Rain may have stopped play at Wimbledon, but there was no pussy-footing around the weather at the British Sportive on Sunday July 1. Despite a heavy early morning downpour and the constant threat of further rain, 3,742 riders completed Britain?s biggest cyclo-sportive to date.
Promoted to both celebrate the Tour de France in Britain and give amateurs an opportunity to ride the race route, the 120-mile sportive took the participants between London and Canterbury, tracing the same course that was used for stage one of the Tour.
In the end, the rain was not as big a factor as was feared, with most riders encountering just the odd sporadic shower. The wind blew a little and there was the odd minor mishap, but neither of these could put a dampener on what was a special day out for a great number of riders.
With the ride having catered for a broad mixture of ability and experience, there were many happy faces in Canterbury?s Victoria Park. It may not have been the Alps or the Pyrenees, or even the Dales or the Lake District, but the rolling route across the Kent countryside had thrown up its own challenges, including three King of the Mountains climbs.
?It was a lot hillier than I expected,? commented Devon-based rider Mike Skinner. ?I thought it would be flat but the climb at Southborough was hard and there was another steep one about 10 miles from the finish.?
Overall reaction to the ride was overwhelmingly positive, with almost every rider we spoke to saying the pros had outweighed any cons.
?I?ve ridden a few sportives this year and this was far and away the best one,? said London-based Frenchman, Jeremy Dahdi. ?I rode the Dartmoor sportive in May and Highclere Castle in June. They were both a good build-up but this one was great.?
?Hats off to British Cycling for putting this on,? said Guardian cycling columnist Matt Seaton, who finished in the first group. ?The Tour created a great opportunity but the idea of having a British Etape every year would be fantastic. The cyclo-sportive scene is taking off and it really brings in new grass-roots riders.?
According to communications and marketing director Simon Lillistone, running an event of this size annually is something BC will now consider.
The joy of the open road
With so many riders hitting the busy roads out of London and the crowded South-East, there were concerns that the event might have suffered at the hands of traffic. While stage one of the Tour last weekend enjoyed closed roads, the sportive could not be afforded the same luxury.
With a matter of hours separating the passage of the first and last riders, roads were kept open with junctions controlled by police and marshals. To reduce risk and avoid potential congestion, busy town centres on the Tour race route were bypassed and only the start and finish areas were completely sealed off to traffic.
Despite these less than ideal conditions, most riders had no issues with traffic at all. One or two spoke of cars squeezing in between groups of cyclists when overtaking, but the only rider we encountered with any real complaint was Martin Penny, a Surrey-based South African who was keen to stress that he?d otherwise enjoyed the event.
?You need closed roads in this country ? it?s a complete joke,? he said. ?These guys need to go and look at the Cape Argus Tour in South Africa where there are 30,000 people racing over 110 kilometres of closed roads. The marshals did a good job ? well done to them ? but we were dicing with traffic today.?
Three issues that didn?t go so unnoticed at the sportive were the rigmarole of signing-on the day before, a lack of food for early arrivals at the latter feed stations and ? to a lesser extent ? the wait to get the bus transport back to London after the finish.
?It?s a bit of a shame that they didn?t send the starter packs and timing chips out in advance,? commented John Coolahan of the Kingston Wheelers. ?We were queuing up for an hour and a half yesterday. I only live in Putney but it was still a pain going over to Greenwich and back again.?
The organisers were apologetic for the delays at registration and stated they would reconsider the procedure for future events. As for the feeding station problem, that couldn?t be helped. A truck carrying supplies was held up behind a serious accident on the A21 and only reached its destinations after the first riders had gone through.
Roshier rushes in
The first rider to finish in Canterbury was former national time trial and circuit race champion Colin Roshier, riding his first ever sportive before embarking on the Etape du Tour next week. Filling in for an unwell friend who couldn?t make the start, the 43 year old led in a group of five that had driven clear over the final climb of Farthing Common with just over 10 miles remaining.
?It is important to emphasise that it?s not a race but when you get a little group of riders it?s always going to get a bit competitive,? he said. ?We had a bit of a sprint to the line but we had to be careful. A mile or so out, we were still with the traffic.
?We just rode the first 30 miles out of London very steadily and really it was more like a club ride. It wasn?t until the last 30 miles that the group got smaller.?
