How to get in shape for your first sportive

Time on the bike is key

Okay, so you’ve committed yourself to riding a long event like the Cycling Plus Sportive at BikeRadar Live. Perhaps you haven’t ridden a bike for a while, you're not doing that much training or you’ve never ridden that distance before. Now you're wondering: “Can I actually do it? Will I make it? What on Earth was I thinking when I signed up?”

The training plan we published last week may be a little daunting for less experienced riders, but the answer is actually very simple: get on your bike and train. Consistently. And make the time you spend on the bike count.

Let’s face facts. There is no short cut to good fitness. Attaining good fitness requires time in the saddle over many weeks, months and depending on your goals, years. But just how many hours?

Professional riders are often riding up to 25 hours a week in training – but that's their job. As you can see from those riding the Tour de France, the average time racing is more than 30 hours a week for three weeks.

These Pros haven't got there by magic, they've been training to attain that level for years. Sure, they have a superb genetic disposition for high performance (and unfortunately some have used illegal aids) but it's their consistent training that enables that ability to come to the fore.

The good news is that it’s the same for everyone: the greatest performance enhancer is consistent, quality training. And the best training for riding a bike is – shock, horror – riding a bike.

Okay, so the pros and top amateurs have nearly unlimited training time. For the rest of us though, life is busy. We have full-time jobs, businesses to run, travel, studies to complete, family and lots of other commitments, so sometimes we need to be creative in order to find some training time.

So, how many hours do you need to train for to be in reasonable shape to ride a sportive? Used wisely, around five hours a week for three months will see you in reasonably good shape. Seven hours a week would be better, and more would be excellent. A longer lead time would be even better. Can you do it on fewer hours? Most likely. Would you enjoy it as much? Possibly not.

So, first things first. Find those hours you can consistently train for every week, and spend that training time on a bike. Using a home turbo trainer is a great way to maximise training time. No need to worry about the weather, traffic or the dark. 

Using a bike to commute to and from work can also be a great way to get some extra time in the saddle. Going to bed one hour earlier so you get up earlier to train before the next day starts in earnest is another. Get to a gym and use a gym bike or a spin bike during lunchtime.

There are lots of ways to use your time wisely so that those five, seven or more hours start to become available. And if you're doing training other than riding a bike, then remember that nothing will improve your bike fitness as well as riding a bike.

About the author

Alex Simmons is an accredited Cycling Australia coach and commissaire, as well as a regular track and road racer. He offers professional coaching for cyclists of all levels through his role as an associate coach with Richard Stern Training.

In his next article for BikeRadar, he'll explain what to do next after completing your sportive.

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