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Find out about the niggles and annoyances that event organisers don't mention

Sportives are a lot of fun, especially if you ride in a good group and the sun is shining, but here are a few things that people don't usually tell you.

Not all sportives are equal

There was a time in the early 2000s when virtually every organised road event was suddenly rebranded a sportive. It was the latest buzz word in cycling.

These days 'sportive' is used to cover everything from local charity rides that attract a few dozen people to closed road epics that cater for thousands. There's nothing wrong with that, but make sure you do a bit of digging to find out what you're getting for your money.Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 - riders passing a mill

You'll want to check the route, particularly the distance and the amount of climbing involved, but there are less obvious things to look out for too. How many feed stations are there? Is there mechanical support? Will you get a finisher medal or T-shirt? What about a sweep vehicle for those who have to bail?

Find out about sportives you can enter on the British Cycling website

Some of these things might be important to you, others might not. Make sure you find out ahead of time to avoid disappointment.

You might encounter lousy riding skills

Your caring, sharing road.cc doesn't like to do anyone down, but none of us was born with the ability to ride safely in a group; it's a skill – or a series of skills – usually developed by first riding with a few mates and/or on club rides.

Check out 6 tips for riding in a group 

However, not everyone goes down this route and in a big sportive there will always be people who have never ridden in a bunch before, and there's occasionally that one rider whose confidence far exceeds their abilities. They've seen Peter Sagan on the telly and thinks that their handling skills are of the same level. They're wrong.

Read our 8 tips for getting the best out of a sportive

Someone who rides erratically in a group is bad news for everyone's safety. On wet roads they're even more of a liability. If another rider makes you jittery, don't wait for them to touch wheels, get yourself out of there. If you can't forge ahead, drop back to find another group.

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You could ride the route for nothing

One of the objections people sometimes have to sportives is that you could ride the route for nowt if you wanted. You need to work your way though a hell of a lot of flapjacks and energy drink to cover a £30 entry fee.

That's true, of course, but sportives offer you the chance to ride a ride an organised route, perhaps in an unfamiliar area, with loads of other riders and support if anything goes wrong. Although not common, you might even get to ride on closed roads (this always jacks the price up). 

Take a look at 23 of the best 2018 & 2019 sportive bikes

If none of that is important to you then, yeah, you could save a few quid by riding the route on your own.PWC Yorkshire Cycle Ride (CC BY 2.0 Allan McKenzie|Flickr).jpg

Audax is cheaper

Audax rides are generally cheaper to enter than sportives. With Audax you get a route and a time limit, and you have to get your brevet card stamped at intermediate checkpoints, but you won't usually get food/drink provided or a sag wagon to pick you up if it all goes wrong. Self sufficiency is highly prized.

Check out 12 of the best Audax bikes

Signage issues... Grrr!

Good sportive organisers get the signage right every time, others... not so much.

Admittedly, some signage issues aren't the organiser's fault. They can't help it if some halfwit goes out and rips signs down because they object to cyclists riding past their house on a Sunday morning.

I was on one sportive, though, where the organiser had stuck a large sign on the far side of a right hand turn, highly visible for a couple of hundred yards... until a car pulled up at the junction, when it became totally obscured. Off into the back of beyond we went, none the wiser.

Find out about 11 of the best 2019 sportive road bikes under £1,000

Make sure you're following the correct signs too. When road.cc sponsored the sportive at Mountain Mayhem the route crossed that of another sportive out in the Herefordshire hills, and one rider ended up following a wheel 50 miles in the wrong direction!

To avoid getting lost you can print out the route or download and follow it on to a GPS computer. 

They're nearly always on Sundays

You get the occasional Saturday sportive and some on bank holiday Mondays, but the vast majority are held on Sunday mornings. That makes sense for most people but if you regularly have something else you need to do on Sundays you're out of luck.

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You can't rely on support for everything

One of the best things about sportives is that there's some sort of support if things don't go to plan, but you still need to take personal responsibility for your welfare. You need to ride enough in preparation for the event, get your pacing right for the full distance, take on enough food and drink, have the right clothing for the conditions... If you're even wondering whether to take arm/leg warmers and a waterproof jacket, the chances are that you should.

