Australian Pursuit Sportive?

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Most riders who take part in road races will know what an APR is, it stands for Australian Pursuit Race & is a handicapped road race. The riders are set off in small groups, where the *theoretically slower riders getting a head start on the faster riders (*theoretical, as in there’s always a ‘ringer’ or two). The last group leaves at the back of the field, it’s called ‘The Scratch’ & aims to mop up the time deficit it’s given away to all the other riders ahead, which often happens if the handicapping is done by somebody wanting to see a thrilling race. Could there be a more inclusive, cost-effective & easier way to combine a racer’s training event & a cycle sportive, hybrid event, for the benefit of everybody?

Why Change?

Currently, an APR is considered an official ‘race’, but are they really considered a serious race by most? They’re often at the beginning of the season & used to test form, as a training tool or just to get used to a bunch again after a winter on the turbo trainer. We could probably fulfil all these requirements with a simpler & easier option for clubs to organise. The best riders won’t be boasting too much by the time the Drummond Trophy comes along that they won an APR. There are no licence points available for these events (although I know some have ‘slipped through the net’), so what do racers get out of having these as official races than just, say, a specifically structured sportive? Arguably possibly nothing.

Could we also use a APS (Australian Pursuit Sportive) as a stepping stone to riders actually sticking a number on their back in an official road race, by making these events accessible & attractive to more types of cyclists? Currently, the two sides of the sport don’t converge very much, apart from club riders taking part in some sportives, the old APR format could be remodelled to become the transition event that bridges the gap between participation & competition. Riders new to racing could hone some group skills, by riding mostly with 10 to 15 riders at first, rather than hanging around the back of a bunch & being afraid to attempt to move up.

There’s a huge semi-competitive market out there, as we see from riders ‘winning’ sportives & the Strava phenomenon claiming the hearts & minds of cyclists the world over, people like feeling competitive. So far the ‘race scene’ has done very little to tap into that, if it wants to survive long-term domestically with ever-increasing traffic volumes & police costs starting to be charged, the old model has to be updated, or at least reviewed based on how riders now choose to ride. Providing a semi-competitive event with a taste of what’s involved in the next competitive level up could be an eye opener for some, when the scratch group comes blasting past, looking organised & faster than they’ve seen a group move before, other than on the telly. Surely riders could be seduced to look a little deeper into the world of cycling. Alternatively, some riders who persevere at road racing but don’t have the time for specific race training, may see sportives as a better option for them, it could go either way.

Safety could obviously be an issue, I don’t ignore the point that I’m sure commissaires would make. But if we chose to run these events on suitable courses, with the road racers being made very aware that the rules of the road have to be obeyed in these events, then we shouldn’t have a problem. The sportive riders are already very familiar with this, so it’s actually the racing cyclists that need to take note, the ones who are used to a protected race environment. We should also ensure that very large bunches never come together, so things would have to be a little different, I’ll go into that later, read on & I’ll explain myself.

This APS format becoming popular could also open up a funding stream for clubs, so often we hear that it’s frowned upon to dare to attempt to make a profit from a road race. If you’re catering for a different mixed market, why not make one or two £’s from each rider, with a larger field than a road race would allow & boost your club funds for equipment or supporting youth riders?

Other plus points are that new riders are not immediately thrown into a 60 (or 80) strong bunch in their first race, which is where the understandable safety issues have been highlighted in recent years. In an APS, they would be introduced to a bunch in smaller groups, hopefully a place which makes it easier to learn the basic skills such as ‘wheeling about’ properly. We have to accept that the big clubs that teach these skills are becoming less normal now, access to the sport is becoming a much more solo affair, due to the vast online cycling community. While this introduces a huge amount of riders to cycling, it’s very different reading about skills than actually being taught them in a club structure. Road racing still assumes that these skills have been taught before an entry is completed, but this isn’t the case anymore & the sport has to adapt, we need a bridging event where skills can be acquired at a semi competitive level in much smaller groups than 60 riders.

Costs

If we look at basic costs, it’s just over £20 to register a Regional C event, like an APR, then the riders pay £3.95 out of their entrance fee as a levie to Scottish Cycling. A sportive has an initial registration fee of £50, then individual levies of £1.20 per rider. Below are some examples of the fees to the governing body you’d pay.

