The appeal of Scotland’s cycling sportives


Cairngorms Classic Sportive

Cycling legends, fantastic routes, friendship and fitness – no wonder cycle sportives are on the up

Cycling sportives have been growing fast in recent years, with more events on the calendar and thousands more riders taking part. One of the biggest sportives in Scotland, and one of the few that take place on closed roads, is the Etape Caledonia in Perthshire.

This year’s event, on 11 May, is expected to attract some 5,250 riders, including cycling legend Chris Boardman. This will be the first time that Boardman, a former British professional cycling star and Olympic gold medallist, has taken part in the Scottish Etape.

He is set to experience everything that makes the 81-mile Etape Caledonia so popular, including the quiet roads, infamous Schiehallion hill climb and descent, pelotons, friendliness and the fabulous south Highlands scenery.

Chris is enthusiastic about cycling sportives. He said: “Sportives are a fantastic way to enjoy spectacular countryside at whatever pace you choose. That’s what I love about them.

“I already spend several months a year in the Highlands for the incredible vistas and great, cycling-friendly roads, so when I was invited to take part in the Etape Caledonia, the first on fully closed roads in the UK and in my favourite part of the British Isles, I wasn’t going to say no.”

Star cyclist Chris Boardman

Star cyclist Chris Boardman

He added: “The Etape Caledonia is now known as one of the best cycling events in the UK and the fact that it has so many participants each year is testament to that. With heather covered mountains and beautiful lochs surrounding us all day as we head into the Highlands, it’s going to be an epic day and I’m really looking forward to it.”

The Marie Curie Cancer Care Etape Caledonia is in its eighth year. It sells out within two days of entries opening. The only way to secure a place now is to enter the Etape Doublé, which combines entry into the Etape Pennines on 20 July and the Etape Caledonia. See

Benefits of cycling sportives

So why have cycling sportives become so popular in the UK? I have taken part in several in Scotland and I’ve enjoyed the friendly atmosphere, the chance to ride new routes and the scenery.

A sportive is essentially a non-competitive event, although finish times are given. However, most people look at a sportive as a chance to enjoy a long-distance cycle with like-minded people. It’s a great way to get fit, too.

Sportives can be ridden solo or as part of a group (peloton). Most events allow you to set off a different times over a set period and so you can choose to cycle at your own pace or to find a group of riders cycling at a similar pace to you. In my experience there is always a group, or at least a few people, to ride with – and as you cycle you can chat and meet new people. Another advantage of a sportive is that there are usually lots of food stops provided so you do not need to take many provisions with you. The routes are waymarked and marshalled and this takes away the worry of navigation from a long bike ride.

Keen sportive rider Graham Huston said: “I have enjoyed the Bealach Mor sportive in the far north-west of Scotland, the Glasgow to Edinburgh 110-miler and the Tour o’ the Borders sportive. This year I am taking part in the Etape Caledonia for the first time.

“I really like visiting new places on my bike and discovering great routes. I always cycle the sportives with a friend and it’s great fun catching up on our chat and riding a new long-distance route amid fantastic scenery. For a day out on your bike, a sportive is hard to beat.”

How to train for a cycling sportive

It depends on the distance of the event but it is a good idea to build up your riding mileage in the months prior to the sportive. Although you can treat the event as a long ride, rather than a race, you should still be fit enough to make the distance.

Your training will depend on how fit you are to start with but as a general rule you should include a couple of shorter rides each week and a longer ride at the weekend for at least three months preceding the sportive.

Build up the distances of the longer weekend ride slowly. If you go out and try to ride dozens of miles in the first outing you will come home sore and exhausted, which may put you off doing it again.

Interval training sessions are useful if you are pushed for time in your training schedule. Riding shorter sessions harder and faster will help to build leg muscles and stamina.

You can do interval sessions outdoors on a quiet section of road or indoors on a turbo trainer. Complete 30 seconds of flat-out sprinting then rest for 30 seconds with your legs ticking over at a moderate pace. Repeat this for 15 minutes.

If you’re feeling really energetic, try 45 seconds of sprinting with 15 seconds of rest and an extended rest of 60 seconds every 5 minutes.

If the sportive is hilly make sure you include lots of hills in your training rides.

To make your training rides more enjoyable cycle with friends and find new routes.

10 great Scottish cycling sportives in 2014

Sportive Kinross, Perthshire, 26 April

Etape Loch Ness, Highlands, 4 May

Etape Caledonia, Perthshire, 11 May

Bealach Beag Sportive, Highlands, 24 May

3 Pistes Sportive, 1 June

Cairngorms Classic, 14 June

Tour o’ the Borders, 10 August – new closed road route

Skye Sportive, 30 August

Bealach Mor, Highlands, 30 August

Ullapool Sportives, 20 September

Tell us about your experiences of cycling sportives.

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