Cycling Sense with Tony Booth: Enjoying the challenge of the popular sportives

Yorkshire Lass Cycling Clubs inaugural ladies only sportive is held on Sunday 14 August.
Yorkshire Lass Cycling Clubs inaugural ladies only sportive is held on Sunday 14 August.
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The rising numbers of cyclists in recent years has also seen a huge increase in the number of cyclosportives being staged.

So what are they and why are they attracting so many people?

The first thing to make very clear is that a sportive is not a race – while they are designed to be a challenge in terms of distance and terrain, sportives are very clearly non-competitive.

A sportive is similar to a marathon for a runner – it’s a focus for training, an opportunity to enjoy your sport in different parts of the country on clearly marked routes and to meet like-minded people.

Whether you’re a seasoned rider or a newcomer to cycling, there is a sportive to suit you.

Throughout the summer, there are events almost every weekend (including lots in Yorkshire) offering a huge variety of terrains and levels of difficulty.

Sportives are usually around 100 miles, but often there are also shorter route options such as 50 or 70 miles if you don’t feel at that level yet.

While not actually races, most events use timing chips and inevitably there is a healthy level of competition among some participants.

However, it’s also a great way to push yourself to cycle a bit further than you normally would, perhaps with some friends, but maintain a steadier pace while enjoying the benefits of a well signposted route, often with marshals and mechanical support, plus feed stations along the way.

Another element which adds to the sense of achievement is the fact that many sportives are used as charity fundraisers.

For example, at All Terrain Cycles we’re this year supporting the Bronte Sportive (July 17) and the MTB Challenge (September 18), both for Sue Ryder; and the Yorkshire Lass Cycling Club’s inaugural ladies only sportive (Sunday, August 14) in aid of Women v Cancer.

It’s a great way to enjoy your sport while also raising money for a good cause.

Be Prepared

In terms of preparing for a sportive, make sure that you’ve done plenty of training, ideally having ridden close to your target distance on similar terrain, so that you can enjoy the day.

Another tip is to load up on carbs for a few days prior to the event, to ensure you have plenty of energy.

Also check that your bike is in full working order – preferably before the morning of the ride!

Always arrive in plenty of time to allow for parking, queuing to sign in, struggling to pin your number on your bike and attach your timing chip to your helmet!

Have a think about what kit you’ll need with you – helmets are compulsory on many sportives, and it’s sensible to be prepared for the vagaries of the British summer with some lightweight layers (or lycra arm and leg warmers often known as ‘warms’ which can be easily removed) and, of course, a decent compact waterproof jacket.

Don’t even contemplate setting off on what is likely to be a five hour-plus ride without a full mechanical kit equipped with spare inner tubes, pump, puncture repair kit etc.

It’s really important to keep drinking and taking in the calories before you feel hungry and one of the joys of these organised events is the well-stocked feeding stations along the way, so make sure you take full advantage of them.

It’s also sensible to have some emergency rations with you in case you feel you’re hitting the wall before the next food stop – energy bars, gels and drinks are a great way to quickly replenish carbohydrates.

So, if you feel ready for a new challenge and want to take your cycling to the next level, why not try a sportive?

Just take a look at the British Cycling website www.britishcycling.org.uk where you can see a full list of upcoming events in Yorkshire and further afield.

For more information, visit www.allterraincycles.co.uk