Get out and Ride!

Signing up for a sportive is the perfect opportunity to review your cycling habits and practices and identify areas you can improve upon. Part one of your rider review starts here...


1. Cast out your fear

Whether it’s descending at speed, cornering, dealing with traffic, or facing up to a tough climb, we all have areas of our cycling where it is our minds rather than our bodies that hold us back.

Mental performance consultant Andy Barton, of, says there are techniques anyone can employ to conquer performance-denting fears: focus on what you want to happen not on what you fear might happen.

“Fear comes about when you expect something to go wrong. Road racers I have worked with will often experience an increase in fear when they are coming back from a nasty fall. In such circumstances, there can be a tendency to focus on the accident, especially when they are on a similar road to where the accident happened, which provokes the rider to play a mental movie of the accident happening again and again.

“Fear comes about as a result of a perception of what might happen, not what does happen. One way of dealing with it is to re-program how you feel about the accident by replaying the experience in your mind – correcting what you did so that you stay on the bike rather than fall off. When we mentally rehearse an event vividly we actually fire the same neurons in the brain as when we really experience something, so on a certain level the mind cannot differentiate from imagined experience and reality. By regularly playing the ‘good’ race in your mind it can help you look forward to racing rather than dreading it.”

Stay in the present  

“Most riders will have experienced that phenomenon often referred to as ‘the zone’ or ‘flow’, where everything seems easy, where you perform using instinct rather than conscious thought and you are free of fear, stress and anxiety. One of the essentials for a racer to enter ‘the zone’ is that they must be in the present. As Zen Buddhists will tell you, negative emotions come about when an individual projects into the future. Emotions such as guilt and regret come about when we project into the past. But none of these negative emotions tend to bother us when we are in the present. A racer can get into the present by focusing on what they are doing in the moment (getting a good rhythm or focusing on their breathing), rather than thinking about something coming up (that testing hill in 10 miles’ time).”

Change your physiology

“A person who is experiencing fear will adopt a corresponding physiology (head down, frown etc). In the same way our mental state will affect our physiology, our physiology will affect our mental state. So if you were to purposely adopt the physiology of fear you would become fearful. Another way of dealing with fear is to change your body language to that of someone who is confident. If you lift your head up, hold your shoulders back and put a smile on your face, the mind registers that you are feeling confident and so it is far harder to feel the fear.”

2. Throw away bad pacing

Even in a 10-mile time trial, starting out as hard as possible can be a recipe for disaster – and over any other distance, it certainly will be. And yet the temptation is always there, if we are seeking to ride a set distance as fast as we can, to set off as fast as we can.

Pacing is calculating how much energy you will need to cover the distance you plan to ride, and making sure you’ve got some left for the end. Mark Cavendish is an extreme case, but he spends the first 179.8km of an 180km stage using as little energy as possible so he can light it up in the last 200m. You need to do something similar.

If you’re riding a sportive you will hopefully get the chance to work in a group, conserving energy by taking turns on the front, but don’t get sucked into a group that’s far too quick for you. Riding with faster cyclists can be an effective way to train, but on training rides it doesn’t matter if your legs give up and you have to crawl home alone.

In an event where you find yourself alone then you need to listen to your body. Much better to take the first half too easy and be able to step it up in the later stages than to blow up halfway through.

Watch Sir Bradley Wiggins in a time trial and he will have a negative split – he will ride the second half of the course quicker than the first. It brought him Olympic gold in 2012, and saw him overhaul a visibly tiring Fabian Cancellara for silver at last year’s worlds. Good pacing means you get the satisfaction of passing more people than you’re passed by in the later stages of your event.

3. Sweep away poor pedalling technique

If we weather holds back your road riding during the early part of the season, then use your remaining Wattbike or turbo sessions to work on your pedalling. An efficient pedal stroke will enable you to ride further or faster for the same amount of energy. It will also help you to avoid injuries caused by putting excessive strain on your knees and ankles. Out on the road it can be difficult to concentrate on your pedalling motion when there is so much else to pay attention to. On the Wattbike, turbo or rollers you are free to focus.

There are two often-expounded techniques for achieving perfect pedalling – what the French call souplesse – and they are to imagine your hip bone moving in a perfect circle, or to imagine at the bottom of your pedal stroke that you are scraping mud off the sole of your shoe, thereby dragging it backwards and into the upstroke rather than letting the transfer of energy end at the base of the stroke.

Concentrate on these leg motions in training, while keeping your upper body still, and they will begin to come more naturally out on the road.

4. Sort out your on-bike nutrition

Getting your pacing right is half the battle when it comes to enjoying your whole ride, but you also need to sort out your feeding. A well-fuelled ride will not only be more enjoyable but faster too.

Nutritionist Kate Percy of explains: “On-bike nutrition should be an integral part of your training. It’s best to try out different strategies for your on-bike feeds to find out what suits you as an individual, as tolerance to different foods under stress can vary enormously. We can store enough carbohydrate in the form of glycogen, our primary source of energy for endurance, to keep us going for around 90 minutes of exercise. After this we resort to burning fat reserves for energy. At best this can reduce both speed and efficiency. At worst we run out of steam completely, or ‘bonk’.

“You’ll need a balance of carbohydrate and protein (a 4:1 ratio is best) to keep glycogen stores topped up and muscles healthy. In addition to this you’ll need to replace fluids and electrolytes (salts) that you’ll lose when you sweat. Regular top-up feeds of 30-60g carbohydrate, a little protein and fluids every 20-30 minutes will maintain glycogen levels, muscle health and keep you hydrated. Foods that combine carbs and protein work well, for instance bananas, apple slices, malt loaf, energy bars, bagels or sandwiches (marmite/peanut butter/jam), handfuls of salted peanuts and dried fruit.

“Again, the amount of fluid you lose through sweat while riding is individual, so you’ll need to experiment. Sip on water regularly or, if you find it difficult to eat when cycling, a sports drink containing carbohydrate and electrolytes. Check your pee is a light straw colour when you return from your ride – if it is dark you should have taken on board more fluid during your ride.”

5. Update your riding routes

Climb aboard your bike and the world is your oyster… so how come so many of us end up riding the same routes over and over again? Time plays a part, because you know how long a fixed route will take, plus we all like to test ourselves over certain hills, but if you feel your riding is in a bit of a rut, why not point your wheels in the opposite direction next time you leave your road? Just remember to take a map! 

Click here for Part 2 of your rider review

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