Sportive season starts next month and looks set to be the biggest yet.
Tens of thousands of riders took part in sportive events across the country last year, and with the continued success of British athletes – Mark Cavendish and Andy Fenn have got off to flying starts in Qatar and Mallorca – still more may be inspired to join them in 2012.
One man who has witnessed the phenomenal growth in the popularity of sportives at close hand is Phil Harrison, the founder of Southern Sportive, a company that organises, among a host of other cycling events, 11 road and cyclo-cross sportives attracting a combined 8,000 riders, and which will introduce a closed road loop of 25km to the opening of the Wight Riviera sportive this May.
We asked Phil to share his thoughts on the sportive phenomenon, and for his advice for anyone contemplating their first sportive in 2012.
What makes a great sportive?
It has to tick all the boxes. It’s no good having a great route if there’s nowhere to park and it takes you an hour to sign on. You have to get everything correct across the whole sportive. You want a course that challenges people, great facilities, and all the support in place.
What is the driving force behind the massive growth in popularity of sportives?
There’s a tipping point occurring in cycling. People can refer back to getting more Londoners on bikes, the green issue, the popularity of the Tour, and the positive images associated with cycling. Cycling had been waiting for this to happen. It should be happening. A lot of things had come together but there was nowhere for people with a certain amount of motivation to go to do something like this. Along came sportives, which tick a lot of boxes. It’s amazing how many existing club cyclists are doing sportives. It means they were missing something too.
What advice do you have for someone riding their first sportive in 2012?
Just do it. Don’t be afraid. You will go to an event an meet people identical to you. Sportives are a lot more friendly and a lot more fun than you could ever imagine.
What will be the next stage in the development of sportives?
Everything evolves all the time. It has to. It can’t stand still. That’s what happened to mountain biking in the early 1990s. You’ve got to keep moving people on. The better quality events will keep going. There may be an over supply at the moment but poor quality events will be dropped. You want to bring the public in and satisfy the dreams of people who watch the Tour and dream of doing a top quality event. The important thing we are doing with the Isle of Wight is starting with a closed road loop and inviting the public at large to give it that London Marathon feel. The London Marathon ticked all the boxes. You get everyone taking part from a professional athlete to a guy doing it to lose a bit of weight.
What’s the most inspiring comment you’ve heard from a rider taking part in your event?
There are hundreds of them. One of the best moments was at the Southern Sportive where a journalist we had invited came in over the mat and just stood there with a funny grin on his face. I went over and said, ‘Are you alright?’ He said, ‘I have just had the best day ever’. I said, ‘You’ve just made my day.’ You normally get, ‘It was ok’ from journalists, but he was totally euphoric.