7 Steps To Sportive Success

If you’re like us and the sight of groups of riders hammering through beautiful countryside inspires you to get out there and take part in a long-distance, non-competitive cycling event (or sportive for short) then read on!

Firstly the good news - you’re not a pro. The pace that riders in the Tour de France go at will burn 6,000 calories per day, according to former Garmin-Sharp sports scientist Robbie Ketchell. That’s 40 Crème Eggs! And to really put it in perspective, the Tour’s 197 riders will, over the course of 21 stages and 3,344km, burn a total of 24.8 million calories.

Not all of those calories will come from food. On any long stage each rider will have up to 12 bottles of sports drink and three energy gels. It’s enough to make your stomach hide under the bed...

But don’t let that put you off. The better prepared you are for a sportive then the more manageable it will be. And the place to start is with a training plan - we asked coach for British Cycling, Will Newton, to come up with a six-week plan to get your through a 60-mile sportive, which can be upscaled to a 100 miler if you’re feeling fit.

British Cycling coach Will Newton says, ‘You can up the longer rides but don’t change the interval sessions, because you don’t need to increase them to get fitter – you’ll just get tired.’ Phew! Make sure you follow these steps for sportive success...

1. Clock up mileage

Do a long ride once per week (Sundays are good). ‘It should be at least two hours, at a steady pace, around 3/10 on your rate of perceived effort, on rolling terrain with some hills,’ says Newton, which means it’s easy to breathe and talk. ‘Don’t add any intervals just because you feel good. This ride is about building endurance.’

One trick is to reduce the mileage in weeks three and six. ‘The two-week build, one-week recovery model works for most riders. Recovery weeks remove some of the volume but maintain the intensity.’

2. Take recovery days

Take Monday and Friday off. ‘Rest is when your muscles recover,’ says Newton. ‘Also pay attention to your nutrition – this isn’t a time to switch off. Eat a healthy diet of natural rather than processed foods, and a good mix of carbs, protein and healthy fats.’ Don’t neck 12 energy drinks, either...

3. Do hill reps

Very few sportives are held on flat courses, so Tuesday is all about hills. ‘Warm up for 20 minutes, then do two minutes strong seated climbing, RPE 5/10 (breathing heavily but can hold short conversations), followed by a two-minute easy spin, RPE 1/10 (breathing very easily). Repeat this four times. Then do 15 seconds standing and 30 seconds seated climbing four times, followed by a three-minute easy spin. Repeat this four times.

‘The intervals aim to improve both seated and standing climbing. They’re long enough not to be a sprint, but not so long that the rider has to go into survival mode – you should be able to maintain this pace for 20 minutes or more in a sportive,’ Newton adds.

4. Log a steady ride

On Wednesday do a one-hour steady ride at 3-4/10 RPE (easy to breathe and talk). ‘You should feel you could go faster – just at the top end of where you could hold a conversation,’ Newton says.

5. Hit race pace 

You can do this on a turbo trainer or outdoors every Thursday. ‘Warm up for 20 minutes, then do three sets of six minutes at race pace, RPE 4-7/10 (breathing heavily to starting to feel out of breath), and six minutes at recovery pace, RPE 1/10. Race pace refers to the effort you’d expect to maintain for a one-hour time trial but the range of effort allows for surges. Be conservative early on and finish each interval stronger than you started it.’

6. Train with tempo 

On Saturday do a 90-minute tempo ride – in terms of effort, this means just above pure aerobic training and just below your lactate threshold, RPE 4/10 (breathing and talking easily).

‘This is an opportunity to practise group riding skills,’ says Newton. ‘A club chain-gang with a few old hands is ideal as you’ll get plenty of advice. Take your turn on the front, but spend as much time as possible practising the art of hiding from the wind.’

7. Set your goals

‘There’s not much time to set targets, but you can still gauge your progress,’ says Newton. ‘If you want to ride a 60-mile sportive in 6 weeks, then you need to be able to ride 30 miles today. Then your long ride in week two should be 40 miles, and 50 miles in week four. For a 100-miler you need to be able to ride 50 miles now. Your long ride in week two should be 65 miles, and 80 miles in week four.’

But if you can’t ride 30 miles in a oner then don’t panic. This could still be you – in four weeks, if you’re reasonably fit. ‘Do three to four rides a week, with at least two of them being two hours or more after three weeks. Aim for 15mph on a flat course for an hour, and you’ll be able to stretch that to two hours after four weeks.’

Whether you need to do this intro stage or not, you’ll soon be riding with the pack and reaping the benefits of being fitter, healthier and more active.