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Rapha’s 2019 Festive 500 Challenge – Tips & how to complete it

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The 2019 Rapha Festive 500 Challenge will, once again, take on a similar format to the previous editions.

The challenge for riders is to cycle 500km between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve inclusive. The challenge is open to riders all around the world and anyone can take part. This makes the challenge significantly easier for those in the southern hemisphere than it does for the rest of us. Normally the first to complete the challenge are Aussies with long sunny, warm days to ride in. Pretty much the only rules are to ride 500km and that only outdoor rides count.

For us in the northern hemisphere, completing the 500km in what is usually cold, damp, harsh weather is the challenge. All the time trying to fit in cycling around real-life festive activities makes things tough. Social visits such as Christmas and seeing all of the family get in the way and make finding the time to go riding tougher than normal

The challenge boils down to riding an average of 62.5km (or 39 miles) each day for 8 days. A couple of riders in Australia spent their Christmas Eve in 2016 smashing around a flat oval in a park, basking in the sun together to be the first to complete the Festive 500.

I completed the Rapha Festive 500 challenge in 2014, 2016 and 2018.

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December is a mucky time to ride

How to complete the Rapha 2019 Festive 500

Plan your time

Usually, I’ve managed to get out and ride almost every day during the Rapha Festive 500. This allows me to keep things simple and knock out the required 62.5km each day. The last couple of years, however, I managed to factor in when my club rides were. Being able to do a longer ride in a group on Boxing Day saved me having to think of a route. It also gave me a chance for an easier ride by following some wheels and staying out of the wind. If you’re unable to ride one day because of rain or need a rest, having a plan really helps. Otherwise, the mileage needed soon shoots up to an uncatchable deficit.

Plan your rides

As the Festive 500 is solely a distance challenge, there’s no point using that time to get a PB up that local hill. It’ll save you energy, in the long run, to stick to some of the flatter routes nearby instead. The easier and flatter the ride is, the quicker you’ll be back warm indoors enjoying some mince pies too. One or two days going round and round a local club time trial loop will really knock the miles off with a minimum of effort. It won’t be the most exciting but it’ll get the job done with a minimum of fuss.

40 miles to go Festive 500 2016
40 miles left of Festive 500 2016

Check the weather forecast

There’s no point scheduling a Festive 500 ride for a day when it’s chucking it down unless you absolutely have to. If the forecast is kind, you are better off heading out before or after the showers (before is better, less road spray!). Another problem could be ice, as it was in 2016. Checking the forecast a few days ahead to see if a cold snap is coming will give you a chance to knock off most of the miles. Once the ice sets in, riding gets riskier. After that, it’s more sensible to stick to the bigger roads where the warm car traffic helps melt it off. Again less fun, but you won’t complete the Festive 500 if you fall off and hurt yourself!

Wrap up warm

Those of us trying to complete the challenge in the northern hemisphere have to put up with the trials of Winter. The 2016 Festive 500 saw a lot of freezing temperatures requiring lots of layers. There’s nothing worse than going out for a ride and ending up cold (and wet). Gloves that are too thin make your fingers ache and wearing no overshoes do the same to your toes. A good merino base layer will stop the wind cutting through you too. Wrap up warm and you won’t have to return home early sulking because you had no fun!

Rapha Festive 500 2016 Rides Wheel
All the rides for the icy 2016 Festive 500

Prep your bike for the 2019 Festive 500

As the weather is likely to be cold and damp, your bike needs to be in tip-top shape. Mudguards will keep the worst of the road muck off your back and keep you a touch drier and somewhat warmer. If there is a lot of water or, worse still, some ice, proper winter tyres will help you stay upright. Those expensive Summer slicks are a risky choice. Taking 10psi or so out of the tyres will give your tyres some more grip too. A good set of lights will help you keep riding for longer instead of having to go home at 4pm. Take plenty of tubes as punctures are more common in the Winter. The rain brings out more of the grit and flints from of the road.

Find some friends!

In a purely means to an end way, having someone to sit behind out of the wind will keep you fresher. Especially as you’re likely riding for 8 days and they’re probably not. Riding with someone else will also keep you more entertained and stave off the boredom that starts to creep in. Particularly when riding solo on the same roads day after day. Plus coffee stops are more interesting with someone else to talk to about cake. Chatty friends will keep your spirits up. Particularly on Day 7, when it starts to really feel like a challenge and every hill is a grind on tired legs. All of a sudden you’ll find yourself back at home with your day’s riding done and it will have felt fun.

Remember to enjoy the riding and let me know if there’s anything you’re planning to do to help you through the Rapha 2019 Festive 500!