A cyclosportive is not like a UK sportive – it’s a race! That can be a shock to a UK rider venturing abroad this summer looking for a sportive experience. So, choose carefully and understand the differences.
A couple of years ago I took part in a cyclosportive, Cimes du Lac d’Annecy by Challenge Cyclo Tour. The start on the shores of this beautiful location was incredible. The first 3 kms were neutralised to just over 22 mph! The lead car sped away from the front of the group and a 30 kms climb began – it just exploded right from the start – amazing!
Cyclosportives or sportives are mass start events with prizes (often substantial) for the overall placings and by age/sex categories. They are timed and are officially a race, often with fully closed roads or at least a rolling road closure for the front of the event. They are most common in France, Germany, Italy (where they are called Gran Fondos). There are only two in Belgium (the Velomédiane is a favourite) and a few in Holland and Luxembourg.
The best continental definition is to call them open or public races in the same way people run marathons. Most events have gold, silver and bronze standards, although the average speed can often be much higher than UK events. There are events with gold standards requiring an average speed of nearly 38 km/h! There was even a Sportive World Championship for a few years that proved to be so successful it lead to the UCI reinstating the Amateur World Championships now superceded by the Gran Fondo World Championships.
Major continental events like l’Etape du Tour and La Marmotte are very commercial and large. They are run on a hybrid system (similar to a very large Gran Fondo) with the very best riders in the first start grid so they have a clear road to race. Then the following riders are in start boxes of 500-1,000 riders. With a massive range of abilities, bike handling skills and experience, the bunches can be very daunting to say the least! This will also hinder your ability to race for a top place. If this is your introduction to continental sportive riding it could easily paint a very different picture to the reality of a normal European sportive.
Cyclos are very popular in Belgium and Holland and these are the closest thing to the UK version of a sportive. They are frequently timed (or with timed sections) but are not mass start event. Riders depart within a start window of a couple of hours, just as you would at home. There are no prizes or placings in cyclos and they can be great social events with mini races developing between feed stations. The most famous cyclos attract thousands of participants and would include the We Ride Flanders, Liege-Bastogne-Liege Challenge, Paris-Roubaix Challenge and Amstel Gold. In Germany and Austria this type of event is known as a Rad Marathon, the only difference being that they sometimes have a mass start with rolling road closure which gives a great sense of occasion. Similar events are run in Switzerland.
Cyclo Touriste (French) or Cyclo Tourista (Italian)
These frequently leave with the main sportive bunch and ride the same courses, but without placings or prizes. The pace is slower and there is often no time limit.
You may also come across other variations but at least you will know that when someone is talking about European Sportives they are talking about something completely different to the UK experience!
Ride safe, ride fast!
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