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Your First Sportive: Part 2 - Break it down

17:09 13th March 2013 By Andrew Cremin

Over the course of this 17 part series Level 3 Cycling Coach Huw Williams takes us through the stages of preparing for and completing your first 100 miler.

The best way to take on a beast like a 100 mile sportive is to break it down into its component parts. You can then work on each of these parts individually using a much more measured approach.

The basic demands of all cycling events can be broken down into four categories: Physiological, Psychological, Technical and Tactical; and identifying how the demands of your event fits into these categories can greatly help you in preparation for it.


Event demands of a 100mile sportive


A). Endurance.Sportives are all about going the distance, so this is the cornerstone of your training. You can’t readily complete a sportive unless you can ride the distance. So, firstly, you need to increase the distance you can comfortably ride from where you currently are, to as close to the distance and intensity the event will demand as possible.

B). Nutrition. It’s no good having a good engine if you haven’t got the right fuel and the knowledge of how to use it. In order to ride for five hours or more good, nutrition will be an essential part of your training and event strategy.

C). Hill climbing. Sportive event organisers are renowned for offering the best possible experience of riding a bike in their local area. This basically means that, if there are big hills available, they’re going to ask you to ride up them.  Repeatedly. Therefore the ability to ride hilly terrain and recover from the effort is an essential physiological demand for sportives.


Sportives are all about time in the saddle, so a strong mental attitude is a pre-requisite for the event and its preparation. Long hours on the bike, often done ‘out of season’ when the weather is not at its best, demand high levels of commitment and motivational techniques to keep you going. The self-discipline to remain mentally focused while riding for prolonged periods at modest levels of intensity, particularly during the early stages of preparation as you build basic endurance, are key.


A). Hill climbing. As we mentioned above, this is a key physiological aspect of sportives. It’s also a technical one. Grinding big gears on the early climbs while feeling strong is going to rob you of energy later in the ride, so you need to learn how to climb efficiently with a faster cadence in lower gears.

B). Descending. Once up a hill, of course, there is only one way to go, and that’s down again. Descending is a technical skill that can save you a lot of time on a sportive - as well as save your life.

C). Group riding skills. Sportives are increasing in popularity all the time, which means even local, club-organised events now attract hundreds of like-minded riders. The big events in the UK see thousands of riders take the line while the established European big-hitters like the Etape or Nove Colli can see upwards of 10,000 riders competing. Good group-riding skills and bike handling is therefore essential for your safety and the safety of others. Working in groups with other riders can also save you a lot of time.


A). Pacing. Whether you’re riding a sportive as a personal challenge and hoping just to conquer the course, treating it as an individual challenge against the clock or racing the other riders to be fastest finisher, pacing is an essential tactical element in completing the sportive to the best of your ability. It’s essential to know just how hard you can ride in order to complete the event. We’ve seen high category road-racers completely fall apart in sportives due to pacing themselves inadequately. Anyone who has ‘blown’ after 40 miles of a 100mile sportive will tell you it’s not an experience they’d want to repeat. So good pace judgment, developed in your training rides and correctly applied during your event, is essential.

B). Equipment. Not to be overlooked, you need the right tools in order to do the job. A bike not suited to the event will mean an uncomfortable (literally) experience and can be a showstopper. Likewise, a mechanical breakdown due to lack of preparation in the middle of a remote mountain range  can be a very worrying experience. Equipment can also play a major part in your tactical approach to the ride. On-board computers can be pre-programmed with routes, distances, feed-station positions and elevation changes, all combining to help you plan and execute your ride strategy to the optimum.

This article is part of a series on getting ready for your first sportive. You can find the rest of the series here.

Your First Sportive Series:

  1. Anyone can do it
  2. Break it Down
  3. Goal!
  4. Intensity
  5. The Zone
  6. Performance Testing
  7. Creating a Training Plan
  8. Weekly Training Plans
  9. Climb Better
  10. Better Pedalling
  11. Better Descending

    1. Better Descending (part 1)
    2. Better Descending (part 2)
  12. Second Training Block
  13. Sticking With the Pack
  14. Strength and Flexibility Training
  15. Nearly There
  16. Event Strategy

Huw Williams is a British Cycling Level 3 road and time trial coach. He has raced on and off road all over the world and completed all the major European sportives. He has written training and fitness articles for a wide number of UK and international cycling publications and websites and as head of La Fuga Performance, coaches a number of riders from enthusiastic novices to national standard racers.

This article originally appeared on RoadCyclingUK.com


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