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The sportive life

Published June 8, 2012

Events’ massive popularity in Europe bolsters industry, local economies

Editor's note: The following article was published in the May 15 issue of Bicycle Retailer & Industry News

When Wiggle embarked on sponsoring its first sportive ride in 2009, it was nothing more than a way to market its new Verenti bike line to the casual road cyclist. But after seeing nearly 3,000 riders gather for the Verenti Cheshire Cat sportive in Northwest England for Britain’s season opener, Wiggle knew it was on to something.

The online retailer partnered with an events organizer to headline a few more non-competitive multi-distance rides that year, and never looked back. This year, Wiggle is up to 40 events and has expanded into series for mountain biking and triathlon and is dabbling in running events as well, said Adam Ryan, Wiggle’s director of product marketing.

“As we saw the success of the events, we decided to rebrand them all Wiggle and we increased the geographical footprint. They were traditionally along the South Coast; now we have a few further north in England. The furthest-north event is a day trip into France,” Ryan said.

Wiggle is now one of the largest sponsors of cyclosportives in the U.K., and the events have become an essential part of its marketing strategy, with a reach of up to 200,000 people annually between participants and attendees. The direct benefit of the sponsorship is difficult to measure, but Wiggle can track the spending habits of people who register for an event on its website.

“Everybody who bought an event ticket from us, looking at shopping behaviors, the events customers are more valuable to us financially. They spend more and more often than the typical Wiggle customer, so it makes sense for us to get more events customers,” Ryan said.

Factor in all the tubes, nutrition products, tri belts, goggles, pumps and CO2 cartridges Wiggle sells out of its retail trailer at event expos, and the overall brand equity gained, and it all adds up to a pretty decent result for Ryan.

Timing likely figured into Wiggle’s sportive success. In the past decade, sportives have become immensely popular in the U.K. as cycling gains a higher profile, said Adam Tranter, editor of cyclosport.org, which covers the U.K.’s cyclosportive scene.

The number of sportives has grown from a handful in 2003 to the 350 to 360 on the calendar now, with club events attracting 200 to 500 riders and the better-known rides drawing 2,000 to 5,000 cyclists, each paying anywhere from 25 to 40 pounds ($40 to $65) a pop to participate. Tranter says the attention is a trickle-down effect from the overall rising profile of cycling in the U.K. due to the success of such British athletes as Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish as well as the Bike Hire scheme in London. In particular, the bike share is introducing the sport to a new pool of riders, many of whom eventually aspire to attempt the longer distances and personal challenge of a sportive.

No one has studied the economic impact of sportives on Britain’s economy, but Tranter assumes the events play an important role in cycling’s contribution, which was pinpointed at 3 billion pounds ($4.85 million) per year in a 2011 study by the London School of Economics.

And so far, cyclosportives appear to be recession-proof, Tranter said.

“The lack of growth in the economy doesn’t directly affect the number of people in cyclosportives. These people are of good or high net worth value. They are paying for an added experience,” he said.

The events also offer a good home training ground for cyclists preparing for once-in-a-lifetime mass rides at the pinnacle of the sport—France’s l’Etape du Tour, Italy’s LaPinarello Gran Fondo or South Africa’s Cape Argus Cycle Tour.

On the continent, the birthplace of gran fondos and sportives, new and established events are still managing to draw larger crowds every year, giving hope that cycling could emerge unscathed from the current economic woes. Giordana’s Eddy Merckx fondo grew from 1,100 riders in its first year to 2,400 by the third, and Giordana this year formed a new series called the Giordana Challenge that groups six Italian fondos, including LaPinarello, said Sandy Nicholls, marketing director for Gita Sporting Goods, which distributes Giordana and Pinarello in the U.S. With a turnout of about 4,500 riders, LaPinarello, now closing in on two decades old, is a boon for the brand and its home city of Treviso.

“The mayor of Treviso is always there at the race, and he’s really behind it. Pinarello runs out of hotel spaces for their guests, so I don’t know what the other people do that aren’t somehow related to Pinarello,” Nicholls said. “We take press and dealers from the U.S. and every other distributor in the world does the same.”
With so much ongoing interest in cycle tourism, organizers are brainstorming new ways to bring potentially economy-boosting bike tours to a broader audience. In 2009, Gerhard Vanzi, marketing director for Italy’s Dolomiti Superski ski resort, introduced a 60-kilometer guided mountain bike tour of the Dolomites’ four passes, an area already home to one of Italy’s biggest gran fondos, the Maratona dles Dolomites. By using ski lifts to reduce the amount of climbing required, he aimed to open up the mountain’s famous trails to less hard-core enthusiasts.

In the first year, only 80 people signed up, but that quickly grew to 1,600 the next year and 3,000 the year after. This summer, Vanzi expects 5,000 riders. It’s quickly turned into a new summer economic driver for the popular winter recreation region by providing jobs for mountain bike guides and filling restaurants and hotels.

The sale of lifts tickets alone nets about 150,000 euros ($200,000).

“Increase this amount six or seven times for stays in the hotels, restaurants, bike shop rentals, maybe we can reach 1 million euros ($1.3 million) for this trip this year—if not, next year,” Vanzi said.

Topics associated with this article: From the Magazine

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