I Was a Sportive Virgin: Heart of the Wolds Sportive (Ride Report)

After missing out on riding the Big G for the past few years (holidays, wedding, illness) I was pleased to read that a new event, the Heart of the Wolds Sportive, would be held in April this year. I fancied giving it a go as I had never ridden one before. There is a bit of a joke about Sportives – and Audaxes:

What is the difference between an Audax and a Sportive?

Sportivers pretend they're racing, audaxers pretend they're not racing. (Anonymous.)

I read in one of the glossy cycling monthlies all about the preparations you are supposed to do for these events. A complicated matrix detailed an impossible schedule that couldn't be fitted in to my daily life. So just a few Sunday runs during March and April for me when the weather was bearable; mainly rides with the 'brisk' group and some short solo rides. I wondered if it would be enough preparation for my first sportive.

The 600 places that were permitted for this event sold out before the deadline, and I was grateful that my application for the 100km 'Classic' route was accepted close to the cut off date. In a sportive event it would seem that the Gold, Silver and Bronze categories are in name only as riders aim for the 'standard' and receive no coloured metal for their efforts. (Do Audax still give out those enamel badges?) The time standards for Gold and Silver were challenging: 3hrs 30 mins and 4hrs respectively. Bronze was 5hrs 15 mins. Gold was out of the question for me, but I had never ridden as fast, and for so long, as I would need to for the Silver standard. A sportive is not a competition, but I couldn't help feeling ever so slightly competitive…

The day of the event

I had set off from home half an hour later than planned, and by the time I got to Driffield in my civvies there were hundreds of cyclists outside the HQ at Driffield Showground. Despite the recent improvements in the weather almost everyone seemed to be dressed for winter. I parked up, registered, nabbed a cup of tea then got changed in the car. I wandered over to another rider who was wearing shorts and we reassured each other about the temperature. I left my leg warmers and thick gloves behind and pushed my bike to the back of the queue. By then I assumed all the fast riders had set off and there were fewer of the rather intimidating riders in club and trade kits on expensive-looking carbon bikes in my group. (I had spoken to South Cave Road Club before registering and I knew they wouldn't hang about. After all, they had to be at Craven Park that afternoon to see their side comprehensively dismantled by Leeds Rhinos.)

It would appear that in order for the event to avoid being classed as a race, the organisers set riders off in different 'waves' and the company that looks after the timing publishes the results in alphabetical order rather than by the time elapsed over the course. (An RFID tag fastened to the back of each rider's event number starts and stops the clock for every individual as they cross the timing mat at the beginning and end of the ride.) Temptingly, the results are often made available in Microsoft Excel format, so it is difficult to resist the urge to sort by time (highlight the range then select Data – Sort if your Excel skills are a little rusty).

I chatted with a couple of chaps who had been out with the 'brisk' group before and we set off, with one rider I had never previously met – Tom – tearing off the front. I managed to catch him just before the first roundabout and followed him blindly down the wrong road; I had already taken the wrong turn after barely a few hundred yards. Back on track we took the 'A' road out of Driffield and again I had to dig deep to jump on to his wheel. We discussed riding together and set off after a sizeable group up ahead. We caught them on the outskirts of Kilham, but peer pressure had meant I was wearing far too much clothing; I removed a long-sleeved jersey from under my Gortex Windstopper and threw it on to a grass verge (I drove to pick it up after the event). I told Tom to carry on and I would try to catch up. I had only lost a minute but it was on the gentle climb out of Rudston before I caught up with him again.

This was where two riders overtook me, and I managed to get on a wheel and follow them towards Thwing. Somehow I managed to cling on to these two fast riders and I apologised for not being strong enough to take a turn at the front at their pace; into the strong headwind through Helperthorpe on to Sledmere we passed quite a few individuals and groups. Tom was no longer with us. At Sledmere the pair waited for the friends they had dropped and I carried on the slight rise before the descent towards Duggleby. I was surprised how light the traffic was and I picked up a few more riders between here and North Grimston. There was a lot of jazzy carbon on the rolling hills of the Yorkshire Wolds that Sunday (including this old cycletourist on his 'best' bike).

Feed Stations, Birdsall and Thixendale climbs

Two more riders overtook me after North Grimston and I sat on the wheel of one of them as I recovered from riding on my own into a difficult headwind. They had started the day hoping for a Gold, but knew they had lost their chance by the time we got to Birdsall. They didn't know the area too well and although I heard one of them on my wheel as I climbed Birdsall Brow they were not there when I reached the top and turned towards Thixendale. (The last time I climbed Birdsall Brow I watched Mr Wilkie smoothly pull away from me after I went off too quickly at the bottom of the climb, so I took it steady on the way up.)

There were two feed stations on this ride. The first was staffed by Cottingham Road Club on the Birdsall estate. Personally, I wasn't sure it was the right place for the feed station being at the bottom of the climb. Instead I opened my stash of flapjacks and ate one on the way to the second climb. The first rider I overtook on the climb out of Thixendale was struggling on an over-geared bike. I don't think it is possible to overestimate the psychological impact of being overtaken on a hill. As I looked over my shoulder to check it was clear to pull over to the left-hand side he unclipped and walked. If anything the riding was harder at the top of the climb. Instead of being sheltered we were now exposed to a stiff South-westerly that left a few riders struggling. I pulled back a few more riders on the false flat to Garrowby Hill and wasn't delayed crossing the 'A' road.

By now my Garmin was showing I had dropped below my minimum target speed of 15.8mph for the Silver standard. However, with the next few miles to Millington being largely downhill, and with a tailwind to look forward to through the Dale, I didn't worry too much. Even on the descent some riders were struggling with the rising temperature; I don't think I had ever seen so many cyclists with their jerseys fastened around their waists (I'm not sure I had seen any before, actually). The last group I caught were the toughest to catch and it was only after the final ramp past Millington Dale on the road towards Huggate that the group splintered (two of them – Cycopaths – would overtake me later just after Tibthorpe).

After Huggate, and with a tailwind to look forward to, I didn't feel the need to use the second feed station (staffed by members of Driffield Cycling Club). I kept an eye on the Garmin as the average overall speed crept above 16mph again and I enjoyed the welcome wind pushing me back to Driffield. I had to stop for the traffic on the main road, but once I got going again it wasn't too busy on the home straight. The Classic route was supposed to be 64 miles, but I clocked 60.5 (and I went round the monolith in Rudston – honest). A couple of Driffield Air Cadets halted the drivers of cars trying to leave the showground car park and I crossed the timing mat again to stop the clock at 03:38:47 – a little over twenty minutes inside my target time.

At the finish, and in no particular order, I enjoyed a cup of tea, half a pint of official ale for the event “Maillot Jaune” and a massage – courtesy of Warners. There was a very pleasant, relaxed atmosphere and I felt some of the camaraderie that I had mostly missed out on during the ride. I bumped in to the two fast riders again and thanked them for towing me along. I didn't have the appetite for the complimentary pie and peas, despite only eating two bananas, a flapjack from Home Bargains and only drinking three-quarters of the tap water in my bottle.

Many thanks to Phil Haskins, Adam Hardy and everyone else who worked so hard to make this such an enjoyable day. I'm already looking forward to the Heart of the Wolds 2014…

The Results

The results were out the next day, and I am afraid I couldn't help myself. A play around in Microsoft Excel produced some surprising stats. Perhaps the sort of riding we do in the 'brisk' group is not such a bad preparation for these sportives after all 🙂

Heart of the Wolds Sportive 2013 100km results summary:

Gold: 7
Silver: 39
Bronze: 180
Finisher: 41

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