The first seven days of February have passed, bringing the start of the sportive season a week closer.
With spring fast approaching, many will be building their training, keeping a closer eye on their diet, and fettling their competition steed for the first big ride of 2012. We’ll be checking in with the organisers of some of Britain’s best-loved sportives throughout February, finding out what works, what doesn’t, and where the phenomenon of mass participation rides is heading next.
We spoke to Andy Kirk of Velo Events, the man behind the Santini Cotswold Spring Classic, an event that will this year host 750 riders on two sign-posted routes of 100 miles and 100 kilometres from Cirencester into the glorious Gloucestershire countryside. Andy also provides mechanical support to other sportives through his Performance Cycles shop.
How many riders take part in your events?
The Cotswold Spring Classic has a limit of 750 riders. Last year we had 650. We want the event to grow, but we want it to grow steadily. This year, we’re also doing the Cotstwold Autumn Classic on October 7, which will also run from Cirencester College.
What makes a great sportive?
The route is obviously one of the key considerations. A lot of it is to do with the atmosphere. We try to provide a family atmosphere. As you get larger, you don’t want to lose that. There’s a couple of us on the finish line to meet and greet the riders and find out what worked for them. The other big factor is value for money. A lot of people talk on forums about what you get for your money. At the end of the day, £25 or £30 is a fair chunk of money. We will have at least £10 of Santini kit in our goodie bag. It’s important to have hot food when people get back, showers, and plenty of parking.
What is the driving force behind the massive growth in popularity of sportives?
It’s people wanting to go out and ride their bikes without having to think about it. They just want to ride. They want to challenge themselves, but in the time-poor society we live in, they don’t want to have to plan out a 100-mile route themselves. If they have come down from the north to spend a weekend in the Cotswolds, they don’t want to spend time poring over a map and a planning a route. I think the Cavendishes and the Wiggins have had a certain effect. I come from a club racing background. Everyone said to me that sportives would be the death of racing. I think it’s having the opposite effect. It might inspire some people to stick a number on their back.
What advice do you have for someone riding their first sportive in 2012?
Plan your training. Think about what you’re going to eat, and don’t always rely on the organisers to have food. Make sure your bike is maintained. Go and see your local bike shop. We had one guy who had multiple punctures because the sidewalls of his tyres had big holes.
What will be the next stage in the development of sportives?
The number of events will continue to grow, but it will come to a point where there are too many, and then only those who give the best value will survive. Cyclo-cross sportives are becoming popular – people who have done the large challenge rides will be looking for something else to do, and for those that can afford it, it means getting another bike! The Hell of the North Cotswolds sold out in a couple of hours.
What’s the most inspiring comment you’ve heard from a rider taking part in your events?
We provide neutral service support to lots of sportives through Performance Cycles. At one event, every time I stopped to help someone, a lady kept cycling past on an old hybrid bike. She hadn’t done much riding, and her bike wasn’t the best, but she was riding for a friend who had died from cancer. A lot of people stopped and got off, but she kept going.