You’ve clocked up the training miles and signed up to your first sportive. Before you know it, that day is here, you’re on the course and there are a few surprises in store that you hadn’t expected. Whether it’s a multi-day sportive or a day’s worth of 100 miles – here is a useful appendix to the event information pack based on my own experience.

1. Don’t rely on mechanics

Sportives are normally well equipped with the right tools and accompanied by those with mechanical know-how, but don’t rely on them entirely. If you get a puncture in between pit-stops and aren’t in range of signal to call someone out, you’ll be in a bit of a pickle. Tubes, canisters and pumps are still essential even if you’re on a supported ride.

2. Bonking is high risk

Despite having prepared the night before with a big meal and a substantial breakfast the morning of the sportive, you will be surprised at just how much you need to keep eating over a long-distance. I used to make the mistake of ignoring my fuelling but now have learnt that I cope best by eating as regularly as every 30 minutes. The last thing you want to experience on a sportive is a monumental bonk half way through. Give your body the energy it needs, and use the feed stations provided to refuel.

3. Packing a bike box is sheer hell

Nowhere in the guide to an overseas sportive does it mention that packing a bike box for the first time is as simple as dismantling a helicopter. The laws of physical will elude you, your pedals will refuse to come off and you will live in fear about whether you’ll still have a bike at the other end.

I would advise watching a YouTube tutorial a few times before even attempting this, and don’t do it the morning of your flight.

4. Expect to have to duck into the forest

There will still be the indignity of a desperate dash behind a bush on a sportive. Not all stops will have the luxury of a toilet so take advantage of them when you see them, and otherwise just keep your eyes peeled for a suitably leafy nature station.

5. Your event photos may scare you

I don’t know why I expected my sportive photos to come out as picture perfect as per Lizzie’s Armitstead’s. Literally all the photos I ever see of me riding a bike serve as an education on where I am going wrong as a rider. Event photos are often less of a nostalgic keepsake and more of an alert that you need to go for a bike fit. ASAP.

6. Your back wheel may have visitors

It always surprises me, at the modest height of 5’4 ‘’, how many visitors I get on my back wheel during the course of a sportive. Surprising because I don’t go that fast, nor do I block out much wind but my wheel is still a popular attraction.

You will meet people with a lack of experience riding in a group and who may not know that everyone has a turn at the front. Don’t be afraid to give them a nudge to do their share of the work.

7. There are highs and lows

Sportives have their highs and lows and they are meant to challenge you mentally and physically. I remember one sportive where I had got completely dropped by the group and spent 50 long miles alone getting battered by gale force winds.

At one point I was encouraged to come across a fellow rider although soon realised he was only using me for my Garmin as he sat behind me in total silence as I fronted the wind head on and showed him the way. The awkward silence and lack of sportsmanship mixed with my exhaustion put me into a very dark mood indeed! Eventually, bored by my slow speed, he took off ahead and I made it to the finish line where all rage had evaporated.

There will be mixed emotions and you just need to ride the wave. The finish line is worth it.


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