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Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Sportive Mistakes

by Ben Hallam

I haven’t done many sportives but the other week I had the pleasure of riding the 170km Mont Ventoux sportive. While riding, I saw a few things people making some common mistakes, so I thought I’d quickly write about them here.

Too hard too early: When we hit the climb for the first time, some people attacked it like jackrabbits. Surprise surprise, these people proceeded to blow up and I easily rode past them. Don’t get too excited too early. This where riding with a power meter helps no end. Doing a physiological test at Bespoke Performance Lab can give you the power bands that you can sustain for a given duration. Heart rate takes time to raise, which means that you can spend the first minute going too hard and produce lactic acid that you will not have an opportunity to get rid of until you reach the summit. Power gives you instant feedback and you can hit your pace spot on. 

Riding at other people’s pace on the big climbs: Just because someone has past you does not mean that you have to try and hold their pace. They may be going too hard and blow up anyway. You risk over cooking yourself and ending up with a slower time overall. Find your pace and stick to it. Again, riding to a power zone is a perfect way to ride your own race.

 Not stopping for water on hot days: I saw plenty of people riding past the feed stations. It’s not a sign of weakness to stop briefly on a hot day, especially for the early ones. Dehydration and heat stroke will slow you down a lot more than a 4 minute stop to top up your bottles. Suffice to say, I saw plenty of people collapsed at the side of the road throwing up with heat stroke on the route.

Control your core temperature: If it is really hot, it’s important to keep your core temperature under control. This is the heat deep inside you. If there is a village fountain, wet the areas where the blood comes closest to the skin:
a.      The head,
b.      The neck,
c.       The armpits,
d.      The elbow crease,
e.      The wrists,
f.        The back of the knees,
g.      The ankles.
However, don’t do this straight before a descent as you will probably get too cold.

Line through uphill hairpins: When climbing through hairpin turns, I saw lots of people taking the inside of the bend. Yes, it is the shortest line through the corner but it is also the steepest. This steep bend takes more energy to get up and stops all your momentum. If you swing wide, take the outside line and then cut in late, the gradient is often almost flat. Here you can click a couple of harder gears, accelerate and gain some vital momentum for the next part of the climb. The line illustrated below is for a closed road like the Etape. On an open road, it is very important to keep looking around the corner for oncoming traffic and don’t us other side of the road.

Line through downhill turns: My first descent down Ventoux was with two riders, one was taking good lines and the other wasn’t. The latter rider nearly totalled himself into an oncoming car when he turned in too early, panicked and braked mid corner. The key to fast safe descending on a mountain is the line through the corner and, when the roads are closed, using the other side of the road to maximise your ability to see round the corner. At no point should you be on the other side of the road if you can’t get out of the way if something comes the other way.

                                                              i.      The first mistake people make is not setting themselves up wide enough on the road. Always check that there isn’t a car or faster rider behind you before moving out. Using part of the other side of the road (when the roads are closed) allows you to see further round the bend. If something does come the other way you will have seen it earlier and have time to brake earlier and move back to your side of the road (unless you’re riding the Tour de France, always assume that something might have slipped through onto the course). When you are on the open road, use the whole of your lane and start as wide as you can.
                                                            ii.      The second BIG mistake that people make is turning in too soon. This causes you to apex the corner too early and means that you can’t see round the bend. It also means you have to keep shedding speed while you’re turning.
                                                          iii.      Third is braking. People often continue to brake with their front break well into the corner. This pitches the bike upright and makes it want to go straight on. Get your braking done before you turn in, then release the brakes and lean the bike with your feet just like carving a pair of skis. If you’re coming in a bit hot and need to shed speed, do so with the rear brake as you’re turning as that will not destabilise the bike as much.
                                                           iv.      Apexing too early will force you to drift wide and towards the other side of the road. You will not be able to see if there is a car coming and the forces of physics will be taking you into its path. A wider line with a later apex allows you to see further round the bend. If you can see there is nothing coming, on a closed road you can be straight on the gas and use the other side to accelerate away. If there is something coming, you already have your speed and line under control. In the words of coach Irv Blitzer from the film Cool Runnings “Slow in, Fast out”.

My diagram below is assuming we are on the continent (thus driving on the right) and on a closed road.

Not doing your fair share: I was in a group of 6 along a flatter section and there were only 3 of us that were willing to work. Now this is fine, it’s a sportive not the Tour de France after all, but two of the riders insisted on riding in second and third wheel. When the guy on the front got fed up for towing these leaches and sat up, they free wheeled and refused to go through. DON’T BE THAT GUY!!!! At least do a small turn in payment for your colleagues hard work. Or, if you are genuinely too knackered to do a turn, sit at the back and let the ones that are willing to work through to the front.

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