Guest post: Sportives…the best of…

Mark Tearle has been kind enough to write some guest posts for girodilento before. I recently asked him if he would again and here is the very worthwhile result…. Enjoy and thanks very much Mark….

The British Cycling Website says that “Sportives are long distance organised events, the cycling equivalent of running the marathon, which involve completing a set route.”

The British Cycling Website also goes on to suggest that Sportives are a “phenomenon” which, given the boom in Sportive organisers and the choice of events available on any given Sunday, almost all year round, I guess that is accurate.  If you look at the Cyclosport.org events pages for 2013 you will bear witness to this with your own eyes. 

Given my ties with the cyclosportives in theUK- I spent most of 2010 through to this year riding many of them and reviewing for Cyclosport.org – Girodilento has asked me to list my top 5 UK Sportive events on the calendar.  

So, working as a countdown to number one, here goes:

5. Etape Caledoniahttp://www.etapecaledonia.co.uk/

Etape Caledonia is one of the original and the best closed road Sportives in theUK.  Scotland is great and really very beautiful indeed and this ride, despite the best efforts of a minority of local saboteurs, think back to the famous tacks on the road incident in the 2012 Tour de France, intent on ruining everyone’s day, and the route around the Lochs and mountains of Highland Perthshire is just stunning.  Pitlochry, the host town, puts on a wonderful festival and is very welcoming of the 5000+ participants.  The 9 hour train journey from deepest darkestSussexis somewhat exhausting but if you are hanging around for a full weekend then it really is well worth it.  At over £60 this event does not come cheap.

4.The Dragon Ridehttp://www.wiggledragonride.com/

Another big event on the calendar – since changing hands and a different start venue the sticky start line logistics of getting 4,500 participants off onto the public roads of rural south Wales and the foothills just south of the Brecon Beacons, has almost been sorted by the Human Race people, though there was still an issue of a very long line of cars stretching back out to the M4 this year trying to get in and park.  However, the ride: after 206km and over 3500 meters of climbing I remember leaving south Wales a broken man – this is an incredibly tough event and for that it makes it into the top 5.  Iconic climbs such as The Black Mountain, Rhigos and Bwlch are worth attempting at least once in your life if the Alps, Dolomites or thePyreneesaren’t quite within grasp.  Again, £45+ is on the steep side.

3. The South Hams Hammer http://www.southhamshammer.co.uk/

This was a new event for 2012, though I admit I didn’t ride the Sportive itself that honour was offered to my friend James who provided a review for Cyclosport, I did travel down to the South Hams,Devonto preview the event.  This may be cheating a bit but what I learnt of the Sportive gave me an optimism for the future of cycling in this country as this is a big community event for the people of Kingsbridge.  Having recently changed hands from the original stewardship of local club Cycle Sport South Hams there are exciting plans to make this event bigger and better.  Not only that the South Hams is an absolutely stunning area with a course stretching from the “real sea” on the South Coast of Devon – very Agatha Christie dramatic coastline – right the way up toDartmoor.  It’s a challenging route with relentless ups and downs just enough over the 130km to really zap your energy and make you feel like you’ve put yourself through something.  At £25 this is reasonably priced with a sizable chunk of that money going to charity.

2. Ibbos Cake Questhttp://www.ibbocakequest.com/

One of the most charming events I have ever had the pleasure to ride.  It’s a fairly typical Surrey hills andNorth Downsloop, though taking in some of the lesser known climbs around the Surrey Hills.  The story behind the sportive is both tragic and inspirational in memory of John Ibbotson who died of Sudden Cardiac Death aged just 27.  John was something of a local character for the sport of cycling and this event supports the Ibbotson fund, which offers funding for 2 to 3 young hopefuls each year to help launch their careers in the professional cycling world, as well as CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young).  I’m quite fond of the North Downs and the Surrey hills and of all the events that start inSurreyand ride on similar roads and scenery this is the ride I would always prefer.  It’s all about the cake and the cycling, which is never a bad thing.


