Sportive rides in Britain are selling out in record time, with a host of new events springing up to meet demand for disappointed cyclists unable to secure a ride on more established events while also providing a way in for less experienced riders who are perhaps not quite prepared to take on some of the more challenging courses.
Last week, we reported that organisers of the Etape Caledonia had revealed that this year’s race had sold out with 4,500 cyclists entering, a 50% increase on 2009, providing further evidence of the pulling power of sportive events across the UK and beyond.
The clamour for places on the event also shows that would-be participants have not been deterred from entering by the chaos surrounding last year’s event, the UK’s biggest closed-road mass participation ride, when protestors opposed to road closures wreaked havoc by sprinkling carpet tacks on the route.
Meanwhile, last month, 300 extra places made available for the 2010 Verenti Dragon Ride in South Wales sold out in just seven minutes – the event website says that there are still a few places left on the shorter, 40km route – causing organiser Lou Lusardi to state “it’s extraordinary, I’m utterly bowled over.”
Patrick Trainor, who promotes sportive rides for organisers such as Wheels in Wheels, whose events include The Forest of Dean Classic and the Tour of Worcestershire, says that the boom in cycling in Britain lies at the heart of the surge in popularity of sportives, and that they provide an ideal entry to the sport.
“Cycling is becoming more popular throughout the UK,” explains Trainor, “so more people are entering the sport looking to test themselves but not race. With no licenses needed, it's just enter, turn up and ride,” he says, claiming that “sportives take the guess work out of the planning and back up. People will pay if they know they are being looked after,” he continues. He adds that “sportives make riding in different places attractive as the route is marked out for you and nutrition and back up are taken care of.”
He believes that the sportive set-up has particular attractions to those new to the sport, and that someone who has forked out on a new bike and other kit will be open to paying money to take part in the right event, saying “The government's tax free bike buying scheme for employees is also bringing new people into the sport and for new entrants into the sport, sportives are the perfect challenge in a somewhat controlled environment. They are also more willing to spend money for these challenges as more experienced cyclists are baffled why anyone would pay to ride on the open road.”
Trainor says that the success of the bigger events has had the knock-on effect of encouraging the creation of other sportives. “Smaller events have seen the larger ones selling out in record times so are setting themselves up as training events or stepping stones,” he points out. And their size gives them another benefit, he argues. “Smaller events are also realising that their USP is the fact that they are small and so there is no queuing at the start and a more relaxed atmosphere.”
With many serious club cyclists now building their year around the sportive calendar, Trainor believes that “dates are also crucial. The Hell of the Ashdown is recognised as the winter sportive in the south while The Cheshire Cat is now regarded as the big season opener. Events like the multi day Tour of Wessex has always been popular and will appeal to the hard riders and as training for events like the London to Paris. The Forest of Dean Spring Classic was set up to offer UK riders a more testing course as training for big foreign events such as the Etape Du Tour,” he adds.
He also believes that sportives provide an ideal introduction to road cycling for those new to thFor those new to the sport of road cycling The government's tax free bike buying scheme for employees is also bringing new people into the sport and for new entrants into the sport, sportives are the perfect challenge in a somewhat controlled environment. They are also more willing to spend money for these challenges as more experienced cyclists are baffled why anyone would pay to ride on the open road.”
Of course, the era of mass communication is another reason that organisers of sportives are able to sell out so quickly. Previous participants can be contacted ahead of time to be invited to pre-register, and email and mobile phones mean that word of mouth spreads quickly once registration for an event does go live.
One of the most recent additions to the calendar is the Blenheim Sportive, run on a 60 or 100-mile route from Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, heading through the Cotswolds into Gloucestershire before looping back to the start. The ride made is debut at last Autumn’s Bike Blenheim Palace festival, itself in only its second year.
Paul Orsi from Blenheim Palace, who was in charge of the team that organised the event, said “we had just over 1,200 taking part in last year's ride,” adding that “we believe there is a capacity to grow this significantly over the next few years.”
The rationale behind introducing the ride was partly motivated by a desire to build on the success of the inaugural Bike Blenheim Palace event in 2008, says Orsi. “After a successful first year of Bike Blenheim Palace we were looking for new events to add to our programme to broaden the appeal of the event.”
He adds that “a sportive was the obvious choice for a number of reasons. We were aware of the growing popularity of sportives and their mass appeal. We also had the beautiful Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on our doorstep and Blenheim Palace is such a great location to set off into the countryside. We felt this event would appeal to people starting off in cycling and sportiives because of the appeal of Blenheim Palace, the appeal of the Cotswolds and the choices of course (60 or 100 miles).”
This year’s Bike Blenheim Palace programme will be announced shortly and we will of course bring you details of that, and other sportive rides, as soon as we can. In the meantime, one ride that you can register for is Mountain Mayhem, sponsored by Verenti in Association with road.cc.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.