10 things I learned from my first sportive

On Saturday I rode my very first Sportive, the Tecklenburg Rundfahrt in Germany. It was a 100 km route through West German countryside with 16 climbs; two with 20% inclines! I experienced the hills as brutal and continued to see the members of my group disappear around the next bend, leaving me to conquer the climbs on my own.

The Tecklenburg Rundfahrt 100km

We had very experienced cyclist in the group, who was happy to show the newbies among us the ropes. I leaned much about cycling events and about handling my bike better. Without further ado, here are 10 things I leaned during my first sportive:

1. Make sure you understand the terrain before you choose a distance.
While I knew I could ride the distance, I have never cycled this many hills in succession. Luckily we dropped the idea of doing the 160 km distance before we headed out! Lesson learned: Consider how tough the course will be when deciding how far you want to go.

2. If you drive to the event, get in the car dressed in your cycling outfit.
(Unless you know this is not the culture/setup of the event)
I decided to wear shorts in the car and planned to change at the starting area. Turns out you park anywhere you can find a spot in town, and head to the start on your bike, which could be a few kilometres away. Let’s just say this lead to quite a bit of stress to find a place to change while the rest of the group was ready to go.

3. The route is set out and clearly marked, but not closed off to other traffic.
There were volunteers at busy or dangerous intersections, but at all other crossings you had to make sure it was safe before you crossed.

4. There is no shame in walking up a hill with a 21% incline.
I saw many people pushing their bikes up hills; including fit looking guys with impressive calves and expensive bikes.

5. Anticipate hills, especially around turns. Adjust your gears in advance.
Many parts of the course consisted of a speedy decent with an unexpected turn heading up a hill again. This meant you where cruising on your big chain ring, forced to make a sharp right and finding yourself stuck in the wrong gear up a steep hill. Look ahead, anticipate, and make sure you shift in advance.

6. On the contrary, while climbing up a hill, don’t anticipate an increase in the incline and adjust your gear too soon.
I never realized I switched gears too soon on inclines. When you do this your cadence increases and you lose your rhythm. Instead, I need to wait until I feel my cadence slowing ever so slightly, and then switch to a higher gear.

7. When descending, look far ahead and in the direction you have to go.
This seems simple, but I constantly had to remind myself to look through the bends instead of looking at my front wheel.

8. Also, while descending, brake with short but hard bursts instead of hanging on your breaks endlessly.
Hanging on your brakes seems to be particularly dangerous when the weather is as hot as it was on Saturday. For fear of my tire exploding down a hill, I had ample time and motivation to practice this skill.

9. Part of the fun is to stop and take your time at the refuelling stations.
Fill your bottle from a hose, grab a banana and empty your bladder. Then hang around in the shade next to your bike until you feel like hitting the road again.

Eating Dutch currant buns at 36 kilometers

10. Technique and skill are just as important as strong legs.
Your legs will only get you so far. I constantly lost time by being in the wrong gear around corners or by carefully (too slowly) navigating the descends. On the other hand, I passed people on hills that had a gear shifting fail.

If you are in Germany in May next year, I would highly recommend the Tecklenburg Rundfahrt: A challenging course set among the beautiful farmlands of west Germany.

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