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United States | Southeast | Virginia >> What is a Sportive?

What is a Sportive?

Cyclosportives – commonly referred to as Sportives have become a firm fixture on the worldwide cycling calendar in recent years, offering both seasoned racers and newcomers to the sport a challenge that can be as gruelling or straight forward as they wish.

A cyclosportive, is a short to long distance, organised, mass-participation cycling event, typically held annually. The Italian term Gran Fondo is commonly used for these events in the United States, Australia and some other English-speaking countries.

Cyclosportive is short for the French term randonnée cyclosportive (the spelling cyclosportif is sometimes also used but cyclosportive is correct as randonnée is a feminine noun in French). The U.K. shortened the phase to Sportive.

Many cyclists use sportives to challenge themselves in a personal battle against the distance and then ultimately, the clock. Some participants in a cyclosportive will ride the event like a race, with prizes awarded and considerable prestige for top place finishers, particularly in events like La Marmotte, L'Étape du Tour and the Ardechoise.

A cyclosportive falls between a traditional cycle road race and the more challenging non-competitive randonnée or Audax events. Riders normally carry a number and the time they take to complete the course is recorded. There is usually an upper time limit within which the course must be completed (unlike many randonnée events, there is no lower limit preventing riders from completing the course quickly). The already lengthy course will traditionally include climbs and difficult riding conditions, adding to the merit of the event (e.g. the cobblestones of the Paris–Roubaix).

The routes will usually be well sign-posted and/or marshalled (some cyclosportives take place on roads which have been closed to motor traffic for the duration of the event), riders will be able to use feeding stations positioned at intervals along the route to replenish their food and drink supplies and mechanical and medical support may also be provided. Some attract thousands of participants - since 2000 l'Etape du Tour has offered places to 8,500 riders each year.

In the United Kingdom which has seen phenominal growth which started in 2003, there are now well over 500+ events each year and probably more Sportives in the U.K. than anywhere else.

The U.S. is tipped to see the same phenominal growth in the next decade. Starting in 2009 with Levi's Gran Fondo, there are now well over 200+ events each year. However the vast number of cyclists in the U.S., around 7 million, the huge areas of outstanding natural beauty, the push for greener way of travelling and more healthy ways of living is a recipie destined to make North America one of the biggest country's in the world to cycle. Only time will tell.

Cyclosportives are something like cycling's answer to the marathon. Long distance, sometimes epic mass participation challenges, open to all comers, cyclosportives are the event of choice for a new generation of road rider. Cyclosportives are performance rides that allow you to focus on your own goals, whether that be achieving a personal best time target or simply getting across that finish line! All of our events offer a choice of different distances, so you can get involved whatever your level.

A cyclosportive is characterised by being a mass participation cycling event. In several countries, including the UK and Australia and parts of the USA, they're billed as non-competitive events. However in Europe in particular, there is more of a competitive element with categories and prizes awarded to the fastest finishers.

Most, if not all, sportives use timing chips ensuring a healthy level of competitiveness is always present no matter what. Results are usually published in detail on the event website and often have gold, silver or bronze time standards, and nobody wants to see their name languishing at the tail end of the table.

Sportives appeal to riders of any experience or fitness level. Some riders will be looking for an element of competition, perhaps by signing up with a bunch of mates for a burn up, or trying to be in the first or fastest group to finish. Others, who might find road racing a little strenuous or elitist, can ride at a steadier pace and still enjoy the benefits of a ride with marked directions, feed stops and mechanical support.

Finding the event that's right for you has never been easier. Like the professional scene, the sportive season doesn't seem to have a beginning or end these days, so whether you enjoy warm weather rides in the height of summer or bone-chilling slogs in the depths of winter, somewhere there'll be a ride for you. has the most comprehensive worldwide events calendar, and is the go-to place to find Sportives in UK, Europe and beyond.

Once you've found one, sign up through the event website as soon as you can. The biggest events - the Fred Whitton, and Cape Argus's of this world - regularly oversubscribe and only offer a brief period for you to register interest. They often select entries by ballot, so it can become a bit of a lottery whether you secure a place or not.

Will it be right for me?

If you enjoy riding a bike, then almost certainly, yes! The beauty of a sportive is that you can make it the ride you want it to be. There's no competition with other riders, you can ride at your own pace, for your own goals and enjoyment.

You can aim to achieve your own performance targets (like Gold, Silver and Bronze time targets to help you gauge your performance), or you can ignore all that and ride for your own enjoyment to take in the scenery. If you're fairly new to cycling, completing the distance might be your personal challenge; we include three or more distances at all of our events so there will be one that's right for you.

