Phil Skelton has put together an excellent article on his introduction to cycling and to the world of sportives. Its great reading whether you are new to the sport and planning on getting more into sportives in 2014 or an old timer like me looking for some extra motivation! 

(BTW If any members would like to submit articles to the website be they blogs about individual sportives or races they have enjoyed (or not), or any aspect of cycling they would like to share just email them in or post them on the facebook page. Try to respect the laws of libel though!).  


Sportives.  Some info for newcomers to the world of cycling sportives.  Not sure exactly when you exit the world of the newcomer and enter the world of an experienced cyclist but here are some musings for what they are worth on sportives.

I started cycling 3 and a half years ago in an effort to shed a few unwanted kgs. After a few spins Bill Jordan introduced me to the world of sportives. I therefore remember clearly what it was like to dip my toe into this hitherto mysterious activity.  My very first one was the 60km on the Sean Kelly tour in Carrick on Suir on a wet day on an ancient Raleigh bike and I was immediately bitten by the bug. The combination of challenge, camaraderie and being part of an event were  irresistible.  I’ve picked up a lot of information and experience since then about this fantastic facet of cycling.  I’m still learning myself though.

Some of you reading this might have already done the Mt. Leinster Challenge, The St. Luke’s, Dragon ride or Swings &  Roundabouts and are wondering what else is out there or maybe if you haven’t, you might be curious as to what the attraction is..well here goes.. First of all a sportive is a great way to meet other cyclists. Cyclists from all walks of life and of varying abilities take part in these and the speed up front varies accordingly. You might be curious as I was, if your speed is fast enough to keep up. The answer to this will depend on riding conditions, terrain, distance and of course on your own cycling ability and  your willingness to suffer. From my experience though it’s best not to get too hung up on this and to just go and enjoy the event for what it is. I spent my first few sportives, MCC 200, 3 peaks, Mt. Leinster challenge, etc getting shelled out the back and for some of the less well attended ones, it can be a long journey home on your own especially if you are unsure of the route.

The distance too rather than the speed might be a concern for some. This fear can be allayed by proper preparation for your chosen distance. In the lead up to the Dragon Ride during the summer, Pat Whitney’s expertise was sought and published in a series of week to week training guides in the Echo. I’m fairly sure that those who followed this plan had little difficulty on the day. There’s a multitude of advice out there on how to train for various sportives but you won’t go too far wrong with a plan such as Pat’s.  Starting out, it’s probably better to choose a flatter course with a fairly large participant rate and to get into a group that matches your ability rather than killing yourself staying with the front group only to pay the price later into your ride. The main objective is to enjoy your day and the route.  Absolutely there’s great satisfaction in rolling in with the lead group but that may come with practice and miles.  A good early season sportive that should tick all the boxes is the Gowlin Cycling sportive which is around mid March from Ballymurphy and is well worth a look.  New sportives are springing up all over the place so if you keep an eye on the cycling ireland website or social media, the information is there.

Sportives are commonly run to raise funds for various charities so it’s a great way to help out that given charity while getting something in return. They say, you should never meet your heroes but on some sportives you will get the opportunity to meet the likes of Stephen Roche, Sean Kelly, Dan Martin etc. I didn’t grow up with a love of cycling so my sporting heroes were more likely to be football, rugby and tennis stars. During an An Post tour of Sligo a couple of years back, Sean Kelly pulled up beside me as part of the group I was in and it felt almost surreal. There’s not too many sports where this can happen.

Sportives are a great way to show off your club’s colours. It’s a super feeling rolling out at the beginning of a sportive with clubmates all with club gear on show. Sportives too provide a wonderful opportunity to train for whatever you plan on doing beit racing or endurance event.  The pace can ebb an flow providing the excellent training opportunities that you only get when pushing yourself to the level of those around you. There’s no better way to see the countryside than from a bicycle. Sportives organised by clubs in whatever locality normally include the most scenic routes in their area and despite our road surfaces, there’s no finer country for such a variety of vistas than our own fair land.

As an added bonus, sportives can be used as a good opportunity to hone in on your cycling skills. These can be learning more about your climbing or descending from observing those around you, (on descending it’s not uncommon to hear Murry’s uttering ‘take your hands off the brakes’!) Its a good opportunity too to practice your group-riding skills.

Make sure you plan well for the day. Have an idea of the weather and kit out accordingly. Familiarise yourself with the route. Eat a good carb loaded dinner the evening before the event.  On the morning eat a good breakfast of maybe porridge, tea and toast.  On the way to the event then maybe try to take on some more fluids but make sure to stop drinking around 1hour before the off. (Nothing as annoying as having to leave your group for the call of nature, a half hour in to spin). Make sure your bike is well maintained and you have a couple of spare tubes, pump etc. Arrive in plenty of time to allow for sign on etc. Make sure to have enough fluid and food. I’ve tried a few different drinks and I now use a zero tablet in my first bottle and high-5 in the second one. For food I like to use flahavans flapjacks and bananas (I have done up to 300kms on this food and drink combination and it’s worked fine). The secret is to eat and drink little and often and always before you’re hungry or thirsty. A lot of bars promise the known earth and can be expensive. A box of 6 flapjacks by contrast are around €3 in tesco. But do try different combinations while you’re out training to see what works for you.. Do not try any new food or drink on the day, this can really mess up your spin if you react with a bad tummy or whatever. Most sportives have excellent food stops so it’s possible to stock up especially on bananas for the rest of the sportive.

So which ones are best? They all have their own unique characteristics which makes them all enjoyable in their own way. MCC’s sportive, Sean Kelly tour, Tour de Cure, Orwell Randonee, 3 peaks challenge, Sliabh Bloom Challenge, Ring of Kerry, An post tour of Sligo, Bobby Power sportive, An post Tour de Burren, the Vee challenge etc. are ones I’ve done and can recommend but our own Mt. Leinster Challenge is as good as any of them. I found the Wicklow 200 overrated and overpriced and the An Post tour of Meath disappointing.

This year I set out to do the 3 sportives which each lay claim to be ‘Ireland’s toughest’.  1. Mick Byrne randonnee starting out from Dalkey 2. Bobby Power sportive starting in Carrick on Suir 3. The Iveragh 200 starting in Waterville Co. Kerry.  The Mick Byrne was very tough with 3200 metres of climbing over 200kms on some very poor roads.  The Bobby Power is also a toughie with several steep climbs and a final section on rough cobbles through an estate. This event attracts a real good calibre of cyclist and is consequently very pacey at the front. The atmosphere and variety of riding conditions makes for a great challenge.  The Iveragh 200 goes where the Ring of Kerry cycle dares not. The route is breath taking and I was lucky enough to have a grand clear day and good friend Mike O’ Leary from Killarney CC for company. They have real mountains down that neck of the woods that keep the legs honest for the day. It culminates in a climb up Coomanaspig pass after 180kms and that really bites.  Think of the 3, the Mick Byrne for me claims the honour of Ireland’s toughest.

In a nutshell, this cycling business has something for everyone, but for me, the combination of fun, challenge and camaraderie that a sportive offers is just too good to miss out on.