In the last few years sportives have become one of the most if not the most fashionable and popular amateur cycling pastime, certainly if the cycling press is to be believed. I did my first proper sportive last year (Lincsquad's Paul Kirk Memorial North Lincs CycloSportive) and loved it (well, apart from being ridden off the wheels of all the hard nuts and cycling into a head wind for 8 hours) but if you love long distance, endurance cycling there is a year round alternative, the audax.
Audax comes from the Latin word that is the root of 'audacious' and audax rides (especially the very long ones) do require a degree of audacity and determination. An audax is a long distance ride that incorporates some features of a sportive such as a time limit, but importantly it requires participants to be self sufficient. Organisers often lay on tea and buns and often for long rides a meal afterwards, but there are no feedstops, no route markers and no mechanical back up. You have to carry what you may need and be able to navigate via GPS or a good old fashioned OS map.
Audaxes have set routes and riders are given a route card. There are "controls" where you must stop and get your card stamped. There are usually "information controls" too that require you to find something out (fore example and inscription on a war memorial). Controls are there to ensure you complete the route.
I love audaxes because they are fun! The people who ride them are for the most part very welcoming (and their knowledge of cake stops is second to none. But make no mistake, audaxers are some of the toughest cyclists you'll ever meet. Anyone who can cycle 200, 300, 400 or even 600 km deserves respect. I would be so bold that even a multi day sportive like the Tour of Wessex is probably easier than riding a 300km, let alone a 600 km audax.
I also love audaxes because they are such excellent value. Five quid entry fees are pretty usual. Yes you have to buy your own lunch but very often there is hospitality. If you complete an audax you are eligible for a medal and there are awards to compete for too (generally for the number of events of a given distance in a season). For the super tough there are Paris Brest Paris (1200 km in 90 hours) and London Edinburgh London to aim for every four years.
I'm riding a 100 km audax on 18th May that starts in Messingham. Come and join me, it'll be fun I promise you. In August there is a long one The Bluestone 200. Come on all you racers and sportivists, come and do that one, if your hard enough!
For more events check out Audax UK's website.