1. The Southern Sportive http://www.southernsportive.com/index.php?go=southern

I don’t know what it is about this sportive; I think it is the no nonsense approach by the Southern Sportive events organisers, Trail Break. 15 years in cycle events organisation must account for something, right?  2011 saw a new additional to the classic South Downsloop with ‘The Gauntlet’ which added another 40km to the usual 155km route.  Most of the trail break events under the Southern Sportive calendar for 2013 look to be priced between £25 and £30 so prices have jumped up a bit but they are extremely well organised and run.  The original Southern Sportive, now in it’s 8th year in 2013 I think, is priced a little higher with the inclusion of an event T-shirt, which is usually of good quality cotton and printed with a very striking design…I have 3 of them now, completion of ‘The Gauntlet’ comes with an additional reward though I can’t remember what it is off the top of my head now – I’ve not accomplished it, though I may well be back next year to give it a go if I can muster up a few other sporting riders to join me.    

Others that didn’t quite make the grade: I am a big fan of Le Puncheur (http://www.puncheur.co.uk/) which is a local event to me.  Hell of the Ashdown (http://www.hell.gb.com/) which always sells out its 2000 places within hours of going on sale in late October.  The Kentish Killer (http://kentishkiller.ning.com/), which is not dissimilar to the Hell of the Ashdown, in its choice of route over the Kentish North Downs and into Ashdown Forest.  I have signed up for the Exmoor Beast 2 years in a row but have never managed to get down to Butlins in Minehead to complete it (http://www.exmoorbeast.org/).

The Action Medical Research Events 100 series (http://www.action.org.uk/get_involved/cycling) – I remember the Winchester 100 event being the best catered of any ride I have done, with a sit down all you can eat buffet lunch with the biggest cakes I have ever seen, in a village hall just south of Salisbury, and all for a worth cause.  Anything on the UK Cycling Events Calendar (http://www.ukcyclingevents.co.uk/) is worth checking out if you’re at a lose end on a Sunday – Martin Barden and his team are consummate professionals and they offer some very nice events right across the UK under the auspices of the Wiggle Super Series, the New Forest rides in particular – I think I’m quoted on their website as saying they were “the John Lewis of Sportives”. 

Others that I have always rated but have never had a chance to do. 

The Fred Whitton Challenge.  (http://www.fredwhittonchallenge.org.uk/)

The Tour of Wessex which is a staged 3 day event. (http://www.pendragonsports.com/tour-of-wessex-2013/)

Any one of the End to End events (Ride Across Britain for example run by Deloitte http://www.rideacrossbritain.com/)

HotChillee Londres-Paris, though I am totally priced out like a pauper on that one.  (http://www.londres-paris.com/)

Internationally I’d love to have a go at the Haute Route. http://www.hauteroute.org/

If you want an even bigger challenge then get a team together and signed up to Action Medical Researches Ride 24.  http://www.action.org.uk/ride24  The team fromBirminghamUniversity really can’t be allowed to win again next year. 

Sportives are a very strange concept.  They’re not races but they’re timed.  They’re not competitive but has that message got through to a sizable minority that complete them?  There are even organisations out there now that help you plan and train to ride Sportives.  

Despite the choice on offer I really don’t think the UK sportive experience comes anywhere near that of what is on offer on the continent at an Italian Gran Fondo or a French Alp Cyclosportive, but that is not to say they are rubbish and that they should be ignored, they have their own charms I guess.   

Some might argue that what is the point of paying to ride on public roads, what’s wrong with reading a map, drawing out a route and just getting on with it – the answer is there’s nothing wrong with that and there’s nothing wrong with Sportives either.  People chose to do them for their own reasons and come one come all says I. 

There is a steady increase in events, my club DS would say there was too many, he may be right and I dare say in this free market economy the ‘market’ will sort itself out eventually.  That said there are some unscrupulous individuals out there that think it is easy pickings to put on an event and charge £30 for it. 

It is now where most people start to plan for their 2013 events, and the popular 2013 Sportives have already opened for sale, and in many cases already sold out.  Best get yourself to the Cyclosport.org events listings (other websites are available I am told but none so comprehensive as Cyclosport – which by the way was started in the back bedroom almost 12 years ago by a very enthusiastic chap named Mark Harding) and start choosing your challenges for next year as there is no doubt Sportives will continue to be a large part of the cycling landscape in the UK for a few years yet.      

I would like to personally dedicate this post to Howard Johnson, 29th December 1962 – 14th August 2012 who was an avid and passionate cycling fan and the original contributor for Cyclosport.org.  He is sorely missed. 

Happy riding folks and best wishes for 2013.

Thanks for reading. 

Mark also made a film at the Etape Caledonia that you might enjoy: