DIY Sportive and my Gran Fondo challenge

For me, sportives are a bit Marmite. Judging by the title of this post, you can most likely guess my view on them.

I certainly believe they have their place and I definitely have no issue with other people riding them, they are just not for me. There are a few reasons why it isn’t really in my short to medium term goals, notably:

  • I have two young children. Sportives normally start around 9am, which would be the kind of time I like to be getting in from shorter weekend rides (my longer ones will always see me back by midday) so I don’t hog the whole day for my own selfish ends (maybe when they are older it won’t be an issue).
  • They are on roads I can ride already, for free and the traffic is still there regardless. Okay, this one isn’t always correct (think RideLondon) but I have given up putting in for the ballot as I have never had any luck, the alternative being to get people to sponsor me so I can have a bit of fun seems a bit off.
  • What you get for the money. Sportives are normally £20+ to enter. I know you get a goody bag, but what am I going to do with some promotional tat and a medal that is going to get stuck at the back of the garage?
  • LOTS of other cyclists. These things get crowded and I am a grumpy sod. Car drivers seem to get particularly arsey when there are Sportives going on and judging by some of the antics I have seen such as covering the whole of a narrow country road on blind corners, it’s an accident waiting to happen.

The alternative for me used to be to go on Audax rides. Unfortunately the local rides round my way stopped some years ago due to the prevalence of specialist sportive organisers who are ultimately in it for profit. Which is a shame as I used to love riding Brevet Populaire rides which were 100km long (to be classed as an Audax ride it needs to be at least 200km). For £5, I got a route sheet, as much cake as I could eat and soup at the end, plus the people running it were an amazing bunch and I got to ride alongside some quite inspiring people who opened my eyes to the kind of distance you can do in the saddle if you put your mind to it (Proper Audax riders are nuts, 400+ miles in 24 hours nuts).

So what’s the alternative?

Well, there are free cycling events, such as the Dunwich Dynamo, which I did ride in 2017 (and will most likely write a separate blog on at a later date) but my current preference is to effectively organise my own DIY sportives, mainly as one of my goals for 2018 is to get the Gran Fondo badge for each month on Strava (at least 1 ride of 100km in a calendar month), summer should hopefully be a doddle, but having got January to March out of the way, my big concern is November and December.

To do this, I use my favourite Strava third party application, Veloviewer, to generate a heatmap of where I have cycled (if it isn’t on Strava, it didn’t happen), so that I can pinpoint particular areas around where I live that I haven’t ridden before. Once I find a big enough space that doesn’t have red lines running through it I start prepping a route in Garmin Connect.

Everyone knows that a good ride needs a cafe stop and I am no different, so I then fire up the de-facto cafe site (for Norfolk), The Cake Crusader (if you know of any equivalent sites in other parts of the UK, please let me know and I will put up some links) to see whether there are any cafes in the vicinity. Checking through the very thorough reviews, I can then pinpoint where the cake stop will be and plan the route around that. As I ride alone and don’t always carry a lock, I usually use street view to make sure that there is somewhere the bike can be kept in sight.

Once the route is prepped I do one final (and very important) step, which is to open Google Maps and drag the little orange/yellow person around the prospective route to make sure a blue line is appearing (e.g. the streetview car has been on that road), this was impossible when I planned some routes across Germany a few years ago, but most of Norfolk has been mapped. Doing this avoids the dilemma of “do I want to take my road bike down this rutted muddy path that might be 100 metres long or might be 2 miles long just so I can stick to the route and not have the Garmin beep at me every ten f*cking seconds?”, I learn’t my lesson when I rode End to End and snapped my rear axle near Fort William to know that rough roads and road bikes don’t mix and I am a stickler for following a planned route.

All  being well, I then work out how far the cafe stop is and when the cafe opens (always double checking their website for opening times), then I work on the assumption that I can ride 20mph to get there (when in reality it is about 16mph) and base my start time around that.

So far this year, despite being a pig on each of the three rides and having a large mocha with syrup, a slice of cake and a cheese scone, I have never spent over £10. Each of the cafes have refilled my bottles for free (although I usually a pound in the tip jar which still keeps me below £10).

This means is that I get the rides for at least a tenner less than a sportive, can start when I want and ride to a destination of my choosing and colour that Veloviewer map in that little bit more.

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