60 Riders

  • Race: £22 registration + (60 x £3.95) = £259
  • Sportive: £50 registration + (60 x £1.20) = £122

80 Riders

  • Race: £22 registration + (80 x £3.95) = £338
  • Sportive: £50 registration + (80 x £1.20) = £146

200 Riders

  • Sportive: £50 registration + (200 x £1.20) = £290

You’d get to 240 riders for a sportive before you reach the amount you’d pay to the governing body to run an 80 rider APR.

You’d likely have no different a cost for the race HQ for both, lets call it £100, same with first aid, lets call that £100 too. But for a sportive, you’ll not need NEG motos, nor the same requirement of marshals (although you may want them), no lead cars & commissaire vehicles, race radios, prize money, all those other bits & pieces that are not really required for what is essentially an organised training event.

If we add all that up, for a 200 rider field, we have £290 fees to Scottish Cycling (Note: more than they’d get for a 60 rider standard road race field), £100 HQ, £100 First Aid, so for the basic costs we’re at £2.45 per rider. This would allow chip timing probably working out to under £3 per rider from somebody like Mark Young’s MyLaps system (prices vary depending on riders, there’s a standing charge plus price per chip, so worth asking because my costings may be out of date, he’s on twitter @myeventtiming).

When we add it all up & you’re getting your event insurance, facilities & chip timing for about £6 per rider. If you want to do the sportive thing & provide a club sponsors printed event t-shirt & a medal for every rider, plus some spot prizes, you can get all that for under £15 entry per rider. All you’re doing is defining a training event as precisely that, not kidding on it’s a proper race, a more honest & potentially more useful APR. Another possibility could be upgrading a reliability ride to the slightly more formal format of an APS.

How Would It Work?

Early season only: Now I’m not suggesting these new APS events have to continue all through the season, I’m only talking about the first 6 weeks (or so) of a season. After that serious riders will either have a full schedule of big events planned out, whether they are road races (with licence points) or sportives, could be decided by their experiences in these early season multi-discipline events.

200 riders max: Lets say that this style of event would have a cap of 200 riders, purely for safety reasons & to keep it simple for organising clubs & to fit the event in their local facility. 200 riders would provide the critical mass to dissolve the chip timing costs amongst the riders to keep the costs of the event to a minimum for clubs & riders.

Modified Handicapping: This is probably the big change over an APR. With chip timing, we don’t actually need to have everybody cross the line at once in a big bunch sprint, everybody would get their own time. I’d envisage that we could spread the event over a longer period of time, to avoid large groups assembling together.

How I’d lay the field out would be as follows, but I’m sure other people have plenty of other ideas.

  • The riders towards the rear of the event would be laid out in a similar fashion to a traditional APR, with the riders being positioned in groups according to race results (i.e. these would be race licence holders). I’d make the second scratch quite hard to catch from the scratch group, which would make sure everybody has to work like hell together to make inroads into the other riders, this is a semi-competitive training event for the experienced riders after all. Other accomplished sportive riders, with high sportive placings, can elect to join one of these ‘racers’  groups, apart from the last two groups, which would consist of experienced racers (just to be safe). The time gaps between groups would be larger than a traditional APR, to avoid large groups assembling.
  • The first riders out on the road would be the slower sportive riders, again with significant time gaps between groups of 10 to 15 riders. It would be expected that these groups would fragment, as the assumption is that the opportunity for group skills amongst these groups had not been available.
  • The ‘sportive’ groups would steadily get faster until the ‘racers’ groups left the start. You could slip in a group of super-vets somewhere too, amongst the ‘sportive groups.
  • The fastest sportive groups are likely to be a fair bit quicker than the slowest ‘racers’ groups, so there is a possibility that there could be some intermingling of the ‘sportive’ & ‘racers’ groups here, it would require a test event to find out.

Clear Routing: This isn’t a race, so the riders are to obey the rules of the road & any marshals & signs are for routing purposes only. A carefully planned course can alleviate these issues to maybe only one or two junctions where the riders do not have priority, where this isn’t the case, turning onto a relatively quiet road may be possible. As I said previously, this is the major education issue if these events are to be considered, that if you are required to stop at a junction, you’ll have to, this may need to be enforced in some way. Any dangerous corners must have highly visible marshalling & signs, obviously.

