Confessions of a sportive virgin…

It all started when I couldn't fit into a pair of trousers. And other reasons for riding sportives.

by David Else   January 13, 2010  

Tour of the Peak 5

As 2010 gets under way, with Christmas flab still settling, your New Year’s resolution might be to ride sportives for the first time. David Else recalls a rookie season, and offers a few words of inspiration.

It all started when I couldn't fit into a pair of trousers. Christmas and New Year had taken their toll on my waistband. My wife said I had middle-age spread. And that was enough. I dusted off my old steel bike with its 27-inch wheels, and took up road cycling again.

That was back in 2007. I'd done some racing in my school days, and had always enjoyed pottering about on a mountain bike, but this was the first time for decades that I’d done anything close to training.

At first, progress was slow. In early-January, I did a couple of 20-mile rides, and on one sorry occasion had to stop for a rest in bus-shelter halfway round. I needed more of an incentive, and decided to have a crack at some sportives, with the aim of doing a 100-miler in a reasonable time by the end of the year.

From those hazy schoolboy days, I recalled the importance of ‘base miles’, so through February and March I built up the distances, doing 40 miles, then 50 miles, then 80 miles on weekly rides with a couple of buddies. Some of those outings were really tough. Long hard days over the Pennine and Peak District hills, often in crappy weather. But we kept on going out, hoping the pay-off would come later in the season.

In late March we rode our first sportive, the Cheshire Cat, a 100-mile course through the rolling countryside around Macclesfield. Actually, it wasn't all so rolling. The steepest hill was 1 in 4, which meant a few sporty types were over-geared and forced to walk. We felt just a tiny bit smug as we managed to keep on pedalling all the way to the top.

I’d done Audax rides back in the day, but the modern world of sportives was a revelation. They’re just so much fun, and so straightforward. Cynics might say sportives are for flash gits to play at racing, without the need to actually race. It’s a fair cop. But I was loving it.

Then one of my buddies proposed the most famous sportive of all: the Etape du Tour. In 2007 this was a 120-mile jaunt through the Pyrenees, taking in five major cols and about 4500m of ascent. A bit more daunting than a half-hour struggle up Holme Moss, but I was feeling confident.

'Sign me up', I said.

'Middle-age spread?’ said my wife. 'Mid-life crisis more like.'

With something to aim for, things got more serious. We started looking for sportives featuring hills. Lots of hills. So our next event was the Richmond Five-Dales, another 100-miler through North Yorkshire. The sun shone, the roads were dry, and we were delighted to get round in about 8 hours. The fast boys did it in 6 hours or less, but we were happy.

Next came the Fred Whitton Challenge, the notoriously tough sportive through the Lake District. Unfortunately, we couldn't get a place (we later found out that all had sold out within a few hours) but we went up the weekend before and rode round the course. Compared to the Five-Dales, it was a tougher course - especially the muscle-searing Hardknott and Wrynos passes - but we were glad to cover it in about 8 hours again.

In between the sportive outings we kept up the weekly rides, usually doing between 80 and 90 miles. Not eyeballs out, but no café stops either, keeping the legs ticking over nicely…

In June, we rode the Polka Dot Gran Fondo, a classic sportive through the Peak District, including the long and winding Cat & Fiddle road across the moors near Buxton, and the outrageously steep Winnats Pass near Castleton. Traditionally, the Polka Dot is the last big sportive before the Etape du Tour, and some riders took it very seriously. We couldn't keep up with the fast types, but by now those long winter rides seemed to be paying off, along with the experience of the other sportives, and we romped round the 100 miles in about 7 hours.

The Etape in July was a great trip, but I wasn't in the best condition. I blame a dodgy pizza the day before -- that'll teach me for taking a café stop. I finished, but it wasn’t pretty. Less said, the better.

Back in Blighty a couple of weeks later, I’d fully recovered, and we rode the Spud Riley, an old-skool event round the Derbyshire lanes. Once again, 100 miles, but with times now down to nearer 6 hours - a fantastic way to finish a first year of sportive riding.

So that was 2007. I went from overweight loafer to regular sportiviste in about six months. If I can do it, anyone can. And I have to admit I'm now hooked. Each ride is a challenge, through great scenery, with like-minded company. Who could ask for more?

Since then I’ve ridden many other sportives around the UK – including the Cotswold Spring Classic, the Tour of the Peak, Wild Edric, Blenheim Palace, New Forest and the Exmoor Beast – and even one in Australia.

For 2010, the season will start with the Cheshire Cat in March. Other sportives on this year’s hit list include the Dragon Ride and the Dartmoor Classic. And in July I’m heading off to do the Etape again, back to the Pyrenees and one of cycling’s most iconic cols – The Tourmalet. But this time I’m steering clear of pizza the day before.


19 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

Great story, and very similar to my own as I hit 40 last month. We're also doing L'Etape in July!

posted by Guy Collier [22 posts]
12th January 2010 - 0:34


Very inspiring, and yes I've also just hit 40. Just the incentive to push me into what I was aiming to do. You sold it to me!

posted by spookimon [2 posts]
12th January 2010 - 12:49


Seems my midlife crisis has come a few years early, not 40 until 2012 but signed up for the marmotte as an incentive for this year Plain Face

Carpe Diem ab absentis: seize the day off

Coodsta's picture

posted by Coodsta [110 posts]
12th January 2010 - 13:09


since you are going to be in france anyway, look at and follow .you can join in for a few days and then go to the etappe with a good feeling,or better still you can come back and join in after if that suits you as well!

the 2010 project is open to those who wish to help "disabled sport". who knows you may wish to volunteer at 2012 paralympics as a result.

you won't have to worry about mid life crisis or midriff spread!

