Author Colin Dennis explains all about sportives - what is a sportive and how fit do you have to be to do one?
Sportive cycling is enjoying a boom-time. From chip-timed monumental feats of organisation and logistics to small club-run affairs, cycle sportives create a buzz all of their own. From social rider to wannabe racer, well-organised sportives cater for every standard of road cyclist. Pick any weekend from early spring through to late autumn and no matter where you live in the UK, you’re bound to find a sportive event within reasonable distance from your door.
Sportive rides usually take place on quiet roads
On the back of the UK’s amazing cycling success in the Olympics, World Championships and the Tour de France, men and women have taken to road cycling in numbers not seen since the Victorian era. With the likes of Sir Chris Hoy, Sir Bradley Wiggins, Victoria Pendleton and Chris Froome filling the back pages of daily newspapers, UK cyclists are as recognisable today as football or motor racing stars.
Mortal riders take part in cycle sportives for many different reasons: fitness, challenge, obsession or raising money for charity. Whatever the reason, riders get out of bed at unearthly hours each weekend and ride in all weathers to become exhausted, yet exhilarated.
But what is a sportive?
A sportive often includes a number of routes ranging from 25 miles up to 100 miles, or further. The varying route options enable riders of all abilities to challenge themselves against the clock without having to live by a strict training regime. Sportives are normally held on open roads and riders must obey the Highway Code. Each route will be well signposted by the organisers with strategically placed feed and drink stations peppered along the way. Most sportives now include chip-timing to accurately record the time of individual riders.
Arguably, the UK sportive scene has grown organically from a combination of the French ‘randonnée cyclosportive’ scene and British cycle club endurance rides. For many years cyclists have flocked, in their thousands, to participate in both open and closed road events over some of the toughest mountains in continental Europe. Some might say that modern British sportives are more akin to cycle club ‘reliability trials’.
Popular during the winter months, reliability trials are long-distance club rides where riders and club racers concentrate on getting more ‘relaxed or social’ miles into their legs. Club runs seldom use route signage or feed stations, so riders are left to fend for themselves (hence, ‘reliability’). Café stops are often an integral and important port of call during club runs.
The main purpose is to enjoy the ride
Whatever the reasons, the ever-growing UK sportive season enjoys a calendar full of exciting and challenging rides in some of the most beautiful landscapes that these islands have to offer.
There are also a growing number of sportive events in the UK that are held on closed roads. Events such as the ‘Etape Cymru’ in North Wales and the ‘Prudential London–Surrey 100’ prove to be hugely popular, with riders entering in their thousands to complete these arduous rides in the safety of closed roads. But distance is not the only challenge facing sportive riders – hills play a major part in sportive rides, and conquering a severe climb is seen as one of the real tests of any given event. Sportives may not yet attract the mad-cap cycling supporters, or tifosi, as seen lining the mountain stages of the Tour de France, but a warm welcome is always on hand at the end of a sportive event.
So, could I do one?
The routes in this guide are designed to offer a happy medium across the distances involved and, importantly, provide some insight into what to expect when covering longer distances by bike.
Each route is designed for both newcomers and experienced sportive riders alike. Having built up a base level of fitness and stamina, any fledgling sportive riders will soon feel the benefit of testing themselves against the distances and terrain involved. More experienced riders will enjoy the variation and challenge of discovering new routes as they test themselves in the most scenic areas across the south east of England.
Although sportive events are not races, many riders pride themselves in getting around in the quickest time possible and will look to improve on their times throughout the season. But one thing’s for sure, sportive riders can enjoy a sense of achievement that few other amateur cyclists can. A hundred miles is a long way and should never be taken lightly. Train for the distance and train for the hills.
The new guidebooks offer the perfect opportunity for riders of all abilities to challenge themselves over the most varied and scenic areas of the south east and south west of England in preparation for their chosen sportive event.
Enjoy the ride!