First sportive – done that. Long sportive – check. Really hard sportive – notched that one up too. One day foreign sportive – that was fun. So what’s next?
The logical progression is a week-long challenge ride in one of the great mountain ranges of Europe. But if you’re thinking about this as next summer’s project, it might be best to call it what it is: a stage race.
Events like the Haute Route are essentially six or seven very tough sportives. And they’re against the clock. Back to back. Day after day. Climb after climb.
And then there’s the cost – these things are not cheap. Stack all that up and you start to think, OK, nice idea but it’s not for me.
Think again. The sense of achievement, the euphoria at crossing the final line; the camaraderie en route, not to mention the jaw-dropping scenery will make the multi-day foreign sportive the kind of thing that makes you smile every time you think about it – for years and years afterwards.
For a week, you really can pretend you’re a pro rider. Even though we’d perhaps only admit it to our closest ride buddies, being part of a pack shepherded into and out of town by motos is actually a bit of a thrill. Mechanical support is just two words – until a pillion mechanic leaps from a bike and helps you fix a problem pronto. And arriving at the hotel to find your baggage labelled and waiting is one less thing to worry about.
All you need do is focus on the rides – and I’ve pretty much lost count of the number of times I’ve trotted out “the best thing I’ve ever done on a bike” line to those who ask whether it’s worth it
And the thing is – it’s achievable by anybody. Of course you have to train a little harder but the body, and perhaps more importantly, the mind, is capable of some quite extraordinary things when faced with extraordinary challenges.
My biggest fear was recovery – as a, let’s put this politely, slightly heavier rider, bouncing back from days with 3,000m of vertical ascent in them takes time. And recovery time on these jaunts is short.
But somehow you do it, and not only do you manage it, you start to revel in it. There will be bad moments: the Mortirolo in 39C on day four, when the fatigue had accumulated and the spirits had sunk is an experience that still haunts my dreams.
But the day after, the bounce came, and rolling out across a flat plain in a huge peloton, bounded by orchards on one side and a lake on the other and with the mountains shimmering in the distance, the legs did not only what was needed, but a bit more on top, and I had my best day of the race.
You might think you can’t. In fact, with proper preparation, you can. And not only that – you’ll surprise yourself. I was, and remain, an average club rider. At the end of that week, I felt like a champ.