Summer is peak season for sportives. These organised endurance rides take place on country roads across the UK. There’s probably one not far from you next weekend.
Sportives are suitable for anyone with reasonable fitness and a road bike, or perhaps a touring bike, gravel bike, or lightweight hybrid. There’s a fee to enter, usually around £30 or more. For that you’re provided with a waymarked route to follow, with feed stops en route, plus mechanical backup in case something goes wrong. You may get a goody-bag containing things like a commemorative T-shirt and water bottle, and many events use electronic chip timing to measure exactly how long the ride takes you.
That sounds like a sportive is a race. It isn’t, although a minority of participants treat it as such. A sportive is a personal challenge: the objective is to finish. Depending on how long it takes you, you may be awarded a bronze, silver, or gold finish time – possibly with a certificate and a medal. A sportive is also about enjoying yourself. Scores or hundreds of other cyclists will be taking part, making it a social occasion. Event lengths vary widely, but distances around 100 kilometres and 100 miles are most common.
Those distances might sound intimidating; they could be further than your weekly commuting mileage! Don’t panic. What’s important is to be comfortable on your bike, and to eat and drink regularly on the day so you don’t run out of energy. Pace yourself: don’t set off like a bat out of hell, and take advantage of your lowest gears to avoid burning out on climbs. If you want to be sure you’ll finish, do some longer rides on the weekends building up to the event, culminating in a ride of at least two-thirds of your intended distance a fortnight before.
Most sportives are on road, but there are some ‘adventure cross’ ones that include bridleways and other off-road tracks. A few are almost entirely off-road and are aimed at mountain bikers.
You can search for sportives near you, and find out more about how to ride them, on the British Cycling website: britishcycling.org.uk/sportives. Some independent websites also list sportives, for example sportive.com.
Sportives aren’t the only long-distance challenge rides available. Audax rides are a lower-key alternative. They’re much cheaper than sportives, usually £10 or less, plus a small surcharge if you’re not a member of Audax UK. You normally have to do your own navigation: you’re given a route-sheet and often a GPS track to follow, but signage is rare. Feed stops tend to comprise tea and cakes in village halls rather than energy gels at roadside gazebos. Distances range from about 50km, with 100km and 200km the most common. The longest is 1400km and takes place over five days…
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