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The rise and rise of cycling sportives

Fiona Russell reveals the increasingly popularity of cycling sportives in Scotland and explains why they are a great choice for all kinds of riders. Cycling out of the remote north-west Highlands village of Kinlochewe, my stomach does butterfly jumps as I think about the 90 miles of hills ahead in the Bealach Mor Cycle Sportive. This is a Scottish sportive that is hailed by many riders as the Holy Grail of cycling challenges because is includes the notoriously tough alpine road climb halfway around the circular route. I had read, too, that after the infamous Bealach climb of six miles that there are dozen more miles of ups and downs and often into a challenging headwind. But then I try to relax and enjoy the friendly atmosphere, group “drafting”, stunning scenery, free-flowing descents and late summer sun. In fact, I end up enjoying the Highlands cycling event so much that I have gone on to ride – and sign up to – many more.   What is a cycle sportive?   A sportive is aimed at riders of all fitness levels and experience and is a non-competitive mass participation event. While some riders are keen to clock a fast time, most simply take part for the challenge and the fun of riding in groups. There are no winners and the prize for all is cycling among likeminded people. In less than a decade, the number of cycling sportives has grown from a handful to dozens taking place across Scotland. The event distances range from 25 miles to more than 100 miles. There are also women-only sportives and family focused rides. One sportive, the Cairngorm Classic, is billed as the highest event on a public road at 632m. New this year and a contender for the “highest” title is the 3 Pistes Cycle. Another, the Etape Caledonia, is the “largest closed road cycle event for ordinary cyclists” and takes place as part of the Highland Perthshire Cycling Festival. Another new sportive for 2014 is the Etape Loch Ness, which circuits Scotland’s famous loch. Pedal for Scotland takes place in September and includes two events, the 47-mile Challenge Ride route and the 110-mile Sportive. The following month the women-only Cycletta Scotland takes places with a 20km, 40km or 70km route and a new for this year, 100km ride. The Lord of the Lochs is another bigger with two distances of 185km and 165km. And in a later slot than before (moving from April to August) and now on closed roads is the Tour o’ the Borders cycle sportive. Keen sportive rider, Graeme Huston, says: “I like the variety that a sportive offers taking me to places in Scotland that I wouldn’t normally think to ride. “It’s great not to have to think about a route and I don’t go to race these events so they have a much more relaxed feel than when I race shorter distances. “It’s a good way to meet new riders and to enjoy some friendly group riding. I usually do these rides with my old journalist friend, Fiona. We ride and natter, catch up on each other’s lives and then try to push each other to ride the last half fairly hard.”   More of the Bealach Mor story   The Bealach Mor Sportive on Applecross Peninsula is claimed by most sportive riders as one of the toughest in the UK and I was thankful that I had Graeme along to encourage me. After the first 20 miles – and a welcome tailwind – we turned to the south-west and headed through Glen Carron to the sea at gorgeous Lochcarron. At times we cycled as part of a group while on other sections when no one else was going at our speed we simply rode along in a pair. We had plenty of time to take in the views and to hear each other’s gossip. Then came the Bealach. The hairpin road rising 626m from sea level to summit in just six miles threw up at muscle zapping challenge. Many riders got off their bikes to walk but I was determined to keep the pedals turning. I had no breath left to talk and could think only of the tantalising downhill section ahead. And the descent from the top was fantastic, although it was over too quickly. The next 25 miles were impressively beautiful yet surprisingly tiring as we pedalled up and down the undulating coast road. Graeme’s unending words of encouragement, a refuelling at a food station and many handfuls of jelly babies somehow kept me going. Knowing that the finish line of one of the longest rides I’d ever done was oh-so-close kept my spirits high, too. Then came the final 10 miles with a tailwind – and the promise of large cups of tea and cakes at the final food station. It was an event that years later I still rate as one of the best ever. Sportives are a challenge – but the rewards include riding new routes, meeting other friendly riders and knowing that you can eat cake guilt-free for days afterwards.   Useful kit for the cycle sportive rider   Female-specific bike seat: For great comfort on longer rides choose a bike seat to suit your gender. Women’s bike seats are wider at the butt to cater for wider hips and bums and also have a clever cut out area towards the front. I’ll let you work out why! Male and female fit padded shorts: Men and women have different nether regions so buy shorts fitted with padding to suit. Lycra shorts also help to bring comfort to your butt when riding longer sportives and for improved fit and warmth choose bibbed shorts and longer tights. Bike helmet: Most events insist on a bike helmet and these days the majority of riders wear a helmet every time they cycle for safety reasons. Clip-on shoes: This is a set up that has shoe cleats and clip-on pedals. Although a little tricky to get used to at the start – mainly because you need to remember to unclick when coming to a stop – the benefit of these pedals includes more power through the entire revolution. Clean Bottle: Hydration is vital for cyclists so pop a bottle in the bottle cage attached to the bike. Clean Bottle is the perfect way to ensure you have clean and fresh liquid in your water bottle each time you ride. The Grid™: Cyclists will end up with all sorts of fatigued muscles. Use The grid to regularly massage quads, glutes, IT bands, calves and feet. TriggerPoint Performance Knee Kit: Knees can often cause problems for cyclists, especially on long-distance rides, so keep yours in great working order with this full Trigger Point kit. Rock Tape: Sore muscles, especially in the glutes or shoulders, can be remedied with the magic of kinesiology Rocktape.   Enjoy your summer of cycle sportive riding.

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