Sportives are a great opportunity to meet other riders and ride with a group at your pace too. Our events make a great platform for you to raise money for your chosen charity if you want to as well.

Is a Cyclosportive a Race?

Generally no, cyclosportives are not "true" races. They take place on open public roads, with large fields of riders (sometimes in the thousands) so different sets of rules and regulations apply than do for cycle racing.

In a cyclosportive, you are not competing against other riders, rather you are targeting your own personal goals. Most cyclosportives offer a range of target time bands for you to aim for, or of course there is just the challenge of completing the biggest ride of your life.

For many riders, this is the whole appeal of cyclosportives; they free you from the competitive pressure, strict rules, regulations and rigid disciplines of pure racing and let you enjoy your riding for your own reasons. And if you are interested in moving into road racing, cyclosportives are a great stepping stone to help you develop your skills.

Whatever your personal goals for your ride, remember that this is a public ride on open, public roads. You must ride within the rules of the road and obey the highway code at all times.

What do you get at Sportive events?

Well generally speaking, you get free parking at an HQ with facilities, a well sign-posted route, with marshals and mechanical support, well-stocked feed stations along the route, nice scenery, quiet country roads, and some interesting hills to test yourself against. Most events are timed, though timing comes in many forms - from the simple stopwatch "time you in and out" variety, to high-tech electronic timing tags. Some events have motorcycle outriders, and these days as well as a route card, many also have the route available to download in advance for the gadget of your choice - everyone knows how much cyclists like gadgets!  

There are usually photographers on the route too, typically lurking on the worst hills, to capture your smiling (!) face as you slog your way up, and give you the opportunity to purchase a souvenir of the day afterwards. 

And when you finally cross the finish line you'll probably get some form of goody bag, the contents of which vary massively depending on the event, the entry cost, and any sponsors involved.  But no-one cycles 100 miles to get a free water bottle or t-shirt, so I think it's fair to say that the goody bag is more of an added bonus rather than an incentive.

The typical sportive season runs roughly from March to October - when there are still enough hours of light in the day to complete the distance along with the hope of at least semi-reasonable weather.  Having said that there are now some shorter events running through the winter too, so it's becoming far more of a year round thing.  

2020 Gran Fondo and Sportive Calendar

There are over 600+ events in the U.K. and mainland Europe in 2018.

Gran Fondo Guide has the most up to date, detailed and comprehensive list of Sportive events in the U.K., Europe and beyond.

2020 U.K. Sportive Calendar
2020 European Sportive Calendar

Whats the difference between a Sportive and a Gran Fondo?

Sportives in the U.K. and Gran Fondo's in the U.S. are pretty much the same thing. These are semi-competitive, timed events, run on mainly open roads.

The U.K. inherited the word Cyclosportive from the French cira 2003 with the first event called the Fred Whitton Challenge that riders used to train for the Etape Du Tour, the amateur stage of the Tour de France, that takes place on a rest day of the Tour de France each year for 8,500 amateur cyclists.

The U.S. inherited the word Gran Fondo from Italy circ 2009 with the first event called Levi's Gran Fondo.

Italian Gran Fondo's typically benefit from Closed Roads. Gran Fondo's in other countries like the U.S. don't necessarily have closed roads, like Sportives in the U.K., due to the costs and other logistical obstacles that would make it financial impractable.

Italian Gran Fondo's are deemed "true" Gran Fondo's because the majority have closed roads for cyclists throughout the duration of the event.

There are Gran Fondo's in the U.S. and U.K. that have fully closed roads like the Gran Fondo New York that attracts around 5,000 cyclists and the UCI Gran Fondo World Series Tour of Cambrigeshire Gran Fondo that attracts around 8,500 cyclists.

The appeal of closed roads events is attractive to cyclists and hence the largest events can afford to provide this. However, this doesn't detract from the hundred and thousands of Gran Fondo's and Sportives that take place in many countries nearly all year round.

2020 Gran Fondo Calendar

2020 U.S. Gran Fondo calendar
2020 Canadian Gran Fondo calendar
2020 North American Gran Fondo calendar
2020 U.S. Century Rides calendar
2020 U.S. Gravel Fondo calendar
2020 Oceania Gran Fondo calendar
2020 European Gran Fondo calendar
2020 U.K. Gran Fondo and Sportive calendar

The Fred Whitton Challenge in the Lake District, is the UK's original Sportive, circa 2002


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