Sportives – mass participation cycling events – have become hugely popular in the past few years, and it’s not hard to see the appeal: the route planning is all done for you; it’s a chance to discover new hills, lanes and views; there are convenient food and toilet stops; there’s the opportunity to meet and ride with hundreds of other like-minded people, and you often get a medal too, woo-hoo! For a first-timer though, it can be a bit daunting to take part. Organised events attract quite serious cyclists and large groups of confident club riders taking on the challenge together – it’s a little intimidating lining up next to them in the starting pen, and even more so out on the road when they’re passing you en masse. Add to the mix a pervasive excitement and nervousness as everyone prepares to go, a huge range of bikes and riders all at different speeds, plus the usual cars, horses and other road users, and you’ve got a sort of organised chaos on the road which doesn’t always create a sense of confidence. So here’s my ‘APPLE’ guide to keeping yourself and others safe on your first sportive, to make sure you can achieve your challenge and get the most out of your day.
A: Be ASSERTIVE with your riding. Ride away from the gutter and be bold and early with your signalling, so nobody around you has to react suddenly. Don’t stop without giving warning – there is probably another rider very close behind you – and when you do stop, step off the road. Drivers may be less patient than usual if there are lots of cyclists to pass, so make sure they know where you’re going as well.
P: PACE your ride. There’s something very energising about being on a start line – even though a sportive is not a race, it’s very easy to get carried away at someone else’s fast pace then find you’ve blown up after just 10 miles. Practice riding similar distances, be aware of what’s comfortable and achievable for you, and resist the urge to charge at the start – save your legs for getting to the end.
P: PLAN your approach – sportives are meant to be challenging, so if this will be your first 100k, bear in mind it could take 6 hours or more to complete. You’ll need lots of food – don’t rely on the feed stops as they may only have gels and bars – a cheese sandwich in your pocket will be very welcome after a load of sweet snacks. Pack a jacket or gilet in case the weather turns, and a spares kit. Even if the event offers full mechanical support, it will be quicker to repair your own puncture than to wait for the mechanic to arrive.
L: Be LOUD! Help other riders be safe around you by calling out hazards and any move you’re about to make, such as passing another rider, stopping or pulling out, so they can react in good time. If you’re approaching a horse, always slow down, keep pedalling, and call “Bike behind!”. It’s far less alarming for a horse to hear a human voice behind it than the unfamiliar ticking and whirring of a freewheeling bike.
E: ENJOY it! It’s not a race, so keep your head up and enjoy your surroundings – remember somebody chose this lovely lane for the route just so that you can appreciate it too. You’ll often find official event photographers crouching in ditches along the route too, so have your best ‘bossing it’ smile on all day to make sure they catch you for for a great memento of what you’ve achieved. And have a fabulous time flashing your medal around – be proud, you’ve earned it!