Although Roshier was first home, the fastest time for the ride was set by Paul Delahunty. He finished among the frontrunners but due to a later start, clocked a time of 5-22-38. At the other end of the spectrum, some riders took nearly 12 hours to complete the 120 miles.
The first woman into the finish with a time of 6-20-14 was regular sportive participant Jayne Wadsworth of the De Laune CC. ?That?s it for me until September when I?ll do the Spud Riley event and maybe the Tour de France Legends sportive,? said the 36 year old. ?It?s been a long three months of doing all the big sportives: the Fred Whitton, the Etape de Dales, Polka Dot Challenge and Tour of Wessex. I?m now looking forward to a bit of time off.?
All Wright on the day
There were several well-known faces mingling among the starters in Greenwich. Most familiar of them all was ex-footballer Ian Wright. Having only ridden half the distance in preparation, the television presenter had a tough time in the second half of the ride. Nonetheless he toiled on to complete the sportive in a time of 9-16.
This week Wright will be joining his former Crystal Palace team-mate Geoff Thomas as he and fellow leukaemia sufferers tackle the entire route of the Tour two days behind the pros. Although Wright is only going along for a week, he admitted: ?It?s going to be the hardest thing I?ve done, but I?ve proved today that I?ve got the mental ability to overcome the physical pain.?
As for Thomas, whose foundation was the official charity of the ride, he said: ?It was a bit tough with the crosswind here and there, but other than that it was a perfectly enjoyable ride.?
Asked if he was looking forward to riding all the other stages of the race, Thomas said: ?Every day is going to be gruelling but we?ll just get on with it.?
The most experienced rider in the sportive was probably Paul Kimmage, who himself rode the Tour proper before embarking on his career as a journalist. Also riding was Tanja Slater ? who recently won a stage in the women?s version of the Tour.
King of the road
British Cycling?s chief executive Peter King swapped shirt and tie for Lycra when he made his debut sportive ride in Kent. He clocked a time just nine minutes over his seven-hour target and was pleased by how the federation and its organising partners coped with so many riders.
?Sportives are a very popular part of cycling now so it?s good for me to experience what our members do,? he said. ?I experienced it as anyone else would ? I didn?t get preferential treatment. I had to queue up with everyone else in the rain on Saturday to get my starter?s pack and I travelled back on the bus with my bike in the lorry afterwards. What really impressed me was how much everyone said they enjoyed it and had been pleased by their performances. It was a very positive experience.?
King added: ?When we first decided we [BC] were going to organise the event, I set it as a target for the year. It?s encouraged me to do a bit of training and lose some weight. It?s the only sportive I set out to do, but now I?ve done one I?m now tempted to have a go at another.?
HOW WAS IT FOR YOU?
Robert Freeman, South London
?I was aiming for a time of 6-30 and I think I made it by about 10 seconds. I?ll have to put that down to the very last bit of Go gel I had. When I got to the top of the last hill with half an hour left, I thought it would be possible if I rode it like a time mile trial.?
Mike Skinner, Mid Devon RC
?I helped on the Dartmoor event but this is the first sportive I?ve actually ridden myself. I?d do some more now. I used to race time trials but I had a hip replacement two years ago and I find it difficult to get down on the tri-bars. Sportives are ideal to fill that hole.?
Louisa Ruderman, London
?I?m a runner usually and can do marathons quite happily but today was hard work. My sister?s a cyclist and has kitted me out: I?ve all the gear but no idea! I do ride my bike but only up to 50 miles, so this was a bit torturous. There were moments round the route where I felt like lying down. I?ve eaten like a horse too.?
Sacha Hemans, Twickenham CC
?I came down after about five miles when a guy about three places in front of me hit a patch of oil. I tried to brake and weave through but ended up hitting him in the back and coming off myself. I?ve scraped my knee, cut my eye and taken a little bit of trim off the bike, which is what I?m most upset about.?
Omar Holguin, London
?It was a little bit slow registering yesterday. Maybe there was something to improve there, but otherwise it was very good. I enjoyed it.
Tootus Maximus, aka Will Hodson, Rome
?People do the marathon in fancy dress, so why not cycling? It?s become a bit of a thing for me to do things like this as a gladiator. Now girls come and talk to me which they never did before! Two years ago I did the marathon and this year I?m doing this and the Etape for the World Cancer Research Fund.?
British Cycling: www.britishcycling.org.uk.