It’s that time of year again, the weather is improving and with winter training under your belt, you feel the urge to enter an event. Sportives and Granfondos seem to be starting earlier in the year now and are the perfect training events.

Gary Flash Blesson, Planning for a Cycling Event 1The importance of pacing yourself

When you take part in your first event of the season, you must be careful not to overcook it.

I made this mistake back in March where I took part in a 140k Granfondo in the Algarve, Portugal. I set off too fast, going to the front of the bunch, thinking I was as fit as I was back in the summer. I wasted too much energy and paid the price, I should have known better. I was half way through the event when I started to struggle on the big climbs, battling to recover. I slowed right down, my legs had gone, to try and recoup I spent the next 10k or so drinking and eating trying to get my legs back in the mean time I watched the group disappear up the climb. This then left me on my own, with no shelter or no wheels to draft (school boy error). I made it to the finish, but on my own and definitely a bit worse for wear. It was a stupid mistake, but one we have all done, feel great in the beginning, then burn yourself out too early.

Hydration, Planning for a Cycling Event 3Time to make a plan

With a Granfondo scheduled for 3rd April, I decided to put my mistakes behind me and plan ahead.

Study the event: Distance- Terrain – weather.

The key things to look at: Clothing – Tyres - Wheels - Gearing on your bike - Nutrition – Water bottle size (fluid), Your pace through the event, related to your current ability and fitness!

Clothing: Look closely at the weather forecast, if it is predicted that the weather can go from one extreme to another make sure you are ready for it, especially if you’re in the mountains with constant changes in temperature. Things like sun cream are easily forgotten in the hype before an event so try to plan for as much as possible.

Tyres: Make sure you have the right tyres and wheels to suit the road surface and weather conditions you are to face, most importantly make sure your current tyres aren’t worn.

Wheels and gearing: Deep section carbon wheels are of course quicker and look better than traditional wheels, but if it's windy, the ride includes cobbled surfaces or high up in the mountains they can be a nightmare, so choose wisely. Selecting the right gearing is so important, especially if you have long mountain climbs, you can lose everything with the wrong gears.

Nutrition, Planning for a Cycling Event 2Nutrition: One of the best ways to eat solids on the move are dried figs, easy to get out of your pocket, easy to digest, with natural sugar and carbohydrate (these to me are a secret weapon). Gels of course are good and along with power bars (my tip would be to remove the ends first, easier to eat on the move). Make sure you eat before you need it.

Fluids and bottle size: Sports drinks are an important way to hydrate and another source of carbohydrate, they also replace lost nutrients. It is important to always train with products you are using for the first time, to make sure it agrees with you. Another little simple thing for the long distance events use the 750ml as appose to standard 550ml, then they will last longer until you need to refill.

Pace: Very important look at what you have done in the winter training months, distance and your average speed and ride with in your limits.

Ride Clever: Planning for a Cycling Event 4Did it work for me?

It’s all well and good saying all of this, but does it work when put into action?

Having analysed everything I was ready. The morning was dry, but rain was forecast, so I had good base layers on and a small rain mac in my pocket ready for action.

Ready for the off, all I can smell in the air is warm-up oil, the horn sounds and we are off. Peloton is moving fast over the rolling roads, I’m sitting in about 8 back, then the sound of screeching brakes is around me as we turn and hit the first climb. Woah! It was too fast, so I decided to drop back to the smaller chasing group, it’s a long way to go and I didn’t want to make the same mistake again.

The chasing group consisted of 10 of us, where 4 of us took turns at the front, the others weren’t interested. My heart rate was still low, so all was good. I kept drinking (750ml bottles) and eating (figs) little and often, to make sure I was ready for what laid ahead.

We turn the corner and we come to cobbles. It’s a climb of around 13%, I’d previously looked at the profile and it was 4k up a narrow country road, winding up through traditional Old Portuguese villages, so I knew what to expect.

I was happy with my tyre choice, 25ml all conditions, shallow rim wheels and compact gearing, it was the perfect choice, I felt comfortable and safe.

With a few twisty descents behind us, we finally reached a nice rolling road. I take a look around and we’re down to 7 riders, cruising around 29kph, not over-doing it too much, I was just doing my share and not being the hero.

As we contintued we had to again contend with more cobbled climbs and descents, our pack was still 7 strong, 95k in the bin with just under 50k to go.

We were greeted by heavy and cold rain, luckily by this stage we were on rolling smooth roads, so I put my rain mac on as I was riding, I dropped back a bit, but was soon able to then regroup (do not try this unless you have done it many times and have the confidence).

Water was getting low, and the rain continued beating down. The race organisers support car comes along side. I whistle to get their attention and they slow down. I passed them my bottle on the move, and they were able to top it up, with 40k left to go. I knew that would get me to the finish line, I had no need to stop at feed station.

I was feeling strong and cadence was still good, I hadn't gone in the red, continued eating and drinking well, only 15k to go. I knew it was time to press on, so I jumped to the front. I continued on the long rolling road with rain bouncing off of it. No-one’s coming through, but breathing behind me was getting louder! I felt good and heart rate was still low. I continued driving it now.

I went for a drop of gel (containing caffeine), we approached a junction and everyone looked at each other and this point we had around 7k to go and there was a big climb ahead. The road was wide and the rain had ceased, we continued on the smooth surface with about 1.7k left, at around 11% ascent. There was one guy I could see ahead, further up the road. I had to react to be in with a chance. I was out of the saddle and going for it. Making sure not to look round, concentrating purely on what was ahead, my legs were screaming, but I was able to stay strong and persist.

The guy in front was flying approx. 100 yards up the road, at this point I knew there was no catching him, I had missed my chance. I looked around, and no one was nearby, I was on my own. Knowing this my confidence had grown, and it was time to suffer some more. I dug in further, it wasn't long to go. As I reached the top there was still no one closeby, after a short descent, there was no time to try and recover, I was in the red, but there was nothing to lose, as I turn the corner one more cobbled climb awaited, maybe 1k in length. I attacked it as well as I could.

As I got to the top gasping for air, I see the finish line only 200 meters ahead on the flat cobbled road, I could just see the guy ahead who broke away crossed the finish line. I sprint for the line, giving it everything as the road leveled out. That was it I had cross the line and finished. I made sure to congratulate my fellow rider and a few minutes later the rest of the guys crossed the line. The event had definitely been an adventure, and truly a day of many seasons, but after all the planning was I had been prepared for it all. Overall I came 27th and had won the masters, job done! Planning and prep was definitely the key to the success.


The views shared are that of the author and are not necessarily that of Lexham Insurance Consultants Ltd.