“It is not a race”
You will hear this said on the riders briefing before you set off, but we all know that at any sporting event, some people always treat them as a race.
Sportives are what marathons are for runners, a long distance challenge. We, Cyclists and Runners, are trying to complete the distance. When we come back and do it next year we try and beat last years’ time. A Sportive falls between a traditional cycle road race and the more challenging non-competitive Audax events
What sort of distance are we talking about?
A full length course comes in at around the 100 mile mark. However most events have a shorter option too, 50 or 70 miles, for those who feel that they are not ready for the longer distance. More recently sportive organisers have begun to include "family route" of around 20-25 miles There are Sportives for everyone and there are many sportives held through the UK all year round. A simple Google search will return numerous events for you to choose from.
Effectively they are a great way to see another part of the country, enjoy the unfamiliar scenery and the challenge, without having to look at a map at every junction! You also get to ride in the company of like-minded people, from a few hundred of them to a couple of thousand at the very big events.
Sportives appeal to riders of any experience or fitness level. Some riders will be looking for an element of competition, perhaps by signing up with a bunch of mates from the same Cycling club. Others, who might find road racing a little strenuous, can ride at a steadier pace and still enjoy the benefits of a ride with marked directions and feed stations and mechanical support.
So the big question is, what do you get for the entry fee?
When you finally cross over the finish line you might get some form of goody bag, the contents vary depending on the event and the entry cost and any sponsor that has got involved.Some events also give out finishers medals.
You get free parking at the HQ with facilities, a well sign-posted route with marshals and mechanical support, well stocked feed stations along the route, nice scenery, quiet country roads and some interesting hills to test yourself on. Most events are timed, though timing comes in its many forms; it could be just a simple stopwatch “time you in and out” variety, to the high tech 'sticker on the side of your helmet' electronic timing tags.
There are usually photographers on route too, they are typically lurking on the worst hills, ready to catch your ever smiling face as you slog your way up and give you the opportunity to purchase a souvenir of the day afterwards.
Established Large Sportive events
The first ever French cyclosportive was La Marmotte, which was first run in 1982 on a route starting in Bourg d’Oisans and taking in the Col de la Croix de Fer, Col du Telegraphe, Col du Galibier and Col du Lautaret before climbing to the finish at the top of one of the most famous Tour de France climbs at Alpe d’Huez. It remains one of the most popular cyclosportive events today in Europe and is often considered to be the hardest. Arguably the most famous sportive today is the French I’Etape du Tour, held each July over a stage of that particular year’s Tour de France, usually a mountain stage. This over-subscribed event sees approximately 7,500 riders attempting to emulate the professional cyclists.
The largest open road sportive in the UK is the Verenti Dragon Ride Wales, held each June over a challenging 200 km mountainous course in South Wales.
There are three UK Sportives held on closed roads - the annual Etape Caledonia, which attracted 3,500 cyclists in its 2009 edition and follows a route around the Perthshire highlands; the Etape Cymru, held on the North Wales roads including the Horseshoe pass; and the Prudential Ride London-Surrey 100 through central London and the Surrey countryside, which in its inaugural run was completed by nearly 16,000 riders and then by 20,000 the next year.
The Lincoln Grand Prix Sportive is held every year in Lincoln the same weekend as the Spring Cup comes to Lincoln. In 2015, it was moved from its usual place on the calendar in May to June to coincide with the National Championships. One of the unique things about this Sportive is its finish - it finishes on Michaelgate, that fabled cobbled climb in the heart of old Lincoln. In 2015 the finish line was moved into the castle grounds. Later on in the year it is the turn of Le Petit, the little sister to the main Event, the GP. The Arrow, a recent addition to the Sportive calendar, has been running now for 2 years (2015). It gets its name from the long straight roads that it goes along. The Meridian is another new event that is in its second year (2015), running out from Louth and using some of the quieter lanes of the Wolds.