Cyclosportives - ridden and rated
By John Whitney in Bath, UK | Tuesday, June 12, 2012 8.00am
Try telling these Fred Whitton riders they were lucky to get entry last year Tom Simpson
Fancy a cyclosportive or gran fondo in another country as part of your next cycling holiday?
Earlier this year we gave our opinion of the biggest cyclosportives around the globe, the bikes most up to the job, plus training plans, our tips on preparing and getting through them in one piece. We've now reviewed the events we've ridden - it's not a comprehensive list and you can add your own via our BikeRadar Training events listing - but in our opinion these are some of the best out there.
Cape Argus, South Africa, March
If you've ever put much thought into your 'bucket list' - the things to do before you die - we've got an idea that will leapfrog its way straight to the top. The Cape Argus, a 68 mile gallop across the breathtaking terrain of the Cape Peninsula, was perhaps the most fun we've ever had on a bike.
With over 35,000 lining up for the staggered mass-start in downtown Cape Town, the opening miles on this traffic-free ride are a frenzied whirlwind. It's a job just to stay upright, with riders weaving their through an anxious peloton crying out for lines to be held. Crashes are inevitable, but if you can stay in one piece during the opening motorway miles you'll be rewarded with a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The coastal scenery is otherworldly, as is the lumpy stretch through Table Mountain National Park. Expect to see baboons at the roadside, too - just don't throw your banana skins in their direction! If you've kept enough in the tank by the foot of Chapman's Peak, you'll savour the 40km sprint for home. All that's left is to negotiate the stunning Suikerbossie climb, where an expectant public whip up a storm of enthusiasm. It's perhaps the closest an amateur cyclist will get to being a pro.
The only downside is that, at 109km, the fun is over way to early. One solution, providing your start time is early enough and you can handle the blazing afternoon sun, is to do as some of our team did and head out for another loop - this time with added coffee and cake. We politely declined, having hammered through our limit during the ride proper with a respectable time of 3hr 19mins. Instead we took a seat in one of the many beer tents, cracking open a cold one with the time barely gone 10am.
Etape du Tour, France, July
While it was the same length as the ‘Argus’, Act 1 of last year’s closed-road Etape du Tour, thanks to its mountainous parcours, was a whole other proposition. It mirrored stage 19 of the 2011 Tour de France and, as in the race, the truncated 68 mile distance served to animate the ride, giving riders the confidence to tackle the fearsome trio of the Col du Télégraphe, Col du Galibier and Alpe d’Huez without fear of blowing a gasket further down the line.
Procycling's Jamie Wilkins toasts his Look 695 having conquered Alpe d'Huez in just an hour
The organisation was remarkable: police and photographer motorbikes (65 in all), official cars, trucks, vans, coaches, ambulances, Mavic technical support cars... the Étape mimics the Tour with more than just the route. That’s perhaps not surprising as the event is now run by ASO, owners of the Tour. We finished in 4:34, climbed the Alpe in 60 minutes, placed 322nd of 9,500 starters and loved every second of the experience.
Tour of Flanders cyclosportive, Belgium, March
It's hard to tell from the above photo just how fast Tyler Farrar of Garmin-Barracuda is riding the cobbles of the Tour of Flanders but it was considerably quicker than our attempts 24 hours earlier during the sportive. We reckon there was around 20km of pave scattered around the tour's 138km course, and our heart sank every time we saw a new stretch on the horizon.
Bike set-up is all important on the cobbles and, courtesy of our hosts for the weekend, Ridley Bikes, we had their Noah FB Fast, a fantastic bike totally out of tune with our surroundings. Its ultra-stiff frame put us through the wringer, each and every cobble stone sending shock waves through our arms, leaving us battered and bruised by the time we crossed the finish line in Oudenaarde with 4:50 on the clock. If only we could have mimicked Lars Boom's tactic of switching to his low pressured cyclo-cross bike for the cobbles during the similarly punishing Paris-Roubaix, we'd have left Belgium in much better shape.
Over 15,000 tackled the route late last month, with the number of kids, women and older gents taking part reflecting the bike-crazy part of the world we were in. In terms of the world's big sportives - which this is definitely one - it's one of the more relaxed. No timing chips are involved and you depart as and when you want. Don't expect to whizz round in record breaking times, either; the roads are very narrow and, especially on the cobbled climbs, huge numbers of riders can be brought back together to the extent where your only option is to get off and push.
Exmoor Beast, UK, October
While you're never guaranteed perfect weather, most of the big events we've taken on have at least been held during months where the prospect of warm sunshine is a possibility. Not so the Exmoor Beast, a 102 mile slog through Exmoor National Park held every year on the first day of the clocks going back. Only the Fred Whitton Challenge was a tougher day in the saddle last year and if it wasn't for the fact that it came towards the end of the season when we had stacks of miles in our legs, it might have got the nod. We got around in 7:27, far too long a time to spend on a bike on the cusp of November. We could go on forever about how tough it, but this picture says it all.
Wiggle New Forest, April
While it might not be familiar to many readers outside the UK, Wiggle (and their partner in their sportive series, UK Cycling Events) have bagged a winner with their 85 mile event around the rather splendid New Forest National Park. Sportives are only as good as the roads they're based on, and they don't come much better than this. It's not the hilliest by any stretch (our Garmin 800, courtesy of Cotswold Outdoor, registered 3,500ft), but it's an exquisite route to rouse you from a post-winter slumber.
It takes you around the entire perimeter of the park and main roads are only used when absolutely essential. Watch out for the numerous wild horses, too, or you come a cropper in unfortunate fashion. With pigs and sheep roaming free in quaint villages en-route, it really was a world away from hectic city life. We were delighted with our time of 4:42 at the time, but seeing our initially lofty position on the leader board slip away as the day wore on was heartbreaking.
Organisers had to spread the event across two days this year, such was the demand. Over 1,500 took part on the Sunday alone, suggesting it could eventually end up becoming one of the 'must do' sportives on the calendar.
Fred Whitton Challenge, May
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Quite what makes people rush on New Year's Day - when entry opens - to sign up to this 112 mile monster is anyone's guess. Maybe it's the guilt from the excesses of the night before, or a rash New Year's resolution.
Whatever the reason, the 1,400 places fill up in a matter of hours, with organisers now drawing the 'lucky' names out of a hat. A near catastrophic crash on the descent of Hardknott Pass, widely thought of as being the steepest road in Britain, left BikeRadar staring at an ignominious time north of 10 hours in 2011, and the desire to right this wrong is the reason we'll be returning in future to do it all over again. Next year.
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