possible. Sportives will have lots of groups riding, the more you are sat behind someone, the less energy you will use so if you are able to join a friendly group, join it. Equally, make sure you are doing your share of the work and not just sucking a wheel. Sportives aren't races, it's simply to finish.
- Avoid drinking/eating whilst your heart rate is high. It's much harder to swallow and digest if your heart is going full pelt, often leaving you to gasp. Know when your pit stops are to re-fuel and also the key moments on the ride where you'll need to get some food down you which are flat and safe.
- Avoid drinking whilst fast descending. You'll soo Pro's doing this, however they are highly experienced on the bike with years and years of handling skills in their muscle memory. A small mistake can lead to a crash, so keep your hands on the brakes and drink when you hit some flat or when you can do so safely.
- Safety first. Pro's are used to riding in large pelotons, they want predictability, no sudden sharp movements or braking, just smooth speed whilst in a group. Be predictable, use hand signals wherever possible and keep it smooth.