Published: 4 October 2012
Interview: Eddie Allen
A few years ago, come October and most sportive riders would be thinking of hanging up their bikes for the winter, or at least narrowing their horizons to the confines of the garage and the turbo trainer.
However, as the appetite for sportives has increased, the season has elongated, with leading events company UK Cycling Events, among many organisers, expanding its programme into mince pie and mistletoe territory. We spoke to the company boss Martin Barden, who looked ahead to the end of the 2012 season and gave us a sneak peek into 2013.
BC: What’s coming up in October Martin?
MB: “We’ve got a couple of big ones next month. We’ve got our New Forest 100 which is sold out – about 3200 people. And then we’ve got the Cycling Weekly Dorking Original where Chris Boardman’s riding the following week – we’re on about 1000 entries so far – so possibly around 1200/1500 people, then the following week we’ve got the South Downs 100 which has hit 900 entries so we’re hoping for similar numbers – 1200/1300 riders. So it’s probably about 6000 riders or more in October, so it should be good.”
BC: The New Forest Sportive is a two day event isn’t it?
MB: “Yes originally it was only on the Sunday but it’s sold so quickly each year and so many people were pestering us to ride it. We got some nice reviews from Future (Cycling Plus) and Cycling Weekly - so I think it became very popular very quickly. So we put it onto two days and it sold out about 4-6 weeks ago. It sells out about three months before the event each year. It keeps getting busier and busier – last year we had 1200 per day, this year we’ve got 1600 per day, which is great – the demand is definitely there and it’s a beautiful area for cycling – it always seems to get the riders in.”
BC: Sportives used to be a summer thing – the appetite for sportives is huge and the season seems to be getting longer every year doesn’t it?
MB: “The summer’s busy but not half as busy as October for us – October and April are our busiest months; the beginning and end of the season. People now are getting decent cycling gear – a pair of gloves and a pair of arm warmers, three-quarter length bibs, something like that and that’s all they need to keep going through October and November and then we keep going into December – then you get the hats and the full length tights. The gear is so good these days and it’s such a nice thing for people to be able to get out and ride a sportive maybe once or twice a month in autumn and winter instead of just sitting on their turbo trainers. I think it makes a big difference to people the choice of events that are now out there.”
BC: Have you experienced the post Olympic/post Tour/Brad Effect?
“Yeah I think so. We were busy anyway before the Games with events selling out. Some of the events that people are wanting to book on now are sold out. We’ve got 2-300 people on a waiting list for the New Forest for example. There’s definitely the appetite out there. Last year for the South Downs 100 we had 850 riders at this point. This year we’re 900+ with 4-5 weeks to go. There is definitely a bigger uptake – we’ve seen more new riders as well. A lot of people are on the start lines saying ‘This is my first ever sportive,’ ‘Wow, I did that it was my first ever event.’ It’s great to see – for probably about 25% of people it’s their first ever event. So yeah, they seem to be growing in popularity, that’s for sure.”
BC: Tell us more about the Cycling Weekly Dorking Original Sportive
MB: “We’ve run their events for the last couple of years and we were working with the guys at Cycling Weekly and they wanted to do their own events – basically we put on their events for them – they asked us to organise it for them. They’ve got our experienced hands behind it to make sure that it all goes alright. We did one event last year, two this year and you never know, next year it might be more than that. They’re pleased – they’ve gone well – we did a Sandown Sportive along with Cycling Weekly’s Sandown Cycle Show at the beginning of the year – that had 1000 riders on it as well. With their media power and our organising skills it all seems to work really.”
BC: Have people been attracted to riding part of the Olympic Road Race course?
MB: “Yeah they go up Box Hill but it also goes up Leith Hill, White Down – there are some big hills in addition to the Olympic Hill but there’s also a nice flat section in there for people – there’s quite a nice mix of terrain. There are three routes out there for people to choose from so if they’re just starting out or if it’s their crowning glory at the end of the season. I guess there’s something there for everyone to choose from.”
BC: How are entries going?
MB: “The event has almost 1400 riders signed up, at the moment – so the event is almost full.”
BC: What’s there on the day?
MB: “At the feedstations, we believe in a good mix of two sorts of food – an ‘eat me’ and ‘keep me’ section. So there are jelly beans, flapjack, Swiss rolls, fig rolls, sandwiches, bananas, energy drink and all of that stuff – so they have instant energy hits. But they also get stuff like energy bars and gels that they can put in their back pockets and ride off with to keep them going to the next feed station. The quality of our feedstations is second to none with the variety they get. They get generally seven to eight different sorts of food to choose from. So it’s not your traditional half a banana and a little bit of water or sports drink – they literally get quality product out there and a range of savoury and sweet snacks.”
BC: Later in October you’ve got the South Downs 100. Tell us some more about that?
MB: “For us, it’s the last 100 on our calendar so it’s the last event that you can get a century on the Wiggle Super Series – it’s classic South Downs riding – there’s all the usual climbs but there’s stuff that people may not have done before and some tough climbs in there as well depending upon the route that riders are on. There are three routes to give riders a choice depending on how fit or how brave they’re feeling on the day.
“The route and all of that is nailed. We’re just waiting for the big day now – we’re hoping for 1200 plus riders on the event, which will make it the biggest it’s been in its four year history. It was one of our first ever events on my local terrain so I’m quite passionate about this one.”
BC: Following on from the South Downs what else is on the Wiggle Super Series calendar?
MB: “We’ve got the South Downs then we’ve got a week off then we’ve got the Devil’s Punch Sportive which starts in Liphook – it’s a shorter route – there’s a 50 and a 70 bearing in mind the time of year etc. That’s already got 600 riders on it – capacity is 700 so we’re nearly sold out on that one which is good. Really good end of season ride.
“Then we have a week off again then there’s the Purbeck Hill-a-Saurus, which is a mountain bike event which has got three routes to choose from starting from Corfe Castle – classic Jurassic Coast riding - that proved really popular last year and has got about 350 on there at the moment. That’s the last mountain bike event of the year.
“Then on the 1st of December it’s our last event of the year – the Wiggle Wight Winter. There are two routes to choose from around 50 or 70 miles with warm feed stations – you’ve got tea and coffee in village halls so people can pop inside and warm up. There are mince pies and people did it in Santa suits last year. There was a good bit of seasonal fun – a good bit of cycling out there but everyone was having a ball – the ferry over got all the riders talking – they can then set off riding together having already spoken to each other but also get a lot of people from the Isle of Wight doing the event as well.”
BC: Can you give us an insight into your plans for 2013?
MB: “Next Year we’re back with an additional ten events on top of what we’ve got this year as well so 2013 will be out busiest year ever in terms or number of riders and number of events – we should have 35,000 plus riders next year and around 45 events so it should be good. Our 2013 events will be on sale in Late October at www.ukcyclingevents.co.uk”
BC: You’ve got the biggest programme of events in the business and they’re consistently popular. It seems to be a case of “Build it and they will come”...
MB: “We’ve not just tried to put on ‘just another sportive’. Everyone has got something different about it. Like the Wight Winter when you’ve got the mince pies and the hot feedstations – the seasonal element to it. Then there’s the French Revolution which happened earlier in the year which is a day trip sportive to France. Everything is slightly different. We don’t want to blend in – we want to be pushing the boundaries all the time.”