Variety is the spice of Woodcote Sunday Sportive

Variety is the spice of Woodcote Sunday Sportive


Location: Woodcote, Reading
Event: 19 August 2012
Report: Scott Hobro


With over 15 years of experience in organising cycling events, it would be fair to say that Woodcote Sunday Sportive organisers Southern Sportive have a firm grasp of the inner workings of the cyclist’s mind when planning a course and an event as a whole.

In the Woodcote Sportive, which is set to take place on the 19 August, they have again used this experience and innate understanding to deliver an event, which with three different distances and variations, will appeal to both the novice and experienced cyclist.

Dependant on which of the routes is navigated - 53 miles, 63 miles or 84 miles – roads can take riders along the Thames Valley, through the Goring Gap and up into the south Chilterns, from intricate lanes and steep, wooded Thames-side climbs, to the broad, open sweeps below the Oxfordshire Ridgeway.

“Working with new and less experience riders is nothing new for us and something that we absolutely welcome, we want to see new people just taking up cycling and getting involved in events,” Martin Harrison of Southern Sportives said.

“The Woodcote event is our local event; we’re based in Reading and it’s literally just 10 miles out of the town so it’s up in the Chilterns. It’s an area that, historically with our mountain bike stuff, we go back 20 years or more having events in that sort of location. When we moved into the road events, having something there was a no-brainer.

“When we ran our first full season of events in 2007 Woodcote was included in that line-up, it’s one of our most established events,” Harrison added.

Despite its well-built reputation since its inception in 2007, Harrison is keen to note that the route has not been allowed to become a tradition, instead developing over time, guaranteeing that those familiar with the sportive in name, will certainly not be by geography.

Up and down: The route has a number of varying climbs and descents

“It’s a really nice route, its one we’ve evolved over the course of the event. The Chilterns is a classic southern cycling area. When you think about the various ranges of hills in the south of England, you’ve got the South Downs, and the North Downs and the Chilterns is sort of in the mix with those,” Harrison explained.

“Chiltern riding is always surprisingly tough. The nature of the Chilterns is that it will keep you climbing all day - it doesn’t give you a lot for free. There are short sharp climbs, constantly up and down, twists and turns so it can be a very demanding area to ride. It’s a very pretty area, lovely classic heart of England countryside and in the past couple of the years we’ve shifted the centre of the route to vary it a bit and move it across the Thames at the Goring Gap.

“Working with new and less experience riders is nothing new for us and something that we absolutely welcome, we want to see new people just taking up cycling and getting involved in events.”

Martin Harrison

“It then takes you into West Berkshire which has quite a different feel and gives you a different aspect to the ride. As it’s evolved it’s become a more varied ride.”

With variation comes descents and perhaps more significantly, climbs. A total of height gain of 5976ft is achieved in the 84 mile route, largely down to the two major climbs - Whitchurch Hill and Britwell Hill at either end of the journey.

“The first one that everyone always feels is Whitchurch Hill - it’s the first significant climb you encounter of the day, coming straight from the Thames up, and it is a straight up, it hits you like a wall and it is within the first 10 miles. That one always hits people quite hard,” Harrison said.

A question that could naturally follow on from reading about challenging climbs is that of support, of which there is no shortage and indicative of organisers with 20 years of knowledge. A comprehensive and clearly marked route, mechanical assistance, sweeper wagon and first aid, feed stations, free energy drink, free allocation of energy snacks for each rider at support stations and finish, and electronic timing for all riders. Short of riding the course for you, there is little, if anything, left uncovered.

“We supply plenty of food, there is water, we have fruit, cakes and flapjacks, we even tend to put out tubs of sweets and instant sugar hits that people can top up on and there is plenty for everybody. The placement of them as well, we base our checkpoints on the full route so they are evenly spaced – they appear when you need them.

“We use motorcycle marshals to make sure all the signage is in place, we put a huge amount of work into signing the courses, that is something we have gained a good reputation for and we have a system we’ve developed and a lot of touches we have brought over from our mountain bike events as obviously when you are off-road the navigation may not be as distinct and easy to follow as when you are on a road. We’ve brought a lot of that over and introduced it into the road.”

With entry from just £16, the only thing left for riders to worry about is which route to tackle.

Online entry and further information is available on the Southern Sportive website here.