What is a sportive?
UK Sportives and European Cyclosportives are fundamentally different!
The idea of heading to a cyclosportive in Europe is very exciting and an ambition for many but there are a fundamental differences between a UK Sportive and a European Cyclosportive which you need to be aware of before you book your entry.
These events are not races and you will often be started in small groups after a safety briefing. The routes will be signed and there will be Marshalls at certain points along the route to help guide you. Organisers will provide feed stations where you can fill water bottles and collect a variety of foods.
Riders are timed but there are no prizes because in the UK it is not a race.
An almost definitive guide to all UK sportives at http://www.cyclosport.org/
Search for and enter your favourite sportive at the British Cycling Sportivespage.
UK Cycling Events are well organised and signed events with good feed stations – more at http://www.ukcyclingevents.co.uk/
Don’t forget the Cycling Weekly Series as well – more information at http://events.cyclingweekly.co.uk/
These events are races and have mass starts. There will be no safety briefing but there may be mention of potential hazards. The routes will be signed. There will be Marshalls at significant junctions and they have the power to direct traffic which they will exercise rigorously. There will also be motorcycle outriders with the faster riders/groups. There will be a lead car and sometimes a broom wagon. There will be feed station where you can fill water bottles, foodstuffs will be limited to fruit, nuts, gels, etc (unlikely to be cakes/pastries).
Riders are timed and prizes are awarded overall and to age categories.
Expect the start to be fast and furious after neutralisation (neutralisation speeds vary but usually greater than 20 mph (32 kmh). You may also be competing alongside cyclosportive teams as well as individual riders.
There are a huge number to choose from. If it’s your first Cyclosportive, select one of the smaller races. The other riders are likely to be experienced and well drilled in group riding and racing. If you’re a little unsure you can ride behind the pace and race against others of similar ability and skill.
If you select a larger race, such as the l’Etape du Tour or La Marmotte, you will be riding with 15,000+ other riders, many of whom will have poor skills and be overexcited about the experience. Just be careful as there are often crashes and difficulties in that sort of environment.
If you select a Cyclo, these are very similar to a UK Sportive and are often found in Belgium. The Spring Classic sportives are Cyclos and they are not races. There will be a start window and you can start at any time during that window. Your ride will not be timed.
Grand Trophée events are of the highest quality and will be a good choice for your first cyclosportive. More at http://www.grandtrophee.fr/index.php