Skippy(advocate for "Disabled / Para Sport")@skippydetour. blogging as skippi-cyclist.blogspot & Parrabuddy.blogspot currently on the road with ProTour Grand Tour Events .

skippy's picture

posted by skippy [409 posts]
12th January 2010 - 19:50


Glad you found it inspiring, guys. And glad to hear some of you are having a mid-life crisis earlier than others!
Coodsta - if it's the marmotte this year, you better have something really epic planned for 2012!

David Else

posted by David Else [319 posts]
12th January 2010 - 20:09


After years of mountainbikes, I bought a road bike late 2008. I too plan to loose my sportive cherry this year, along with my mate Chris - seems i,m a bit old as 45 looms (feb 4) Lets hope its as good an experience as yours!!??

posted by Simon [59 posts]
12th January 2010 - 20:15


O god I'm nearly 50 please tell me that's not to old. Sad

posted by Chris Deacon [154 posts]
12th January 2010 - 23:01


Chris Deacon wrote:
O god I'm nearly 50 please tell me that's not to old. Sad

last audax i did, i got overtaken on the big climb by a 70-year-old guy on a raleigh randonneur. You're never too old Big Grin

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7855 posts]
12th January 2010 - 23:17


No way is 50 too old Chris - the older I've got the more time I've had to ride my bike, I reckon I'm fitter now than I was when I was 30.

hammergonewest's picture

posted by hammergonewest [105 posts]
12th January 2010 - 23:19


Great, all the best for the 2010 Etape. It will be a hard day with thoes three big climbs.


CycleGringo's picture

posted by CycleGringo [94 posts]
12th January 2010 - 23:26


This was a great read. Seems I'm a bit of a spring chicken at 'only' 34, but am realy hoping to do some sportives this year, after getting into road cycling in '08, following 12 years on fat tyres. A young family means I can't hope to put the amount of training in, but I guess that opportunity will come as I approach my mid-life crisis!

Out of interest, you reference your old steel bike in the article, which I assume is the blue one in the pics. However, I also see a white one I think too. Did a new bike emerge at any stage in proceedings, and if so, did that have a contributory factor to your reducing finish times?

andyspaceman's picture

posted by andyspaceman [246 posts]
13th January 2010 - 8:30


I agree with hammergonewest. I'm probably the fittest I've been since I was about 17. I’ll be 50 this year and was 46-47 in the comeback year I described in the article. Old dogs, life, etc.

Hey, maybe we should start a little club. Mid-Life Crisis CC. Maybe get some jerseys made up like that Carlton Reid did for I Pay Road Tax.

David Else

posted by David Else [319 posts]
13th January 2010 - 11:03


Decided this is the year to move from commute to comp, haven't had the guts to book anything yet tho' Crying

Rode the E'Tape Caledonia - first sportiv ever and thoroughly enjoyed it

badbunny's picture

posted by badbunny [71 posts]
13th January 2010 - 12:20


well and truly inspired to not "bottle" it now ... I've
already booked my medio fondo dragon place and first ever
sportive and at 46 too !!

still on the 3rd switch-back of Bwlch !

posted by therevokid [922 posts]
14th January 2010 - 22:55


andyspaceman wrote:
Out of interest, you reference your old steel bike in the article, which I assume is the blue one in the pics. However, I also see a white one I think too. Did a new bike emerge at any stage in proceedings, and if so, did that have a contributory factor to your reducing finish times?

Actually no. The old steel bike doesn’t feature in the pictures. I’ve still got it though. It’s a Cotswold - handmade in the 1970s by a lone craftsman-builder in Dursley, Gloucestershire. He also worked in London and built frames for some of the big-name outfits in the 70s and 80s. By ‘steel’ I mean 531 of course.

The blue bike in the pictures is a Giant Cadex, itself getting on for 15 years old (can you see a theme here?). As far as I know, it was among the first carbon bikes made - with small-gauge tubes, and painted, so at a glance it looks like a steel frame. Interestingly, the geometry and angles are almost identical to my 30-year-old bike. I rode the 07 Etape and most of last year’s UK sportives on this Giant. In answer to your question, I’m sure it was a contributing factor in reducing my times.

For 2010, I’m thinking of upgrading again and getting a more modern bike. If not from this decade, at least something from this century. It will be interesting to see if it makes me go any faster. Smile

Look out for more sportive features here on as I go through the 2010 season…

David Else

posted by David Else [319 posts]
14th January 2010 - 23:54


great post inspiring to say the least
im going for a cannondale caad 9 tiagra triple thru the bike to work scheme come april
hopefully some sportives in 2011 ...hopefuly this old beardy touring cyclist can adapt
to a much lighter bike Big Grin

posted by rockaperoon [1 posts]
13th March 2010 - 14:57


I really enjoyed reading this, as a rider coming back into the sport after a long lay off it's good to know there are lots of riders in simiar condition.

posted by bobmcpartland [1 posts]
18th March 2010 - 23:57


Dave & all you oldies getting Smile - I'M REALLY impressed by all of you. I'm just setting out again at 47 after a 26 year lay off from cycling and an increase in weight by some 4 stone!! Reading about all your excellent achievements and success just makes want to get there and join you guys on a few sportives! May have to wait a few months for me to get fit however i promise i WILL be there looking out for you! Thanks once again for some great reading & inspiration. Good luck to all....Keep them wheels spinning!!

Geoff Birks

Geoff Birks's picture

posted by Geoff Birks [1 posts]
9th July 2010 - 21:24


Seems my midlife crisis has come a few years early, not 40 until 2012 but signed up for the marmotte as an incentive for this year Plain Face

posted by mike2000 [4 posts]
15th August 2010 - 12:22