The Gist Of It

There’s really nothing new in this at all, all I’m proposing is an early season calendar of these type of event, allowing all categories of riders to take part in one event While also opening the doors to sportive riders to let them get a glimpse of the ‘racing’ side of cycle sport which they are also welcome to dip their toe into, the other way round too.

If you think your event carries a high risk & you can’t find a more suitable course, keeping the event under the safety & control of a race day organisation will ensure that things are as safe as possible. But if your event could be considered more of an early season training event, that nobody is going to risk their life to ‘win’, then changing its status could be an option next year.

Our sport evolved before the mass appeal of cycling hit the general public, to not adapt & to ignore sportives & mass cycling is a mistake. We should be embracing it & providing events that both racers & sportive riders can take part in, with the hope that some may be enticed into official racing. Otherwise we’re living in the past & ignoring those who are now the majority of cyclists, there’s likely some very strong talent out there to be discovered.

I’m going to throw this idea out there for discussion, I’m sure I’ll get some concerns. It could get more riders entering semi-competitive events, a bigger crossover to racing & open a funding stream for clubs, with no less money going to the governing body, all with less effort than organising a ‘proper’ road race. “Why not” I ask, I’m sure you’ll tell me, because I’m absolutely certain some will absolutely hate this idea, but it’s just an idea? Some may see it as an opportunity, but maybe with some tweaks it could prove a welcome success & a boost for the sport.

Bikeclubbing, we’re bikeclubbing, oh isn’t it wild?

In the ‘good old days’, i.e. any time before sportives existed, bike riders took a different route into road cycling through the cycling club structure, these days bike clubs are a secondary thought for most new riders, a place where it’s perceived that you’re not going to be fast/strong/committed enough to take part in club activities. In reality, this is very, very far from the truth, bike clubs are where you’ll benefit from experienced riders teaching you how to ride fast & safe in a group, among many other things. So read on and find out how to go about it, it’s quite simple.

The Sportive Rider

Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with riding sportives, these mass participation rides have brought hundreds, if not thousands of new riders into the world of road cycling in Scotland. They provide many with a focus for their cycling year, training for an event & generally feeling part of something much bigger. They provide the same kind of feel that I imagine a marathon would, the challenge being to complete a long ride, on tortuous terrain within a target time. But what these riders don’t realise is, that by joining and riding with a club they could greatly enhance their riding experience, learn to save energy, combine into working groups and reduce that target time dramatically, with no additional effort. But sportive riders are unwilling to join clubs, or perhaps they simply don’t know they exist and are unaware of the benefits they can get from joining.

The reality is that anybody’s cycling enjoyment can be improved by acquiring ‘race skills’, these will allow you to ride faster, longer & harder than before by learning a few basics, then advancing on from that into a never-ending learning experience, the best & fastest way to go about this is to join a good club. Even if you don’t want to race, these skills will become invaluable in any sportive event, or even just on a group ride.

Bike clubs, past & present

As Iggy Pop asks about nightclubbing, “Isn’t it wild?”, bike clubbing doesn’t have to be wild at all, if you choose well and do a little research you’ll easily find one that suits you?

Clubs come in many forms, the type of club that has evolved usually depends on a very small number of individuals who take on the majority of the responsibilities in each club. You can also have some historical factors in there too, with a clubs identity based on what they did some time ago, so find out what suits you & get involved with one, it’s the best way to develop your skills.

A little history. Bike clubs used to be a secret society, you normally started riding your bike by yourself, to escape from various things on a Sunday, family, religion, football, socializing etc. So cycling had a high percentage of men, of which a high percentage couldn’t (or didn’t want to) play or support football and others escaping from Sunday school or going to church with families, some chose cycling because it allowed to not speak to anybody for long periods of time. So you get the idea, the idea that to be a cyclist ‘back in the day’ involved you being some kind of social outcast from the norms of Scottish society, which in central Scotland often involved football, religion, eating sausage rolls & smoking, you’ll find a lot of cyclists pre-sportive have this type of background. This permeated into your local bike club, a committee formed from normally geriatric cyclists, you can spot one of these, he has baggy knees from where the skin on his thigh muscles used to keep everything taught, he has a perma-tan from frequent visits to Majorca and he doesn’t like anything post index gearing. I’m not saying the social norms of our society were something to aspire to, I’m just giving you an insight to the suspicion any ‘new cyclist’ (often labelled a ‘Gringo’) would be subjected to on attempting to join a cycling club. There were of course a large number of ‘normal’ people in cycling clubs, but they generally kept their normality hidden from bike club culture & lived full meaningful lives outside cycling, unknown to their cycling peers. You accidentally stumbled across a group of club cyclists or witnessed a race held as far from population as possible and met somebody there who introduced you to a local club, that was your main route into the world of Scottish cycling if you didn’t have a neighbour or family member who was already involved.

