Insider’s guide: The Saddleback Sodbury Sportive

Unheralded English countryside plays host to the friendly and fantastically organised Saddleback Sodbury Sportive

Key event information

When is it?

Sunday August 21

How to enter:

Entries for the event are now open:
Online entries close on Wednesday August 17

>> Subscribe to Cycling Weekly this Autumn and save 35%. Enjoy the luxury of home delivery and never miss an issue <<


30, 60 or 100 miles

Why ride it?

For the friendly atmosphere, picturesque quiet lanes and marked Strava segments that give it that competitive edge. Having said that you’re unlikely to see anyone thinking it’s a race and everyone spins their way round with a smile on their face. All in all, a fantastic day’s riding.

Where is it?

Chipping Sodbury sits just to the south-west of the Cotswolds AONB while its Bristol postcode speaks of its proximity to the city. However, the route is rural and away from any urban areas as it pulls north-east, winding through the Cotswolds, with a short spin into Wiltshire.

HQ details

Chipping Sodbury Rugby Club is easily accessible from junction 18 of the M4. If driving from the north take the M4 jct off the M5. From the M4 take jct 18 for the A46. Yate train station is just 2.4 miles away, a short warm-up ride to
the start.

Event history

Father and son team Bill and Stuart Bennett set up the Sodbury Sportive to raise funds for local charitable causes. The first event took place in 2012 when there were 352 riders. The event has gone from strength to strength — last year it attracted 881 riders.

Chipping Sodbury. What a view! Photo: Jesse Wild

Chipping Sodbury. What a view! Photo: Jesse Wild

The sportive

Gloucestershire is an under-reported gem for cycling. Kent and Surrey take the headlines for the South-East and Cheddar Gorge and the Somerset Levels are better known in the South-West. But just to the north of Bristol, a stone’s throw from the River Severn Vale, is an area that is a joy for anyone turning a pedal.

This sportive is front-loaded as you immediately head for the hills of the Cotswolds. A quick look at the route profile tells you much of what you need to know: three significant climbs in the first eight miles knitted together by rolling roads.

These continual energy-sapping ascents will be emphasised on event day by the organiser’s selected Strava segments that, if you’re anything like us, will see you putting the pedal to the metal. Join the Sodbury Strava Club just before the event, get signed up to the selected segments and you will be able to compare your times to your fellow riders.

OK, we appreciate it’s not a race but a bit of friendly competition livens things up nicely and is a sure way to get the legs turning (and burning). On event day small roadside signs will mark the segments so you know when to put the hammer down. However, it may be sensible to pace yourself between these sections to ensure you have the legs for the remaining 45 miles of the route, which includes the assault of Frocester Hill.

Bill Bennett, event organiser, cites Hawkesbury Hill as being his favourite of these segments. The average gradient may be a perfectly manageable sounding six per cent but with plenty of stretches at just over 15 and a couple of false flats, it will trick anyone unfamiliar with the area. Don’t let yourself be caught out especially in the last half mile where it’s at its steepest. We weren’t disappointed and we’re sure you won’t be either.

Even when the sharpest climbs are behind you, the height gain continues but most of the gained altitude is wiped out in one fast descent into Uley village. This is the descent of Frocester Hill. As fun as it may be, it’s a descent to be respected — it’s fast, full of technical turns and littered with road blemishes.

For the fitter riders, the majority of the Sodbury Sportive can be taken at speed. Most of the climbs, while hitting some grimacing gradients, are relatively short in length.

The longest two climbs you will have to battle, both 1.3 miles, are the aforementioned Frocester Hill and the scramble out of Nailsworth — the Nailsworth Nailer, as the organisers refer to it, otherwise known as Nympsfield Road.

Once you drop off the Cotswolds escarpment and make your way along the River Severn Vale, the miles are flat or rolling so relish this opportunity to get your speed back up.

Thankfully the route gets no less picturesque as you swing south for the run-in towards the market town of Thornbury.

Fuelling now will pay dividends as the very last part of the sportive is another marked Strava segment — a perfect opportunity to empty the tank on a flat-out sprint to the finish.

The challenges

1 Hawkesbury Hill

One of the organiser’s chosen Strava segments, this stinger comes within the first five miles. The segment is marked by signs, but the temptation to blast your way up may have to be resisted.

2 Alderley Wood Climb

This one kicks at the bottom and doesn’t let up over its 0.8 miles. Bear in mind there’s still about 50 miles to go.

3 The descent of Crawley Hill

Sweeping and fast, this shouldn’t be hit at full tilt. The technical bends and likely wet corners could make it treacherous so ride within your limits to the bottom.

4 Wickwar Road finishing sprint

This half-mile, final stretch of tarmac is the time to do your best Cav impression as you sprint for the finish line.

Get your weight over the front of the saddle, hunker down and empty the tank. Once you’ve safely turned right into Wickwar Road you’ll see a sign marking the start of the timed section.

It’s pan flat and arrow-straight but be warned — you’ll need to scrub off your speed pretty quickly when you pass the sign that marks the end of the section, to make the turn in to the finish funnel.