In recent years, a cyclist’s desire to test himself against an impossibly difficult task has taken shape in the form of European sportives. Once the sole preserve of Grand Tour riders, enthusiastic cyclists from around the world now regularly descend in hordes during the summer months to complete Herculean distances in popular sportive countries such as Italy, France or Spain. Whilst perfectly ride-able for the majority of cyclists, like everything done well in life, preparation is paramount, so let’s take a look at some of the key cycle clothing items you’ll need in order to cope with the particular demands of hot, long distance riding, and not end up a pile of goo on the valley floor. Here’s to a no goo ride!
Never, ever change your apparel choices too close to the event date – stay with what has been comfy in training; this particularly applies to shoes.
Undoubtedly, a lot of your time will be spent climbing, whether that is gradual 5% 17km grinds, or sharp shocks of 15%, the result is the same, a big rise in your core temperature. The only way to avoid the claustrophobic feeling of over heating is to wear a lightweight baselayer as your first layer, which will keep you cooler than if you were not wearing one (bizarre but true).
For the next layer, you will need a lightweight cycling jersey with inherent UV resistance. Protection from the sun will become paramount as the day develops, and in our experience it is far better to relay on a fabric solution, rather than temporary (and too easily removed) sun cream.
Perhaps not widely known in the cycling world right now, but new advancements in body cooling are giving athletes options other than suncream, a perfect example of which are the Craft Compression Arm Coolers. Looking like a standard arm warmer, they actually provide full UV protection whilst creating a cooling effect on the rider’s arms. For hot rides, the Craft Arm Coolers allow the rider to completely dispense with the suncream on the arms, thus avoiding the old problem of sweat removing the UV protection over time.
If you can, take a spare set of apparel for a course recon before the event – save your best for the big one!
European mountains can create their own weather system, so whilst the lower slopes might have you sweating after only a few spins of the pedals, way up at the top, it could quite easily be chilly, cloudy and damp. In itself this isn’t something to be overly concerned about, but with the descent coming up, you definitely need a packable windproof cycling jacket or gilet to pull out of a rear jersey pocket in order to avoid the sweat cooling your body as you descend.
Always carry your event helmet, glasses and apparel onto the plane in a holdall – airlines can mislay your checked baggage.
Beware The Flat Road
The brochure might have featured the mountains, but don’t be fooled into thinking that you won’t be pounding along on the flat for a good few kilometres. The trick of course is to ride in a group and never get caught alone, it is even better to wait for more riders than to carry along at a much slower pace than a group could take you. However, staying on the clothing tack, long flats require a great pair of cycling bib shorts. It really is worth spending some money on a pair of bibs designed for long distances and hot environments – not only will you feel more comfortable the whole day, but their lightweight construction and advanced chamois (or ‘pad’) are specifically designed for this sort of ride.
Happy in Apparel
Cycling in the knowledge that you are wearing the correct apparel is hugely important, and if you are looking to complete a cycling sportive this season, getting the equipment issues out of the way will allow you to face the ride with total confidence. Yes, you will suffer (oh how you will suffer), and you may at some point wish you were anywhere else but desperately climbing a never ending mountain, but at least you will be dressed for the conditions.
Well, that concludes our little guide on clothing for a European Sportive, and we hope you find it very useful. Above all, just remember to have fun and enjoy the company of your fellow rider, and when you finish, have a well earned meal, then sleep!