Read one of our latest blog entries; 44 year old Gavin from Surrey, who blogs his first sportive experiences - a baptism of fire judging by his account. But has it dampened his spirits? Never!
It's 08:00 and the rain is still drizzling. It has been for practically two weeks now - and the cancellation of the Wiggle Ups and Downs last Sunday has made my anticipation all the more acute. Had I known in the dark months of my winter commute that I would be here - in the beginning of May - wearing overshoes, cagoule and base layer - it would have been excusable for me to have been depressed - but perversely I was not.
I was brimming with enthusiasm and exited as I cycled across the cricket pitch to the pavilion cum registration office which was already steamy with bleary eyed co-riders - each wearily weighing one another up - comparing bikes, clothing and each other's tips and tricks for foiling the wet persistent drizzle.
I completed a pre-prepared peanut butter sandwich pulled the cagoule over my top and swiped through the start gate. Only to be bogged down in the mud at the exit of the car park to Allbury cricket club - already cyclists were falling over in the mud and it was clear that today would be about more than just cycling and climbing, and refuelling and all the skills that combine in a sportive, no, today was going to be about all those things and one vital ingredient, toughness.
The summer starts here. The Col De Madeleine starts here, Col de Croix de Fer starts here, Col de Mollard starts here - but first there is Leith Hill at 50 miles and Barhatch Lane with its famed 25% gradient at 60 miles. Here in a damp field in Surrey, rain lashing and rivulets running down the climbs this is where toughness will be assessed - for surely - fail here and an Etape is beyond me.
The Surrey Hills and North Downs - are these the places where a fat lad can train to complete one of the worlds hardest endeavours - a stage - an Alpine stage of the Tour Du France. Here in the damp cold wet Surrey Hills.
A cyclist in front of me crashed at sixteen miles and I went down in the melee on a descent - doing 25 MPH. Other than a few bruises on me and some damaged Mavic Sprint shorts - I was ok. The other cyclist made it to the final checkpoint where he was seen to by St John's ambulance and - completed the shorter course. I stayed with him for about 30 minutes partly to ensure he was ok - partly because I landed on top of him - and felt I owed him some kind of gratitude.
This was a great introduction to the Sportive World - and - at the end of the day - when the data on the Garmin was analysed and re-analysed, I felt as good as I had ever felt - since giving up rugby after my third knee operation twenty years ago. Cycling can save lives.