Check out our guide to wet weather cycle clothing and gear

You can maximise your chances of having a good day by taking the time to prepare properly.

Find out how to get fit in 6 weeks 

Get your bike and accessories are prepared

If you've trained hard for a sportive you really don't want to be let down by your equipment, so check your bike over thoroughly in advance and make sure everything is working properly (get someone else to do it if you're not mechanically minded). 

Don't forget to charge everything fully: your mobile phone, bike computer and, if you have it, electronic shifting.

Find out what you should take with you on every rideZefal EZ Max FC CO2 Inflator.jpg

However well you've prepared, mechanical issues can still occur, particularly punctures, so make sure you have the know-how and the essentials you need to deal with them (usually a spare inner tube, tyre levers and pump) along with a multi-tool to tighten anything that comes loose. 

Find out about 13 essential bike checks you should make before you go for a ride

Sportives aren't races

Okay, despite the headline, the fact that sportives aren't races is something that's probably already known to you. Sportives are non-competitive events that are timed. Some give gold, silver and bronze standard finishing times, but they're still not races.

Velo North launch 2.jpg

Fair enough, some people ride a sportive as fast as possible as a personal challenge, but if you want to race you need to enter a race. Find out how to enter a race here

Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.

9 comments

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wknight [65 posts] 1 month ago
9 likes

Another reason sportives cost money is all the marshalls. I attend as one of those marshalls on a motorbike and we get paid expenses. Many of us ride hundreds of miles there and back to the venue. Its not a job anyone can do as you must hold an advanced motorcycle qualification and of course special training.  We often start around 6am and are still there when the last rider comes home. When you break down or have an accident, we are often first on scene to call for assistance with our radios and will stay with you until you leave the scene. We often carry tubes, pumps and tools to get you going and water on hot days. I have escorted many a rider on the Dragon home in the dark to ensure their safe arrival.  Just remember all of this when you ride for free and please when you are doing a sportive, let us come past as we are often on our way to to another cyclist waiting for our help. 

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nortonp [10 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

The article is dated June 23 2019.

Today is May 6 2019

Is Mat Brett a time Lord?

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nortonp [10 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

Or is he the next Doctor Who?

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nortonp [10 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

suspense....

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nortonp [10 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

No.

It's just a cock-up.

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jollygoodvelo [1812 posts] 1 month ago
2 likes

Also

- If you're doing one of the rides that has timed start waves you'll be standing around, inevitably in the cold, for quite some time before starting.  When I did Tour of Cambridgeshire it was over an hour, Ride London even more and at that time in the morning you seize up.  Take it easy at the start and warm up.  Even the pros have a neutralised roll-out.

- There will be groups of fast riders treating it like a team time trial and steaming past like a train with little appreciation for others.  The roads might be closed but that doesn't mean you don't need to keep an eye on who's around you.

- People will step off with no warning in the middle of the road on surprisingly minor climbs.  Give each other space - we've all missed a gear or dropped a chain or suddenly found the tank's empty.

- People will throw their empty gel wrappers and other rubbish in the road.  Don't be one of those people.

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efail [150 posts] 1 month ago
1 like

"Sportives aren't races" until you go to France, where many are. They have podiums, prizes and position lists in all of the age groups through to 70. They are often linked to national/local championships. Many of them have a sit down meal, with wine, after the "race", and quite a few give a decent cycling shirt. The ones I have done, in the south, have marshalls on every corner and junction. Their organisation is quite fantastic, especially when you think something like the Ariegoise has about 5,000 entries.

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PRSboy [505 posts] 1 month ago
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- Toilet facilities, or lack of.

Always a particular joy to stand in a queue for a village hall or sports club loo with 30 other people and find out the loo roll has run out. 

 

-Dropped water bottles.

This I noticed at the start of the Velo Cardiff.  Not sure if it was unusual to this event, but there were loads, which could easily have sent down an unwary rider.

 

- Dont expect other riders in your 'group' to point out hazards.

 

And @ wknight - thanks for your efforts and time, always appreciated at events I've been on.

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darrenleroy [327 posts] 1 month ago
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Most won't allow you to finish with a time if you decline to wear a helmet. 

Some of the classic rides like Eroica Brittania aren't so dogmatic in their approach.