Cyclo-Sportive: Spring Lambs Sportive
Where: Billericay, Essex
When: Sunday 5 April, 2009
Distance: 150km (93 miles)
For 2009 Essex Road Club are running two sportives. Spring Lambs was the first, their second is on September 27 and is called the Falling Leaves. Both rides explore the hidden and maligned rural heart of Essex
To the time triallist this is the fabled land. Even cyclists who have no appetite for 6am starts know about the legendary courses of Essex. These are the roads where records have been won and broken, where a cyclist can make his or her reputation immortal.
To the wider world Essex is just motorways, dual carriages, shopping centres and unsavoury characters with dubious reputations. But just a few hundred yards either side of these great roads lies the real county of Essex, a place that route organiser Simon MacFeeters is determined to reveal with the course of his club's sportives.
Along with event organiser Mark Stanbury, and of course club supporters, they have created a series of circular rides which thread their way via half forgotten lanes, always tantalising close, yet never quite revealing the modern Essex.
For this year the Essex RC are hoping to raise the profile of their events from the popular but mainly local club rider base to the more mainstream sportive circuit. Their palmares for this sort of activity is impressive and reveals a great deal about the club's integrity. For the past eight years they have organised and run cycle events on behalf of the Orchid Cancer Appeal (www.orchid-cancer.org.uk) official website a charity that helps victims of testicular and bowel cancer.In that time the sum of £100,000 has been raised solely through their efforts and with several more charity rides planned for this year that figure is set to rise.br/br Sundays Spring Lamb and the later Autumn Leaves events (www.essexsportive.com) are one distance rides of 150km (93 miles) where every turn is signposted. Each rider gets a map and written directions handed out on the day, and there's also a downloadable GPX file.
One nice touch was the free tea and coffee along with energy bars, cakes and bananas at the start and finish area. That and the temperatures of 16c meant there was an almost carnival atmosphere about the place, with the usual cycling race banter being exchanged amongst the 198 starters it was no wonder that the Essex Road Club were very happy with their day's work.
The Organiser - Mark Stanbury
"Creating a separate website dedicated solely to sportives has widened the club's appeal to non competitive riders. The main objective of Sundays ride was to showcase our county, Essex is not flat, there are plenty of hills to make it hard, you just need to know where they are."
Sportive Sound Bites
Essex RC, first long ride of the year
"I started riding last January simply to enable me to undertake the Amsterdam to London charity ride. This is a charity that supports people like my son who has motorneurone disease. It's really brought out my competitive nature."
Sportive cyclist, lives in North Essex
"The organisation was excellent, and a great route. Myself and a couple of mates are heading down to the Alps this summer to do the famous cols, and if we can keep the miles going maybe a road race in the autumn."
Essex RC originally from South Africa
"A great route with plenty of variety, it felt a lot harder than you might expect for Essex, this year I'm aiming to complete the Marmotte"
My Cyclo-Sportive - Andy Kay
I reckon the Essex Road Club had a plan. They marshalled their top riders to the front with instructions to keep the early tempo high. So with the massed ranks of the home club disappearing into the distance, myself and a small group got together to give chase. It must have taken a good eight miles before we made contact and no wonder, the bunch was doing thirty miles an hour!
That would be pretty impressive on the famed E72, but we were on tiny Essex lanes with twists, turns and sometimes gravel in the middle for good measure. As one rider said "so much for the social ride in the countryside" and with a group containing 50 odd riders it felt more like a road race. Typical Essex boys always looking for a burn up, still, this speed was causing a high casualty rate amongst the host riders.
Bursting upon the first feed station half the group, myself included, opted to press on reasoning that the rate might ease a bit. No chance. By the second and last feed the numbers were down to 10 and it was here that the Essex Roads played their final card. Seeing that we needed to take on bananas and water, two riders opted to speed on past. This was becoming a serious day out. By keeping the pace reasonably high we were down to a group of five chasing a rider from the North Roads and, you guessed it, an Essex Roader.
As we hit the main climb of the day it was now my turn to be shelled out. Chasing as hard as I could was of no use, a group of four had formed over the top and were pulling away. Oh well, time to enjoy the last few miles and contemplate why it is that with a population of perhaps ten million people within this event's doorstep there wasn't more cyclists out.
This was an event superbly organised, run on idyllic country cycling roads with virtually no traffic and in perfect weather. Test yourself in the hills of Wales or the North by all means, but why miss out on these sportives? There was just as much of a challenge and every bit as fun at the Spring Lamb.