Sportives, and the alternatives

Sportives are good fun. Well, most of them are. But, sometimes paying up front to enter an event at some point in the distant future, probably with a friend or friends, can mean that you’re committed to going for a much longer than normal ride on a day that you’d normally have given it a miss. Could be a good thing, might not be though. And then there is the mixed riding ability of the other riders. You get seasoned wannabe pros blasting past everyone, going for a personal best, mixing it up with absolute beginners, who are totally out of their depth, wobbling all over the place on roads they don’t know, whilst trying their hand at group riding, attempting to hitch a lift in your slipstream etc etc… This can end badly…. I’ve also almost been taken out by a marshal on a motorbike! If I’ve not put you off entering your first sportive so far then read on!

I do love sportives. They’re what got me really into riding “properly”, wanting to join a club and eventually race. The first one I entered made me start “training”, which was actually just pushing myself harder. Having a target of a 100 mile ride made me double my efforts on the bike.

The next turning point in my riding came a year later entering the Prudential 100. I got a place through MNDA by raising money. Getting the £600 in donations was actually harder than the ride, but I’m glad I did it. Another issue I had was my wife was expecting our second son that week, but gave me the OK to have the morning off (paying to enter a sportive can give the dedicated family orientated person an excuse to go out for a ride). The event almost got cancelled. The last throws of Hurricane Bertha were hitting the UK. The organisers decided that it’d probably be OK and just took out a couple of the bigger hills, taking the distance down to 86 miles. At points visibility was zero, it was like being sprayed in the face with a warm muddy power shower. I’ve ridden in some bad conditions, but these were probably the worst. I loved the ride though! Although the conditions were bad, the rain was quite warm. I’d also grossly underestimated my ability and started much later than I should have. This meant that I was constantly overtaking people (and nobody overtook me) – for over 3 hours! During this ride I pushed my body harder than ever before. As well as having closed roads, the big hills taken out, and the adrenaline of constantly overtaking other riders, I was worried that I might miss the birth of my son – so I pushed as hard as I could all the way. To my amazement my body didn’t complain, and instead I felt like I could ride faster and faster. My eyes were opened to what my body was capable of. Oh, and I didn’t miss anything at home 🙂

Although I have said that I love sportives, these days I have pretty much given up entering them. The last one I rode was due to a friend breaking his leg, so I took his place. I’m sure I will enter another, but probably not whilst I am racing. Why? Well:

  • Money. At the moment we don’t have much cash to spare and some entry fees are quite extortionate. Paying over the odds to ride around roads I could ride around anyway seems like a waste. If the sportive is on closed roads then that is different. I would ride the Prudential 100 again, but have yet to get a place in the ballot. I also don’t want to have to ask my family and friends for sponsorship money so I can ride my bike which is not a real challenge for me, so seems cheeky.
  • I don’t make much use of any of the facilities on offer at a Sportive – I am able to ride long distances and be self sufficient.
  • There can be a fair bit of standing around waiting at the start – I don’t get as much time to ride my bike as I would like, I’d rather spend this time riding! Being a family man I need to spend my time wisely, which means as few junk miles as possible.
  • Safety wise I think they can be a bit risky, if the weather is bad and you’re then directed down a steep hill it’s not much fun. I’ve seen plenty of bad crashes, and on some of the bigger rides its not unknown for people to die.
  • I can go on a club ride or long solo ride whenever I like, and after doing plenty of really long rides, the novelty of covering such distances wears off.

So I guess what I’m getting at is – do a sportive or three, if you find one on closed roads, such as the vastly oversubscribed Prudential Ride London, definitely enter it. There are some which are more coveted than the average sportive, so maybe check them out, for example L’Étape du Tour, the Wiggle Dragon Ride or The Hell Of The Ashdown.

BUT! If you want to ride long distances, and don’t know where to start, then there are alternatives to sportives which you should consider.

If you want an epic ride then there are some must do events, such as the Dunwich Dynamo. 120 miles through the night following the trail of blinking red lights. Its free, although getting home probably wont be, and can be a logistical nightmare. The year I rode it a friend left his car at Dunwich and got the train to London the day before, rode the 120 miles through the night and then drove us back to London. Due to the risk of falling asleep at the wheel, doing this isn’t recommended. Some people ride there and back, which is what I plan to do one day, maybe this year. If you want to do it fast then leave early, if you want to fully experience it then be prepared to ride slowly. Most pay for a coach ticket from Southwark Cyclists.

Reliability Trials, such as the Old Ports one, are a sort of barebones / grass roots sportive. Originally organised by clubs at the beginning of the race season so that local racers could assess each other, and themselves. They’re generally held early in the season, so weather could well be a factor, but that’s kind of the point. Fitness is the other factor. On the plus side they normally don’t cost much to enter, and there is cake at the end (but no feed stations en route) where you can chat to the other riders. Here’s another good article about them.

Join a club. If you join a club then you can ride long distances every weekend, or even more regularly, for free, with the support of people you know. Honestly, if you’re thinking about riding a sportive then you should definitely join a club.

Just go for a ride. This is what people used to do before the days of GPS or the internet. Ride a bit further each time and you’ll be doing metric and then imperial 100s in no time. Just remember to take plenty of food and water. I take 2 water bottles, 2 bananas and some gels or sweets or flapjack which is enough fuel for me to ride at speed for 4 hours. If you want to ride more than this then take more food, or find a shop or stop at a pub.

Dare I say it? You could ride for free. Most sportives are held on open roads and there is nothing to stop you joining in. You’d have to be super cheeky to ride a sportive that’s on closed roads, I’m not suggesting that. But pretty much every weekend ride I do around Kent seems to come across a sportive, so sometimes sharing a route with a sportive is unavoidable. If the arrows have been put out then why not follow them for a bit? These days if you end up lost then Google Maps or your high end Garmin will be able to get you home. Another method is – download the route from the organisers website and use your GPS bike computer to navigate around it. This way you can choose to ride it on a different day to avoid the crowds and potential bad weather.

If you find you’re entering more and more sportives then maybe its time to think about racing!!! 😉

Here are links to some of my sportive rides:

FT Ride London 100, 30/06/2013

Dunwich Dynamo, 20/07/2013

Evans Ride It, Biggin Hill, 3/11/2013

Old Portlians Reliability Ride, 02/02/2014

Prudential 10/08/2014

Kentish Killer, 15/02/2015

Old Portlians Reliabilty Trial (fail), 08/02/2015

Active Sports London Sportive, 10/05/2015

Evans Ride It, Biggin Hill, 8/11/2015



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