'Be prepared' may be the Boy Scouts' motto but it should also be the sportive rider's watchword. You may happily ride a few sportives with just a water bottle, a pump, tyre levers and a spare inner tube to use in emergencies but sooner or later your chain will break or your saddle will slip and you'll wish you had a bit more kit on board.
This article comes out of a list I compiled before riding the 2011 etape from Modane to Alpe d'Huez. Readers may think I went a little bit over the top in my preparations but having spent all the time and effort getting myself into the right condition to ride the etape it would have been ridiculously frustrating to fail to complete because of an avoidable mechanical failure or neglecting my nutrition.
We've compiled a PDF sportive checklist that you can print off - obviously some of the items won't apply if you're riding on the flat on a glorious summer's day with no bad weather forecast and other items won't apply for a winter sportive in Britain (eg you probably won't need suncream). Download the men's sportive checklist or the women's sportive checklist now.
Bike - It's unlikely you will forget your bike but it's probably a good idea you check you have it. As soon as you arrive at your destination have a quick pedal round on your bike to make sure nothing has fallen apart in transit. With a bit of luck you will have time to sort anything out that has gone wrong before the sportive starts.
Cycling shoes - I once drove 60 miles to a sportive and found that I had left my shoes at home. At 8am on a Sunday morning that was not a good feeling. If your shoes are showing signs of age make sure the fastenings are all tight and not likely to fall apart under strain.
Inner tubes - I tend to carry three inner tubes for a 100 mile sportive and two for a 60 miler.
Emergency patching kit - if your spare inner tubes all get used and you still have a flat you're having a bad day. But it does happen and the emergency patching kit will be needed, if you don't just get on your phone and call a taxi to take you home!
Pump - There's not much point in having spare inner tubes if you can't pump up your tires. Get yourself a nice, light pump that can deliver a decent PSI inflation of your tire.
Tyre levers - It's hard to change a tyre without tyre levers.
Chain tool - Get one big enough that you can actually use when you're freezing cold and shivering 70 miles into a winter sportive. I snapped my chain on a miserable winter's day and spent half an hour with a tiny chain tool that was fine in the warmth but I couldn't manipulate in the cold.
Multi tool including Allen keys (also known as hex key) - Absolutely vital for minor technical repairs to your bike. Everything from saddle adjustment to tightening loosened bolts.
Saddle bag - big enough to fit your inner tubes (two of them, at least), emergency patching kit, tyre levers, chain tool and multi tools. Don't be tempted to get anything larger than this otherwise you will be tempted to fill it with crap that you don't need and it will slow you down.
Chain lube - Make sure you lube your chain just before a ride. It will improve your ride and is better for your chain.
Spare tyres - I usually have a spare tyre in the back of my car, just in case of emergencies. Not much use once the sportive has started but its hard to find a new spare tire at 8am on a Sunday morning. Better safe than sorry.
Cleats - It's even harder to find spare cleats at 8am on a Sunday morning than spare tyres.
Spare chain - You're not likely to need it but if you have one it's useful. Especially important for overseas sportives (eg Marmotte, Etape) where your set up may be different to the set ups at the local bike shop.
Brake blocks - Hardly takes up any space. If you check your bike carefully before setting off you should have changed your brake blocks if they need them. Far from vital but useful to have.
Pump - A proper track pump so you can get the desired pressure for your tyres before setting off is an absolute must for a lot of sportive riders. I always throw my track pump in the car before setting off.
Lock - Thieves do like sportives (lots of very expensive, portable kit) and bikes have been known to go missing while somone is in the bathroom at the end of a ride. I tend to get my bike into my car (or locked onto the car roof) as soon as possible after I have finished but if you're low on strength it can be useful to have a basic lock to make sure you don't have a miserable end to your day.
Lights - Early and late season sportives will often start early enough that it is still dark. On a grey, overcast morning you need to make sure motorists see you. I pretty much always have a rear flashing light on my bike apart from on the brightest summer days. Make sure motorists can see you easily - on a dark day try to make sure your clothing is bright too.
Bib shorts - Please, please don't wear new shorts for the first time on a 60 to 100 mile ride. Believe me, if they don't fit properly you're going to regret it. I once rode the Blenheim Palace Sportive in new Rapha bib shorts; for whatever reason they didn't fit properly and my backside was rubbed raw. It took me three weeks before I could sit down without pain afterwards.
Socks - shoes are more comfortable with socks, I find. Preferably ones without holes in them.
Jersey - Long sleeve or short sleeve. Completely unzippable or just a collar zip? Think about what the weather is going to be like during the day. If it is going to be cold during the early part of the ride but hot later on then a short sleeve jersey with arm warmers may be more appropriate. The other major consideration is to make sure you have sufficient pocket space in the back to carry everything you want to take.
