Jo Rowsell Shand: 10 easy tips for your first cycling sportive

Jo Rowsell Shand: 10 easy tips for your first cycling sportive

Ahead of her first taste of the iconic Etape du Tour sportive, Britain’s double Olympic team pursuit champion Jo Rowsell Shand tells Mark Bailey how to train, eat and think before your first big cycling challenge

1. Try to keep all your training fresh and fun

I have spent so long as an Olympic athlete training on the track to exact power outputs and cadences that I am now just enjoying taking on a new endurance challenge like the Etape (a 178km bike ride in France on July 16) purely for the fun of it.

My aim is to be relatively fit – not Olympic fit. So in training it doesn’t matter if I ride slower, or take a left or right turn here or there, or explore new roads. I just go wherever I want, so long as I get good miles in to help build my stamina.

The Etape is a tough challenge with lots of Alpine passes so I am not taking it lightly but I will just ride slowly, stop when I want, soak up the scenery and enjoy not having a stopwatch on me.

This year’s L’Etape follows the route of stage 18 of the Tour de France

2. Make your own energy snacks

During a long ride I like a combination of real food and energy gels. Bananas are a dead easy snack but I like to make my own race food too, like energy balls – just oats bound with honey, peanut butter and mashed banana and rolled in dessicated coconut. You don’t need any equipment, just a bowl and your hands.

I like homemade granola bars too but rather than syrup and butter I use honey, coconut oil and raisins. I also like gels for a shot of energy towards the end of a ride. It’s just the thing you need for some sustained energy and a mental lift.

3. You don’t need mountains to train for mountains

Big climbs like those in Europe can be daunting for anyone based in the UK but you don’t need big hills to train for them. If the event you are taking part in has a half hour climb in the course, that doesn’t mean you need to find a half hour climb in the UK. Just go out on flat roads and try to do 30 minutes of sustained effort around your threshold pace so you train your body to work hard for that specific amount of time.

It is less about the climb itself and more about working hard for the duration required to get up it.

4. Use a diary to help stay on track

Before I retired from cycling people always asked me for training advice and as a full-time rider it was easy for me to say: just get out and get it done. Back then cycling was my job and I had nothing else on my to-do list. Now I have a busy lifestyle and other things get in the way so I finally understand the barriers people face when they get home in the evening and they are tired and don’t want to go out on their bike.

The way I have dealt with this change is to plan ahead. I look at my diary at the start of the week and I work out when I can fit in some cycling in the morning or afternoon. With the light in the evening I even sometimes go out at 8pm and it’s very nice when the weather is cooling down a bit.

I am also a HSBC Breeze ambassador. Breeze is a British Cycling initiative which encourages women to get out on local rides so I lead group rides of 10-15 miles in my local area. Knowing I have to meet people helps me to get out regularly.

5. Make sure you’re comfortable

Getting a bike fit is very important and well worth the money. If you are in pain, that is your body saying something is wrong. Pain is not good if you are forcing yourself into a bad position so it’s well worth getting a proper fit. It will make you more comfortable but also more powerful.

6. Use your brain as well as your body

It is worth doing some little things for aerodynamics during the race to make things easier, like getting on the drops in flat sections or whenever there is a headwind. Just little details like changing your hand position on the bike, or getting down low, rather than sitting up like a barn door hitting the wind, will make a big difference to your energy use over a long distance. Learn to get shelter behind other riders whenever you can as well.

7. Fuel up with quality carbohydrates

On the night before a ride I will have quality carbs like brown pasta or rice as opposed to white carbs. I find bread makes me bloated. A simple dinner with some protein and carbohydrates and vegetables is just right. I wouldn’t go huge and have three bowls of pasta. Just eat a good meal and then aim to get the rest by eating throughout the sportive.

8. Mix up your training with other sports too

I have been doing swimming and off-road mountain biking and other aerobic activities as well as cycling so I am mixing it up and having fun. I am lucky that I have a good endurance base in me from all the years on the track so I am just enjoying trying to keep as vaguely fit as possible, rather than focusing on performance.

9. Hit some high-intensity training

Interval training is also very good for getting you fitter. I use a WattBike and you can do lots of really good short sharp sessions which increase your fitness quickly. One of my favourite sessions is Russian Steps. That means you do 15 seconds on, 45 seconds off; then 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off; then 45 seconds on, 15 seconds off. And if you are feeling good you can then do a full 60 seconds.

If you’re not feeling it, a 20-minute threshold effort can feel quite daunting. But doing small efforts makes it very easy to get your head round the session. You can just thrash out efforts and you’re done quite quickly.

10. Write away your worries

If you feel nervous about anything before the sportive, write down what you are nervous about or find somebody to talk to about the race. It is better if that person is a friend or a partner who is removed from the event. When you talk about your nerves out loud they seem like such silly things to worry about and you realise it’s not worth the time worrying about them. Always exercise your fears rather than let them bother you.

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