For the past 11 years, Rapha’s Festive 500 has been part of the holiday season for many cyclists. Riding 500 km in eight days and battling the elements on a bike, or like many others, sitting in the warm in front of the TV and stuffing their bellies? Sounds like an easy decision, right?
We decided to tackle the Festive 500 this year instead of spending time at home with our families. For us, it feels like the right thing to do this year, to keep to ourselves and not put ourselves or others at risk of catching it.
This will be the first time for us to take on the Festive 500 challenge and with the cold, dark and rainy winter days ahead, it can be hard to find the motivation to get outside and ride. This is where the fact that we are both tackling the challenge together, rather than one person having to struggle to get outside alone, is a huge advantage for us.
We’ve spent the last few days preparing and thinking, because as the saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
As for how to approach the Festive 500, it’s always been open to interpretation, whether you want to go long or short, on- or off-road, solo or with friends, and this year, for the first time, virtual Zwift miles will be counted.
Since, as we said, we don’t have any family commitments this year, we decided to split the 500km over the 8 days, which is an average of 62.5km per day. We are also free to choose when we want to get on the bike on that particular day, since no one is waiting for us.
Using Komoot, we have made a collection of routes for ourselves, some on and some off the road. This gives us the opportunity to cover more distance in less time on days with bad weather on the road. We may also ride longer distances on sunny days to have some buffer for supposed rainy days.
Having a choice of routes with distances between 50 and 100km seems to be a good solution for us to choose a longer route on days when the legs feel good and a shorter route on days when it is pouring.
THE FOOD / NUTRITION
The main question (especially for Jana), what do we eat to be fit on the bike for 8 days straight? Sure, we could start each day with a quick slice of toast and cook pasta and open a jar of pesto after the ride, but that wouldn’t give us enough energy, nor would it do Christmas justice – because the best part about Christmas is the delicious food, too.
So we made a plan: for breakfast and dinner. We start each day with healthy fats, long-chain carbohydrates, and plant-based protein. Our bowl is based on whole grain oatmeal, and then we add all kinds of seeds, nuts, fruits, peanut butter, dates, and definitely dark chocolate. This fills us up for a long time and gives us enough strength for the kilometers ahead. On the road we will drink lots of water, eat Clif Bars, vegan snack sausages and fruit.
And then? When we arrive back home, tired and hungry? Then we’ll have a festive winter meal: homemade red cabbage, vegan goulash and pan-fried dumplings are on the menu, among other things. Much of it is already prepared, so no need to spend hours in the kitchen. And every day there is something different, because every day the same would be pretty boring. If we are not able to do 500km for the Festive 500 like this, at least it wasn’t because of the food.
Layers, Layers, Layers. Here in our northern hemispheres we have to deal with wind, cold and rain. Temperatures can vary from -2°C to 10°C. It is not so easy to dress appropriately. Somehow you are always dressed either too warm or too cold.
Our basics are: a warm longsleeve baselayer, we have several to choose from, in different thicknesses. Warm socks. Warm winter bib tights and a thermal longsleeve jersey. Depending on the temperature, a jacket or a vest is added. We ideally pack something to change into, so that we can keep warm in case it gets very wet.
To keep our limbs warm, we each have two different pairs of gloves, a warm cap for under the helmet and for the feet we have opted for overshoes made of neoprene.
Perhaps the biggest weakness is that we do not have everything in multiple versions and if it rains really hard, the bib may not be dry from the previous day. The same could happen if we don’t manage to get the laundry dry after washing. But this will be fine…
We won’t be riding the Festive 500 on our own bikes. Instead, we’re happy to announce that we’ve teamed up with Cannondale and will be riding the challenge on two Cannondale Topstone Carbon Lefty 3s. Since we ride gravel bikes ourselves, it’s not a big decision in principle for now, but the bikes come with suspension and wider 650b tires, which should make the 500 kilometers in the saddle more comfortable. Let’s hope.
We always have extra bags on the bike anyway, whether it’s a saddlebag or handlebar bag, plenty of storage for multitools, extra snacks or layers are very welcome. Also, this time there will be extra liquid on board, as stops at cafes are not possible at the moment.
Finally, it is likely that we will be riding at dusk or dark, so a set of good bike lights is essential. Make sure they are charged for each ride, this also applies to your GPS device, because as we all know, if it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen.
BEFORE THE RIDE
Before the ride there is not only breakfast, but also once again check the bike, inflate air depending on the route and prepare ourselves. This includes, of course, getting us peeled into all the layers, but perhaps also a little stretching and warm-up program. Not to be neglected is also the use of Chamois cream, with 8 days in the saddle in a row that definitely will not do any harm.
DURING THE RIDE
The most difficult thing for us in winter is to remember to hydrate enough while riding. We are going to try to remind ourselves with a little trick we learned from our friend Johanna. We will set a lap time of 15 minutes on our Wahoo, so every 15 minutes we will be reminded by a sound to take a sip. Let’s see if that helps.
AFTER THE RIDE
The cold is upon us and possibly we will be wet after a long session in the saddle and all we will think about is a hot shower and spending the rest of the day on the sofa. But if we forget the essentials, it could get in the way again on the next ride.
This time of year we expose our bikes to a lot more potentially horrible conditions, so a little extra love and attention won’t hurt them. Fortunately, in order to properly clean the bikes after a ride, we can rely on a battery-powered low-pressure cleaner. Otherwise, we would have to carry the muddy bikes to the fourth floor to clean them in the bathtub. So we can rinse off the grossest mud outside and then take care of the details inside. Special attention should be paid to the drivetrain and brakes. We will maintain our chains with a new lube from Muc Off, the Hydrodynamic Lube.
So after the ride, we’ll not only treat our bikes with love, but our bodies as well. That includes post-ride stretching, maybe a massage, and products to go with it, like a recovery balm or warming massage oil.
Ultimately, flexibility and limiting unplanned down days seems to be the key to a successful Festive 500. While the challenge is measured in distance, the reward is measured in happiness. We will ride some of our favorite routes, spend time with each other being active, and above all, have fun, because that’s what cycling is all about.