Event: 19 May 2013
You may not realise it, but the Isle of Wight has everything you want as a cyclist; Miles of quiet roads and great trails, substantial hills, spectacular scenery, and a laid back coastal vibe that should make it a magnet for your next road trip. And, on May 19th, it has the Wight Riviera Sportive.
There are so many new sportives appearing each year that it’s almost impossible to keep track, but when the Wight Riviera made it’s debut last May, it stood out as something truly original. And it’s organisers believe it is the blueprint for the next development of the sportive form.
CLOSED ROAD LOOP
What separates the Wight Riviera from other sportives, is it’s opening loop. The first 25km are on closed roads; at the end of this loop, riders pass back under the start arch, lap the event base and head back out to complete the rest of their ride on open roads, as in a more traditional UK sportive. Now, you may think closed roads are a nice touch, and the opportunity to ride free of traffic certainly isn’t one to be turned up, but it’s not as if this is the first closed road event in the UK. There have been fully closed road events in Scotland and Wales for a few years. But, as the organisers tell us, the Wight Riviera’s format makes for a better event all round, and one that can be much more easily adopted elsewhere.
“The Wight Riviera was the first sportive in England to feature a major road closure”, organiser Phil Harrison tells us, “But that’s not the reason we think this event is so significant. The first thing to get out of the way, is that this is not a watered down solution to a fully closed road event. It’s a different format entirely, and for several key reasons, we think better than a fully closed event. It gives all of the important advantages of a closed road sportive, but on a better course than a fully closed event could realistically offer.”
“That closed road loop at the start gives us an awful lot. It gives the event the atmosphere of a marathon or half marathon. Riders get practically all of the advantages of a fully closed event in those opening miles, starting with a proper mass start, which is exciting in itself. There are brass bands and cheering crowds and a sense of spectacle; it’s a great thing to be a part of! And then you get the space and freedom from traffic where you really need it, right out from the start while the packs of riders are so big, and you have a chance to really open up on the road while you are still fresh.
"There’s an intensity to that opening section that is really exciting. But if you think about it, the benefits of a road closure diminish later into the ride. Riders and groups are more strung out, the sting has gone out of people’s pace and, if your course is well planned, you should be on pretty quiet roads anyway. That’s certainly the case on the Isle of Wight! At this stage of the ride, having the roads closed roads is of much more minimal benefit. In fact, you stand to lose more than you gain. A fully closed road course can only take place on roads that the local authority are prepared to let you close. And those may not be the same roads you want to use to make the best of the area and give the ideal route for your participants. Structuring the Wight Riviera as we have gave us the freedom to produce a spectacular route. We have compromised nothing for the sake of the road closure, and the ride is all the better for it!”
There is certainly no compromise to be seen on the Wight Riviera course. From that starting loop that has you riding on closed roads by stunning coastal cliffs, and onto a full 100 mile route that seems to take in every hill and every pretty country lane and village on the Island, and present you with breathtaking scenery and views at every turn, it’s a spectacular ride.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
So the format is sound, and works for a great even. How does that translate away from the Isle of Wight and onto other events? “We’re already talking to other areas about launching the event format elsewhere, with closures of up to 40km, and there is a lot of interest. Long course road closures for events are always going to be few and far between.
They are more viable in more remote regions with less dense road networks and populations, but close to the bigger population centres, particularly in the south, it’s much less likely to happen. Ride London is an exception due the size of the machine behind it. But it’s hard to imagine that event format being tolerated if it was reproduced every weekend somewhere else in the country!
Our format already has a precedent though; road closures of similar scale for marathons and half marathons are already commonplace and accepted in towns and cities across the country; and for a sportive, the road closure is in place for a much shorter period. And that’s where it gets interesting. Suddenly we have a format for sportives that have real community involvement. Accessible events that have a fully closed short course loop that will be friendly and rideable for anyone, while still offering the full, epic ride experience for the sportive devotee. And it’s a format that local authorities can accept and get involved in, on a manageable level. We have proved that it works, and we have the expertise to deliver it. We’re looking forward to taking the next steps.”
It’s an intriguing idea; towns opening up to host sportives in the same way they do for half marathons, and road sections being willingly closed off for cyclists, instead of runners. And it’s also good to see that, as the sportive bandwagon grows and picks up speed, there are organisers at the front who are willing to steer it.
That Wight Riviera Sportive takes place on may 19th, from Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight. If you want to take part in this incredible ride, you can find full details on southernsportive.com