Every year I look at the list of Sportives in the area (and a few further afield) and wince at the prices. Some are now hitting £30 which is an awful lot of money for some electronic timing (or not in one local case) and some village halls providing cake.
Sure the routes are lovely and they’re a good excuse to go up either Dover’s Hill or Saintbury (every Stratford sportive goes up one of them) but do they really justify the cost to ride with a bunch of strangers of wildly different quality as we all try to get our best time. They’re not a race, we all know this, but the decent club riders will be going faster and probably working together far better.
I’ve had a brief foray into the world of Audaxing, having done one event last Summer. Three of us took part, we turned up late due to me being a poor host and not offering breakfasts in bed and spent nearly the whole ride together without anyone else.
It was 100km, so easily doable, but without the Sportive aspect of competition we had a relaxing trundle around Worcestershire and at a fraction of the cost.
The difference between the Audax and the Sportive is generally the unsupported nature of the riding. There’s no signs on the roads, you’re navigating for yourself and while there is usually a stop provided it’s more of a pay your own way club ride coffee stop than a Sportive flash and grab. There are a couple of information controls, such as writing down numbers from fire hydrants in certain spots to prove that you’ve been round at least some of the route.
This is all done at on a much smaller budget, you’re effectively paying for a paper booklet to record the details and someone’s effort to make up the route in the first place. Timing-wise, your result doesn’t matter, as long as you get round the route under the maximum time limit (which is set at about 8-10mph average) then you’re doing perfectly fine.
Because Audaxes are about distance and not speed, it’s common to see 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km events as training for the ultimate event of London – Edinburgh – London (which in itself is training for Paris – Brest – Paris).
There’s something refreshing about just getting the miles done, there’s no pressure to push yourself and you can enjoy the conditions and the scenery without having to make sure you keep up with the bunch of strangers. Our Audax involved a 30 minute stop for ice lollies in Evesham and then another 30 minute nap in the village of Great Alne. Anyone deviating off route into the Co-op on a Sportive would be firmly frowned upon, this had the aura of a casual ride with friends.
I’m definitely tempted to give Audaxing another go this year, now I have a Garmin it should make the navigating an absolute doddle as well so I’d be more willing to do it on my own. At around £5 an event, it’s an absolute bargain compared to the Sportive circle, you’ll no doubt have more fun and you’ll still get 100 miles up (at least!) if you want to.