Base layer - On all but the hottest days most pro riders will wear a base layer. A good base layer helps regulate body temperature , transfering moisture from the skin and keeping you cool in hot weather and warm in the depths of winter. Choose between sleeveless, short sleeved or long sleeved depending on the conditions.
Helmet - There's a lot of debate about whether it is safer to wear a helmet but most sportive organisers won't let you ride without one, so in some senses this is just as vital as your bike. At sportive.com we always advocate wearing a helmet.
Gloves - Most riders wear gloves to help cushion shocks. It is important to make sure you have gloves appropriate for the weather, which may mean carrying two pairs. Mitts are all very well but on an etape you may find the temperature in a valley is 30 degrees and close to zero at the top of a col. You don't want to be descending a HC climb and not be able to feel your hands. Check the local weather forecast when you wake up.
Sunglasses - People wear sunglasses to keep the sun out and to protect their eyes. The best glasses will have different lenses for different conditions, so in the depths of winter you can have a clear lens that is just there to keep debris from the road flying into your eyes and blinding you.
Depending on the conditions
Depending on the conditions you may want some of the following items. When you check the weather forecast you need to balance the need to keep your load as low as possible with the physical dangers posed by not being prepared for bad weather.
Rain jacket - A good rain jacket will fold down to a tiny size and stow easily. It will also keep you warm on descents.
Gilet - If the weather is warm and you don't expect heavy rain then a gilet (basically a thin rain jacket with no arms) may be a better option. It should keep you warm in the early morning and on mountain descents but it won't take up as much space when you fold it down to store in your back pockets.
Arm warmers - Arm warmers are perfect for days that start out cold and end up hot. Instead of having a long sleeved top, you have the same effect but you can roll down the arm warmers mid ride or take them off and stick them in your rear pockets. A good pair or arm warmers are invaluable.
Knee warmers - see arm warmers but think legs instead. Slightly more tricky to take off though.
Overshoes - On a cold wet day overshoes are a godsend. You'll wonder how you lived without them.
Tights - A proper pair of winter tights is a must when the temperatures drop. Unless you're a masochist then you won't survive the winter months without them.
Head warmer - On a cold day something warm under your helmet will keep you sane.
Neck warmer - No point catching a cold if you can avoid it, is there?
Extra gear to leave at start - When I rode the Etape we needed to be in the pens by 6.30am for a theoretical start time of 8am. It was pretty cold at 6am and it could have been a lot colder. Rather than stand round for two hours shivering I bought a cheap sweatshirt and tracksuit bottom (total price £6) and took them off five minutes before the start. I got a few funny looks - mainly from people who thought I was going to ride in those clothes - but I was a lot more comfortable than other riders and there were plenty of jealous comments.
Bidons/water bottles - Proper hydration during a ride is absolutely vital. A litre of water an hour in hot weather is roughly what the body needs to rehydrate (it depends on how much you sweat, your fitness, weight etc so it varies from person to person) and not drinking properly is bad for your body. I always carry two large bidons on a long ride.
Electrolyte/carbohydrate tablets - To put in your water to keep you hydrated and replace lost electrolytes. Water on its own is just fine but replacing lost salts etc will be healthier for you in the long run.
Energy bars/gels/foods - Fruit bars, bananas, gels, cheese sandwiches, Mars Bars or whatever works for you. The human body can absorb roughly 70g of carbohydrates per hour so there is no point in over-eating. But if you don't eat enough then you'll bonk and that is both unpleasant and potentially dangerous. Read our articles on nutrition during a ride for more tips on avoiding a bonk.
Post ride snack - After a long ride your body will still be burning energy at an accelerated rate for some time. Some sportives will have a pasta meal at the end but if there's nothing laid on it is well worth taking a sandwich or two to keep you going once you've finished. Otherwise your drive home may not be much fun.
Other important things
Cash - I always carry enough cash to get me a decent meal and a taxi to the nearest decent sized place. If you are riding between countries where the currency is changing (eg between France and Switerland) then don't forget to carry both currencies if you possibly can.
Debit card - In case you run out of cash.
Photo ID and address & emergency contact details - if the worst happens and you have a bad crash then the emergency services need to know who you are and who to contact to tell them you are in bad shape. Make sure the contact details are waterproof (or bloodproof).
Mobile phone - Most cyclists I know wrap their mobile in a plastic bag. Sweat and rain never improved a phone's performance.
Navigation device/timer - if you have a Garmin or similar then make sure you have your route downloaded. If you don't then you might want to make a brief note of your route. On the Etape I taped a brief profile (see picture) of the stage to my top tube so I knew the distance of the big climbs and the gradient and also the location of the feed stations.
Sun cream - Don't end up looking like a lobster after eight hours in the saddle.
Organisers telephone number - if the organisers give you an emergency number then programme it into your phone.
Saddle cream - if you smear cream on your nether regions then remember to take it.