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Rob Simpson – the Man Behind “Velo Sportive”

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Cycling is changing, there’s little air of mystery to the big riders now – Tweeting, FaceBook and camera phones have seen to that.

There are races in the desert, in the jungle; the Middle East and south of the Equator – the season carries on so long and starts so early that it’s hard to say when the “off” season is.

And people are turning to cycling, not to ride mid-week ‘tens’ or APR’s (do they still exist?) or to go on ‘clubbie runs’ for a drum up and a ‘habble.’

The ‘Sportive’ is where it’s at, a ‘kid-on’ race which they’ve had on the continent for years.

We’ve spoken to Paul Coats and Jamie Burrow in the past about riding Sportives – albeit at a much tougher level in Italy where they have semi-pro ‘Fondo‘ teams.

But back to Blighty – you can dress up just like your favourite racer, saddle up on your crazily expensive Pro Tour replica bike and share the roads with droves of like minded individuals.

And there are no nasty numbers like ‘1:07:37’ beside your name after the race or those horrible letters; “DNF”.

But despite my bemusement at the popularity of Sportives – as Vik says; ‘you go out on your bike to get away from folk, not ride round with 500 others!‘ there’s no denying their popularity.

Rob Simpson is the man behind ‘Velo Sportive’ who organise participation in Sportives and will be promoting his first sportiv in April – we decided to reach out to him and seek enlightenment.

Rob Simpson
Rob Simpson.

Which sportives do you organise, Rob?

“We’ve been planning what was to be our first one, The Tour of the Shire in Lanarkshire, over 80 miles in September, for some time.

“We’re hoping to mirror the success of the Kinross Sportive which sold out 700 places in a couple of weeks. They’re pleading with the police to allow bigger numbers.

“But we’ve also just confirmed that we’ll be running the first Sportive on the Scottish calendar; The Tour of Angus, April 2014 with events over two distances – 45 miles and 90 miles.”

What’s the attraction of Sportives?

“They’re just getting bigger and bigger, a reflection of how big cycling has become in the UK – there will be 30-plus in Scotland, this year.

“The reasons for the popularity are threefold, I think.

“There’s the challenge aspect; you’re not going to get left behind, like can happen in a race ; and many of the locations for the events are cracking.

“We had a couple of experienced Sportive riders test ride our course and they said it was a really good route.”

And Velo Sportive is a club for folks who want to ride Sportives?

“Yes, it’s a Sportive club for folks who may be apprehensive about joining a normal club because of the competitive element.

“We’ve had a chap from Washington join, and a lady from Tenerife.”

How many have you ridden?

“I’ve ridden five, all in Scotland, including the Etape Caledonia.

“It’s on closed roads in beautiful countryside, but that puts the price way up.

“I really fancy riding the Pennine Sportive, that’s through spectacular scenery, too.”

How many do you plan to ride, this year?

“I hope to do 20, I want to get out and personally promote our club and our events.

“I’ve discussed it with organisers and I hope to get a promotional post card for Velo Sportive in event goodie bags.

“We have four ‘elite’ riders who’ll be riding Sportives for us – you might have a weekend where you have two events taking place and we want a presence at them both.”

Do you ever see continental-based Sportive ‘race teams’ coming to the UK scene?

“Never say; ‘never.’

“We’ve had an invitation to ride a Mallorcan Sportive, the one that’s a complete lap of the island.

“You have to walk before you can run, but we’d like to have an elite Sportive team.

“Curle Cycles in Airdrie wanted involved and have supplied four carbon Raleighs for our elite guys.”

Rob Simpson
Perhaps we’ll see the likes of Jamie Burrow arrive in Scotland with his teammates to ride one of the country’s sportives.

What’s the situation with police permissions?

“You don’t need police permission but British Cycling advises that it’s best to get a thumbs up.

“It’s not like it’s a race, you can set off 700 riders, but not all at once, they’re set off in tranches.

“But you have to do a risk assessment and go and see the police.

“Next year I’d love to run a series of Sportives; Moray, Aberdeen and Arran would be amazing.”

What’s the insurance situation?

“British Cycling will organise it for you; you make the application to them and they pass it to Scottish Cycling.

“The cost is around £60/100 riders.”

It strikes me that they always include monster climbs…

“Yes, many do have big climbs, I think that floats some riders’ boats.

“But folk do like a challenge…

“Out Tour of the Shire is pretty hilly.”

Do you think that the interest in the events has peaked yet?

“No, I think it will continue to grow and a lot more folks will ride them.

“Look at the USA, they’re massive and growing – especially the ones with a pro’s name attached.”

With thanks to Rob, but we won’t mention any pro riders’ names on that one – their USADA suspensions haven’t finished yet !

Ed Hood
Ed Hood
Ed's been involved in cycling for over 47 years. In that time he's been a successful time triallist, a team manager, and a sponsor of several teams and clubs. He's also a respected and successful coach and during the winter months can often be found working in the cabins at the Six Days for some of the world's top riders. Ed remains a massive fan of the sport and couples his extensive contacts with an inexhaustable enthusiasm for the minutiae and the history of our sport.

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