Getting your sportive training right during next two months for 2019

Posted on: December 19th, 2018

How to train for cycling sportives

Planning and training for the 2018 sportive season should start now; those who prepare best will enjoy them most. You need to keep moving and get stronger now, without overdoing it.


How to train for cycling sportives


If you want to be at your best for the sportives, or leisure rides, next year you need to start preparing now and be sensible about your training and recovery, writes former national champion turned coach Aidan Ryan.

You will notice it soon; the current of Lycra-clad bodies flowing along the rural roads of Ireland. The deluge is coming from the sportive and leisure sector.

The road racers have been slogging away dedicatedly for a while now. Out to play will come the boys and girls whose sights are set on the big one-day sportives such as the Wicklow 200, the Mick Byrne Randonne,  Ring of Kerry, Etape de Tour, or the multi day sportive challenges such as the Atlantic to Mediterranean.

All these events are looming on the 2019 horizon and the first rides of next year are but a few months away. So how should you go about training for sportive events?


To get the most out of your training you need to work backwards.

You must start with your event and work back from it to right now. This principal is true of training for any activity.


Step 1 – Analyse the demands the event makes on you by asking:

  • What do I need to be able to do to complete this event?
  • What you need for sportive events is bucket loads of endurance. In most sportives the ability to keep going for a long time is crucial.
  • So the implication for training is to gradually build up the continuous hours on the bike.
  • For some events such as the Etape de Tour and Marmotte climbing ability is also a major factor.
  • Some special hill work will be required for these events.
  • Multi day events like the Atlantic to the Mediterranean additionally require the ability to ride 5 days in a row.
  • Back-to-back long rides will be part of the training for this type of event.
  • For all sportive events a good level of skill is important.
  • You need to be able to do the basics like eat and drink while riding along. You should also be competent and safe riding in a group. Descending and cornering skills are also critical on these events.
  • Practice these skills and join a club where you will meet experienced coaches and riders who can help you with the skills, especially those of riding in a group.


Step 2 – Establish current fitness specifically for an event.

  • How far off these standards am I now? Which of the demands do I need to work on most? How much time do I have to dedicate to training?
  • Approaching your training by prioritising the requirements of the event will prove the most productive.
  • For example a rider taking part in the 5 day 600km Atlantic to Mediterranean event must first ask them self how many hours per day will I have to ride?
  • If the longest day involves around 7 hours in the saddle split in two by lunch you have to compare this to your current longest spin. Then plan to gradually increase your continuous cycling to around 4 hours as this is likely to be the longest you will have to be in the saddle.
  • Once you have achieved 4 hours continuous riding time you can have a certain amount confidence that you can cope with the duration.


Some Sample Schedules

Sportive Training Week Snapshot

  • Tues 1hr increasing gradually to 2hrs including some hilly terrain ridden sitting in the saddle. The pace should vary between comfortable (below 80% of max) on the flat to just above the point where it is possible to hold a conversation on the hills (80-85%).
  • Thurs As Tue above (the second mid week training session would not be introduced until you had done a number weeks with one mid week session)
  • Sat 2hrs increasing gradually to 4-5 hrs ridden at comfortable pace, at which you can hold a conversation  (below 80%) on flat to rolling roads
  • Sun 2hrs increasing gradually to 3 hrs ridden at comfortable pace, at which you can hold a conversation (below 80%) on flat to rolling roads.

If we analyse the demands of events like the Wicklow 200, Mick Byrne Randonne or Etape de Tour we see that not only must you have great endurance, (because they all involve riding for over 5 hours) but all require the ability to climb more than 3000m and complete this within a certain time.

It’s not enough to just work on basic endurance for these events. Climbing will require you to go to a higher work level and will require a different pedalling technique.

Also you can assist your climbing ability by shedding any excess kilos built up on the midriff over the Christmas period. Being lighter means less power required to lift you up the hill.

After building a good level of basic endurance the following hill session could be introduced.


Strength Endurance Hill Session

  • Warm up riding steady for at least 10-20min.
  • On a medium gradient (6-9%) increase the gear to 1-2 sprockets higher (more resistance) than you would normally use on such a hill so that your cadence is lower than normal.
  • Sitting in the saddle concentrate on rotating the pedals – think of lifting the knee on the up stroke).
  • Keep the upper body still and relaxed.
  • Your breathing should be strong but not gasping.
  • You should feel like your heart and lungs could keep going for an hour.
  • If you are using a heart rate monitor your HR should be approx 85-90% max.
  • Your leg and bum muscles should feel the extra resistance.
  • Continue at this pace for 4-5min (rising over 6-8 sessions to 7-9min).
  • Recover by lowering the gear and riding easy for the same time.
  • Repeat 2-3 times (rising over several weeks to 5-6 times)
  • NB If you live in an area where there are no hills long enough for more than 4 min riding simply increase the number of repetitions and shorten each alternate recovery slightly as you progress over the weeks.
  • Warm down riding easy for 10-30min.
  • Stretch after finishing the ride.

This session could be done once per week rising to twice per week. Leave at least 48 hours between sessions.


 In all the training, apply the following – Training Rules

Training must be regular

  • Three to six times per week depending on age and experience. This should be every or most weeks through out the year.


Training must be specific

  • This means that the training you do must resemble the activity you are training for. If you are training for bike events you need to train on a bike. There is no point in training in a canoe for cycling. If your event is over several hours then you need to train over several hours.
  • Sprint training is of little benefit to a cyclist attempting to complete the Atlantic to the Mediterranean Challenge. The closer you get to the event the more specific your training should be.
  • Gym work, running, football may be of benefit during the off season but they are dropped from training as the season approaches. Training also needs to be specific to you. It must suit your age, ability, experience, free time, commitments, etc.


Training must be progressive

  • This means the work load you do should increase gradually towards the event for which you have chosen to peak. The body adapts to training by improving the systems stressed by that training. If you keep doing the exact same training month after month then the body will adapt and you will stop improving.
  • Doing new types of training or increasing an aspect of training places a new load on the body and forces it to adapt. It is not a good idea to increase too many things at the same time.
  • If you are increasing the number of sessions (frequency) per week then you should keep the speed (intensity) and the mileage (volume) the same or lower. When you increase the speed it is usual to decrease the mileage.


Training must be balanced with recovery

  • This is probably the most important rule. When you train you actually break down or damage parts of the body (think of the muscle soreness after a hard training session).
  • When you are resting after the training session the body repairs it self (recovery) and goes a bit further to try to avoid being damaged by that training again. If you don’t get enough rest the body cannot complete the repairs. The improvements don’t happen and your fitness will deteriorate or stagnate.
  • The rate of recovery can be affected by several things. In general the longer and harder the training the greater the recovery time.

Someone doing hard manual work will recover slower than someone who works sitting in an office. Stressful jobs/lifestyles will be detrimental to recovery.

Good nutrition helps recovery. Regular early nights and a generally healthy life style help recovery. Professional cyclists spend a lot of time resting and are very attentive to their nutrition.

Aidan Ryan has been involved in track & road racing and mountain biking for nearly 40 years. He has won seven national track titles and represented Ireland on a number of occasions. He is a level 3 coach and holds a degree in physical education. Aidan has coached riders of all levels from beginner mountain bikers to European track champions, from leisure riders to ultra-distance record holders.