The appeal of the sportive is easy to see: without the pressure of a race environment, cyclists are free to connect with what made them fall in love with cycling in the first place – getting out on the open road and soaking up the scenery in good company.
In recent years, a number of sportives have sprung up across the United Kingdom as cycling has increased in popularity. While the majority of these are on open roads, there are a small number of events which have chosen full road closure to allow cyclists not only a safer ride, but a more enjoyable one.
As a result, you would expect that closed road events would be becoming the norm. But this is not exactly the case. While closed road sportives have experienced something of a boom in Scotland over the past couple of years, south of the border there’s a different story.
Take, for example, Etape Pennines, the first closed road sportive to be held in England, which was cancelled in 2015 due to lack of interest. Compare this with Etape Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands which sold out general entry in just 51 hours in 2016.
So what is it about the Scottish closed road sportive that has such a strong appeal to cyclists?
Kenny Riddle, a former Commonwealth cyclist and now proprietor of Bikes of Inverness, believes that there is a growing culture for cycling in Scotland that has aided the sportive’s meteoric rise in popularity.
He says, “Scotland has a long-standing tradition in cycling, and for years the country was linked strongly with mountain biking- especially the downhill world cup held at Fort William every year. But over the past few years, road cycling has seen a real surge in popularity.
“Whereas running was the fashionable sport a couple of decades ago, there seems to have been a real rise in the popularity of road cycling. This is partly due to the fact that while it is still a very social sport that you can participate in with a group of friends, there is much less risk of injury than when running.”
It is this wide acceptance of cycling that Kenny attributes to the success of the closed road sportive in Scotland. He continues, “Sportives have a unique appeal in cycling – you get all of the buzz of riding in a large group without the pressure of being caught up in a race.
“Sportives are a much more accessible form of cycling than races to those who just wish to take part in a sport for fitness rather than competing. It allows you to work on your own personal goals, and improve on your own timings without worrying about what anyone else is up to.
“We’ve got some fantastic scenery here in Scotland, and I think that really adds to the experience. The opportunity to get out amongst it on a closed road is a real luxury, and one that I’m surprised more cyclists do not jump on south of the border.”
One sportive in Scotland that is leading the charge in closed road events is Etape Loch Ness, which has enjoyed massive success since its inaugural event in 2014. Following a 66-mile route around one of the world’s most instantly-recognisable bodies of water, it’s lauded not only for its amazing views but for its wide, closed roads.
Event director Malcolm Sutherland explains, “When we speak to riders who have taken part in Etape Loch Ness, there are three things that are consistently mentioned: the atmosphere, the scenery and the closed roads.
“Although Etape Loch Ness has grown considerably since its first year, our aim is to maintain the atmosphere and camaraderie of a smaller event. Unlike a race, everyone is out on the course with their own targets to hit and we want everyone taking part to feel as important and valued as the person riding next to them.
“We made the decision early on that Etape Loch Ness should be a closed road event, and the feedback we have had from participants is that it was definitely the right move. We’re very lucky here in the Highlands to have some of the most picturesque scenery in the country, so to be able to explore that on a bike without having to keep an eye out for traffic is something that cyclists really appreciate.
“The closed roads allow riders to feel an added element of safety, meaning they can relax more and enjoy themselves – often leading to them smashing their goals and finishing in record time.”
Perhaps in time, the rest of the UK will catch up with Scotland and discover the joys of closed road cycling. For now, though, cyclists will have to venture north to get their fix. With a number of closed road sportives to choose from across the country, from the Highlands to the Scottish borders, riders are spoiled for choice in routes that boast stunning scenery, welcoming Scottish hospitality and some of the best cycling in the country.
For further information about Etape Loch Ness visit www.etapelochness.com