Inspired by the Italian Gran Fondo which is historically at least 120km long, there’s no doubt that sportives are a test of endurance – regardless of whether you’re seeing yours as a social ride or a test. If you’re getting ready for a sportive this summer, the chances are you’ve spent some time in the saddle in preparation; but do you have your pacing strategy at-the-ready, too? This is an all-too-often forgotten aspect, yet it’s critical for success and enjoyment. Here are our top tips to help you find the perfect pace come event day.
There’s nothing quite like that early-morning sportive atmosphere; the checking of PSI, the pinning of race numbers and the strategic placing of gels – the buzz at the start line is almost tangible. But after the tape is lifted, avoid the temptation to sprint off in excitement. Instead, settle into a warm-up and find your steady pace for the day – you may well be passing the riders later that started out too fast.
Save the legs
Throughout the event, it’s tempting to speed past those riders who just passed you – but avoiding unnecessary surges will improve your ability to ride strong to the end. In addition, optimize your riding position and gearing to maximise energy; staying seated in the saddle and adopting a higher cadence will save the legs for when you really need it on that final climb.
Use monitoring tools
Riding with power is becoming increasingly affordable, with power meter prices gradually coming down and bikes being fitted with meters straight out of the box. If you have it, use power on sportive day to pace the climbs effectively. If not, heart rate monitors are another great tool for pacing – staying in your aerobic zone through the day – where possible, this isn’t a reason to get off and push! – will maximize your ability to maintain a level effort throughout the day. Dipping into, and over, threshold will dig away at your reserves. Without power or heart rate monitoring to hand, being aware of how your body feels is a great tool in itself – if you can chat, for example, you’re likely riding at a sustainable pace.
Take a friend (or two)
Riding closely with a group of friends will dramatically increase your average speed without dramatically increasing your effort. Wheel-sucking can serve-up gains to the tune of 30-40%, so working together is a great way to ensure that your energy stands up to your time goals. Team efforts also improve morale when the going gets tough.
Your plan for hydration and replenishing glycogen stores should work hand-in-hand with your pacing strategy. Eat early, and regularly, and hydrate, especially on hotter event days. Be aware that if you do dig a hole, your mental ability will take a hit, so you may forget to eat and drink – so planning how often you’ll fuel and sticking to it methodically (using time) throughout the day will help. If you do get into bonk territory, being armed with an emergency caffeine gel can work wonders to get you to that next checkpoint where you can refuel.
Prepare your mind
A long day in the saddle over a challenging course can be daunting – but splitting the task into sections is an achievable mental approach that’s widely used by sportive riders and pros alike. Sportives aren’t short of checkpoints, so use these shorter goals to keep your head strong when your legs begin to tire. Finally, don’t forget to enjoy it – with plenty of races and time trials on offer these days, there’s nothing like a ride that allows you to lift your head and soak up the scenery with riding buddies – and that’s what summer riding is all about.