Thursday, 17 February 2011

The Cyclosportive

Part race, part endurance test, part tour, cyclosportives are the biggest thing to hit cycling in the past decade. The origins of sportive riding go back further than that, but it’s in recent years that these epic cycling challenges have really taken off.

Just what is a sportive? For many riders, a cyclosportive cherry picks what’s best about other forms of riding. Anyone with a competitive streak will relish the effort needed to stay among the leading riders, pushing themselves to complete the ride as quickly as possible. Unlike a typical British road race, though, a sportive isn’t based on a short circuit, repeated over and over. Instead, it tackles a region’s toughest roads and most beautiful scenery to create an event that’s more akin to Continental road racing.

You don’t have to mix it at the front if you don’t want to. For many, the challenge of completing the route and the camaraderie along the way is the appeal of sportive riding. Ridden at a less frenetic pace, sportives are distant relatives to audax rides – long-distance events in which the cyclist must navigate with an emphasis on self-sufficiency. A sportive does away with the need to follow a route book, signposting the way instead, so if you just want to get on and ride, you’ll enjoy sportives more.

Whether you aim to be front-runner or are content just to finish, sportives are one of the most rewarding forms of cycling, and the perfect excuse to get out on your bike.

Doing the Continental

The catalyst for the explosion in sportives is the Etape du Tour. One of the biggest events of its kind, and certainly the best known, the Etape follows one of the mountain stages of the Tour de France one day in July each year. For 2010, riders faced the daunting challenge of a summit finish on the Col du Tourmalet, 2115 metres high and one of the most famous climbs in the Pyrenees.

The 2010 ride was the 18th edition. In the early days the Etape was mostly ridden by French riders, but quickly became an important date on the international cycling calendar. It’s the Blue Riband event of the sportive season.

So many riders want to enter each year that it pays to get your name down early. Other big-name European sportives may be easier to enter, but are no less challenging.
With a route which reads like a who’s who of famous mountain passes, La Marmotte is one of the classics. Fancy climbing the Col de la Croix de Fer, Col du Telegraph, Col du Galibier and Alpe d’Huez? Then get ready for one of the toughest days in the saddle you’ll ever experience, but one you’ll never forget.

Sportives aren’t just a French phenomenon. Italy has its own variation on the theme, called Gran Fondos. Followers of the northern classics can also get in on the action. If you prefer cobbles to climbs, the Paris-Roubaix sportive runs every two years, or there’s the annual Tour of Flanders sportive.

For experienced riders who want to stretch themselves even further, some sportives take place over several days. The London-Paris event employs rolling road closures for that true professional peloton experience, covering 550km in three days.

Bulldog spirit

You don’t need your passport to ride a sportive. Plenty of events take place on home soil. What’s more, just because they don’t feature an Alp or three, don’t tell yourself a UK sportive is a soft option. What Britain’s climbs lack in altitude, they make up for in attitude.

Arguably the toughest of the lot is the Dave Lloyd Mega Challenge. The 2009 event covered 150 miles and 4300 metres of climbing. For 2010 the route was slimmed down to ‘only’ 130 miles, but had an extra climb at the end. The 2011 event will be 100 miles long, but don’t make the mistake of thinking it has gone soft. All the big climbs from previous years are still included.
If that sounds like too much of a good thing, most sportives now offer a choice of distances so you can test rather than trash yourself. It makes sense to start on shorter routes and build up to 100-mile plus events as your fitness and confidence improves.

A unique new event on the sportive calendar for 2010, the Pearson 150 Anniversary sportive offered a shorter option or a longer route. Celebrating the shop’s 150 years in business, riders chose between riding 75km or 150km depending on whether they wanted a moderate challenge or something more demanding. Either way, the Pearson 150 Anniversary sportive took in some of the best roads and scenery the North and South Downs have to offer.

Ready, steady...

If you want to try your first sportive in 2011, the time to start training is now. The sooner you’re on the bike and getting some miles under your tyres, the better.

Steady rides throughout the winter are the foundation on which summer success is built. As spring approaches, gradually increase the length and difficulty of your rides, remembering to fit in an easy week every four weeks or so to give your body time to adapt.

Two or three weeks before your first event aim to complete a ride of similar distance. Take in easy the week before, so you line up at the start fresh and ready to go.

Whatever happens next, make sure you enjoy it. Welcome to sportive riding.

Written by David Motton at Bike Chimp

No comments:

Post a Comment