You’ll be thankful to hear that the above is now becoming much rarer, you’ll be struggling to find an old school bike club these days. With the growing popularity of cycling and its acceptance as a viable way to commute, the successful GB cycling team, Wiggo, it being a healthy & not a particularly anti-social hobby, bike club members have responded to the old school cycling club and infiltrated it’s hierarchy, spreading into committees and replacing unwilling volunteers with enthusiastic ‘youngsters’ (anything younger than 50 is considered a youngster to the saggy knee brigade). You’ll find a progressive attitude in many bike clubs these days & there are some that deal exclusively with youth riders, having several trained coaches, if you’re looking at choosing a club for your offspring too.

Your new club

Any club that is registered to Scottish Cycling will be listed on their website, so start there. Fill in your postcode on the link below and set up a distance you would be willing to travel. Bear in mind that this will give you a rough location, as it is determined by the location of the club secretary’s house, so open up your search distance a little more than you would be willing to travel, in case the club secretary lives away from the main body of the club. You should get a link to each clubs website from the club finder link and you can review their activities.CLUB FINDER

Things to look for……

  • Find a club with an internet presence, this can assure you that a committee has decided that the internet isn’t a bad thing and they’re willing to embrace it. This also allows you to peruse their activities before you take the leap and join in.
  • If you want to race, make sure your chosen club participates in the type of racing you want to take part in, but don’t close yourself off to other types of competition.
  • Choose a club that has regular rides reasonably close to where you live, i.e. within half an hours riding to the start or a short distance to drive if you intend to take the car.
  • Check out their kit, you’ll be wearing this a lot, so make sure you’ll be ok wearing it in public.
  • Make sure your new club will accommodate beginners, you’ll be astonished at the amount you can learn, so having a club willing to take the time to teach beginners group skills is going to be crucial to your choice.
  • Get an idea of the size of club, unless it has a good progressive culture and lots of willing and experienced members, a very large club may not allow you to develop your skills as quickly, it may have a majority of riders who want to learn the skills you’re after, but lack that core of willing volunteers who have the task of teaching a vast number of new riders in their own time. Sometimes a small to medium club will provide more assistance and steepen the learning curve, but then this isn’t always true either, so do your research and let them know you want to develop group skills and see if they have any rides that would help with that.

Remember that those willing to help you in that club are volunteering their own free time, so treat everybody with the utmost respect and paying a small annual membership fee does not mean you own their time. They also pay that membership fee, so that doesn’t mean that they own your time either, it’s a friendly cooperative rather than a contract, people are giving you their goodwill, in return they see you progress within the club.

The level of a club cyclist

It’s often perceived by those outside the cycling club structure that club cyclists are elite level athletes. Once you join one you’ll find just how ridiculous this idea really is, there’s all shapes & sizes in bike club. No matter what your current level of fitness, you’ll also find fellow riders at your level, you don’t have to be ‘race fit’ to join a club. Plenty of experienced riders let their fitness slip to unbelievably low levels, so if you’re unfit you can still learn a lot from riding with these guys, that podgy creeper you’re chatting to may have won a few races when he was in his prime.

Go on, join a club

It’s really a case of getting out there and getting it done, now is the perfect time to get involved, it’s early in the year and there will be plenty others like yourself who are about to take the leap and looking to improve your bike skills, whether that’s on-bike skills, mechanical skills (as basic as fixing a puncture to full-scale bike strip and rebuild), help with your bike position, you’ll learn a lot from experienced riders and skills passed down through bike culture. You’ll learn week in week out in a bike club, while a sportive will teach you little in the way of skills, not only because it’s a one-off event, but due to there being no incentive and camaraderie from experienced riders to pass on knowledge and information during an event.

There’s no time like the present to dip your toe into the overshoe of cycling clubs, take the plunge and see if there are any suitable now, it’s not as wild an idea as you first thought.