March sees the UK sportive season begin in earnest.
After a winter of club runs and solo training rides, the change in the season sees thoughts turn to timed rides and goals set in January when the excess of Christmas was still weighing heavily over the toptube.
All this month we’ll be guiding you through the UK sportive scene, from event preparation and training, to how to ensure your bike’s ready to ride and post-event recovery.
The calendar is busier than ever, with countless sportives through the year and tens of events on any given weekend at the peak of the season (see the British Cycling website for a comprehensive calendar). UK sportives come in all different shapes and sizes, from charity rides to 100-mile epics with a route profile akin to an ECG.
The choice is huge – so how to choose an event that’s right for you? We’ve outlined six sportives below, each with a different flavour. It’s by no means a definitive guide – so tell us about your favourite sportive in the comments box below.
The early-season sportive
VO2 Sportive, Kent
The sportive season gets longer each year, with long-standing reliability rides like the Hell of the Ashdown morphing into fully-fledged sportives. But sportives in the first few months of the year provide an early-season goal or a test of form ahead of bigger challenges later in the year.
And, after a long, hard winter, the appetite for early-season sportives is insatiable, with the popular Wiggle Cheshire Cat (March 24) selling out all 3,000 places well in advance of the 2013 event.
Our early-season pick is the VO2 Sportive in Kent. Set to take place this Sunday (March 10), the VO2 Sportive offers two routes, 65km and 120km, on some of our favourite training roads in the North Down and the Ashdown Forest, with a little more than 1,000m of climbing on the long route to stretch the legs.
Date: Sunday March 10
Routes: 65km, 120km
Ride HQ: The Walled Garden, Noble Tree Road, Hildenborough, Kent, TN11 8ND
The innovative sportive
The Joker Sportive, Dorset
With a well-signed route, fully-stocked feed stations and mechanical support expected as standard, sportive organisers are being forced to innovate to grab their slice of an eager and growing market.
The Joker Sportive launched in 2012 and returns for its second edition on Sunday April 7. The ride features a unique series of optional challenges – including extra hills and optional short-cuts – available to those who play the souvenir Joker playing cards collected throughout the ride.
Two base routes cover 122km and 75km through the rolling Wiltshire and Dorset countryside – but the long route can be extended up to 150km if you’ve got the legs. We’re giving away three entries to three people here.
Date: Sunday April 7
Routes: 75km, 122km
Ride HQ: Salisbury Racecourse, Netherhampton, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP2 8PN
Price: £26 (short course), £28 (long course)
The closed roads sportive
Etape Cymru, north Wales
Closed roads sportives offer riders the unique chance to ride on traffic-free roads. The number of closed roads sportives in the UK is small – but growing – and back in December the traffic-free Wiggle Etape Cymru was voted by you as RoadCyclingUK’s Sportive of the Year.
The Etape Cymru (Sunday September 8) is also one of the UK’s most challenging rides thanks to a 91-mile route with 6,483 feet of ascent which takes in some of north Wales’ most challenging climbs, including the Panorama, The Shelf, World’s End and the Horseshoe Pass.
Alternative closed roads sportives include the Etape Caledonia (Sunday May 12), Etape Pennines (Sunday October 6) and RideLondon-Surrey 100 (Sunday August 4).
Date: Sunday September 8
Route: 92 miles
Ride HQ: The Racecourse, Overton Road, Bangor-on-dee, Wrexham, Clwyd , LL13 0DA
The multi-day sportive
Tired of one-day sportives? Multi-day sportives provide you with the opportunity to test your mettle over, well, multiple days. The London Revolution is in its second year and is another example of event organisers breaking the mould to offer riders a new, innovative sportive experience.
Run over two days (May 18-19), London Revolution is a 180-mile ride which starts and finishes in east London, taking in a route which skirts the capital, taking in Epping Forest, the Chilterns, the North Downs and two of London’s Olympic venues: Box Hill, part of the summer’s London 2012 road race route, and the Herne Hill Velodrome, which hosted the track cycling programme in 1948.
The event includes an overnight stay (with camping accommodation, plus dinner, breakfast, live bands and an outdoor cinema) in Windsor, while you can also choose to ride one of the two days.
Date: Saturday May 18 and Sunday May 19
Route: day one 100 miles, day two 80 miles
Ride HQ: Peruvian Wharf, Silvertown, Docklands, West London , E16 2AF
Price: £169 (including overnight stay), £78 (excluding overnight stay), £39 (one-day ride)
The UK’s toughest sportive
The Fred Whitton Challenge, Lake District
The Fred Whitton Challenge is widely considered to be the UK’s toughest sportive. The distance is significant at 112 miles, but the ride takes place in the Lake District and scales some of the most gruelling climbs in the country, including Kirkstone, Honister, Newlands, Whinlatter, and Hardknott and Wrynose passes – for an accumulative total of more than 13,000 feet of climbing.
The Fred Whitton comes with a formidable reputation and completing the rider is a significant addition to any rider’s palmares – so much so that the event’s 1,400 places sell out in a matter of hours each year.
The 2013 event (Sunday May 12) is full but start your training for the 2014 edition now. Alternatively, the organised have launched an unsupported, self-timed challenge, called the Four Seasons Fred Whitton, that you can do at any time of the year. More details here.
Date: Sunday May 12
Route: 112 miles
Ride HQ: Coniston Sports Centre, Shepherds Bridge, Coniston, Cumbria, LA21 8AL
Price: SOLD OUT
The end-of-season sportive
The Exmoor Beast, Exmoor
Like the Fred Whitton Challenge, the Exmoor Beast has earned itself a reputation as one of the UK’s must-do sportives. The Beast is a relentless expedition over Exmoor’s endlessly lumpy roads, with 100km and 100-mile routes on offer.
Ride HQ has been moved 30 miles south to Tiverton for 2013, but the organisers are promising a sportive which is as tough as ever. Occupying a regular end-of-season slot, this year’s event will take place on Sunday October 20, and the unpredictable weather, as well as Exmoor National Park’s beautiful but brutal roads, is another factor that gives the Beast its fearsome name.
Date: Sunday October 20
Routes: 100km, 100 miles
Ride HQ: Tiverton High School, Bolham Road, Tiverton, Devon, EX16 6SQ