A few years ago St Neots Cycling club was on the verge of extinction. There were just a handful of members; it was a case of do something or disband. We opted to do something. Initially, we grew through contacts, friends and neighbours. Growth was slow at first, but we organised and steadily local cyclists started to hear about the club and some joined us. Today we have almost 70 members, the majority of them are active in the club and we’re still growing.
During the low years the club has always held weekly club Time Trial events. However our lack of numbers meant we withdrew from hosting open events and association leagues. the club became inward looking and that didn’t help the rot. Even organising a reliability ride seemed beyond the clubs resources, and don’t even think about an open road race! However, as our membership has regrown we are now back in a position to start putting on events. Sunday club runs are well and good, but what is the point of a cycling club if it does not promote events for its members and beyond?
At the start of the year we decided we probably had enough potential volunteers to put on a sportive. Initially we had grand plans to stage a 125 mile event, but calmer heads prevailed and we opted for a 125km route (It is the clubs 125th anniversary this year, hence the significance of 125). Finding a date was not easy. Originally we planned for the first weekend in September, then we discovered Wiggle were running a sportive that date on our local roads. The nerve! The clashes continued until the second weekend in October became the first free date. We bagged it.
None of us really knew how many riders to expect. We didn’t want to go too large only to find we couldn’t manage, while 100 seemed a bit pessimistic. In the end we decided on 200 riders. Some of us, including me, thought we would fill this with no problems, a sell out by August, others were less sure. The latter camp has been proved right. We have received over 100 entries, but we will not sell out. If the weather is good, we are expecting a more entries on the line (several people have asked if we still have spaces – if you read this before Sunday
14 7th October, then yes we do!).
Advertising has probably been our weakest area, and it is something we need to work on, especially as we face some well organised competition. It turns out that our event is an area popular with sportive organisers, and as we lack the marketing resources available to the likes of Wiggle this does put us at a disadvantage. British Cycling, have helped with promotion, for which we are grateful, but I doubt they have the same reach as Wiggle. Part of our strategy to get around the local sportive saturation has been to place ourselves at the cheaper end. The most significant drawback to this is we can’t afford timing chips, how much that has put people off I don’t know. We are also in an area where it is difficult to run an event which is distinctive for its route alone. We have added one or two interesting sectors, so hopefully local knowledge has helped produce a more interesting course than our rivals!
Club run cycling events rely on volunteers, and a sportive needs a lot of them. On this account St Neots has been very lucky. We have a large and enthusiastic pool of volunteers and over the last few months they have been working hard to put the event together. More members have stepped forward to volunteer on the day. At times it has been a bit chaotic, but I am confident that on the logistics the guys and girls have got it right. It is our first sportive though, and I will be surprised if there are no teething troubles. Nevertheless, our volunteers are a competent bunch, I’m sure they will get the job done well. I’m not really worrying on that account.
No, my nerves are not about the event organisation, but the route because the route is my baby. When we started planning I put together a few circuits, the committee spent an evening pouring over maps and we settled on one, but every turn, climb and descent has been picked by me. Since we dropped the 125 miler, this sportive has never been planned as a leg breaking monster, but I still want people to find enough of a challenge in it. Believe me, if the wind is against you, it won’t let you forget! I know some people will have travelled some distance specifically to ride this route, I don’t want them to be bored for several hours! So I have picked a route that I enjoy riding and I’ll be content if most of the 100 plus riders go home having felt the same.
If you are wondering about the 125 miler, I have every intention of convincing the club to do it. We will be starting from a more knowledgeable and organised position and best of all the route is already planned. It is a genuine epic ride. If vikings rode bicycles, they would sing songs about this one…