bikebritain rides wiggle's New Forest Sportive
Wiggle’s New Forest Sportive
The New Forest sportive is arguably more infamous than famous. This is because of the sustained volume of vocal local protest against the ride - or rather the 3000 cyclists that are present in the area during one weekend. Either way this was a part of the world I was not familiar with and the reviews of the Epic ride were glowing. High time I gave it a go.
The event was further than I would usually travel to participate in a sportive and riders where encouraged to sign other day before if possible. This was feasible since I was staying in Southampton the night before. It was the largest wiggle 'camp' I had seen, positively buzzing, busy with folks having finished their ride and looking rather pleased with themselves. The weather was perfect; I hoped it would remain so. I got chatting to a bloke in the loo who had just completed the longest ride. He told me it was the first time he'd ridden 100 miles and he had really enjoyed the experience. (It transpired he had chosen a good event to cut his century teeth on. He warned me about a very steep hill (25%) just before a food stop however he could not remember which food stop it was. Ah well. I'll deal with that when I get there I thought to myself.
The morning came around as did my usual lack of enthusiasm for (a) getting up 'early' on a weekend and (b) getting up 'early' on a weekend and immediately getting on my bike. I prefer to warm up to the world. The weather omens where looking good; clear skies overhead. In camp it was heaving with people in skin tight clothing. Here, lycra was not a crime. It was a pre-requisite. The queue to start snaked its way around camp perimeter. It took a good 15 minutes before I performed my first proper pedal stroke. And we were off!
Immediately upon joining the road you could see an almost continuous line of cyclists head towards Lyndhurst. Most were riding single file but cars were struggling to get past when on-coming traffic was present. It did not last long though. We were soon cycling away from the main road on some much more familiar 'wiggle' like routes. The scenery was beautiful. The dew glistened in the morning sun. It was peaceful, perfect conditions to be riding a bike. This sportive was the busiest I had done, other than Cycle Oregon. I was now riding with team Wyndymilla. Dressed mainly in pink, they were pottering along quite nicely and I got chatting to one of their group. They had driven down that morning and like me, had not ridden this event before. On the strength of what I had seen already, I would be booking a place next year. Hang on, it’s held twice a year. Interesting.
The route consisted of three broad loops stacked on top of each other. I had read that the lack of cars was a real attraction and I had been riding for a while now and only seen bikes. In the south of England, it didn’t get any better than this. The course was undulating but nothing too savage. We were heading north, heading through the National Park towards West Wellow and Dunbridge. The occasional horse rider aside, the main road obstructions were either cattle or ponies. On a few occasions it was feeding time for the cows and they had a fixed route…..which went across the road. Not worth arguing with them. On the other hand, the ponies by and large stayed docile but you needed to stay alert just in case of sudden (and erratic) animal related decision making. That said, some of the riders where probably more dangerous than the animals. The cheeky triangular detour near Fordingbridge for the Epic ride – aka Blissford Hill was entertaining. This was the hill that the man-in-the-loo was telling me about. It was quite steep. 25% the sign post indicated. A few riders were walking up it. That was not ever going to be an option. It was well worth bruting – you could see the top of the hill so you knew it wasn’t long. Short and sharp, it was conquered soon enough.
I didn’t spend much time at the food stops (wiggle note : the food on the SRS Events rides is better), just topped up my bottles and off I went again. I was maintaining a reasonable pace and pretty much on my sub 6 hour 100 mile schedule which works out to be 20 miles every 1 hour 10 minutes. Actually I was on time, give or take 30 seconds at the 40 mile mark. I felt good and was comfortably motoring on. At the half way mark I would see how I felt and maybe push for a harder second 50 miles. Heading south east across the park back towards Brockenhurst, the countryside changed. The trees thinned out and the landscape was flatter, gorse bushes flanked either side of the road. I was riding on my own as usual, the way I liked it when I was against the clock. Yes, I was now against the clock. I wanted a fast 100 miles. The course was benign. I should be able to at least match the split times, potentially resulting in a 5 hours 50 minutes 100 mile ride. Not achieved that before. Might do it today I thought.
I went through 60 miles on time. Legs were feeling a bit jaded, but it was one of those rides where you knew you could keep pressing on and you’d be ok because the route would not punish you. I was now focussing more on the Garmin than what was around me. A couple of riders were determined to draft me but I wasn’t having that. I don’t actually mind (usually), because I just say to myself that this makes me stronger. However this time I wanted to be left alone. The standard tactic is to blast up the nearest incline and that burns people off. It worked again. Most people don’t like that. And if they do stick with me, they are usually better than me and won’t stay behind for long. I was gunning it, overtaking everyone in sight, uphill. Somewhat fortuitously it was also where the photographers were, so I starred in a few glory shots. I felt great.
This feeling didn’t stop until I finished. On the backside of the final ‘loop’ the wind was against me and 2 guys caught me. They stuck behind and occasionally did some work. However, I realised one of them was just hanging. We rode together for a while – I’m not sure how long. Then he started to drop off the back and I maintained the rate. That was the last I would see of them. But what I did see was the 10 km marker for home…….
The Epic course was rated as a 3/5 ride which is accurate. Put it this way, the route was sufficient to allow me to complete 100 miles in 5 hours 48 minutes. I was very happy with that. It was the first time I’d gone sub 5 hours 50 minutes. Of the events I've ridden in the UK, this was the best route. It probably helped it was all new to me, but the combination of the weather and scenery made for a terrific day out. Next time I would seek to stay more locally and maybe complete a ride on both days. From an organisation perspective, ukcyclingevents.co.uk did another great job. Even where signs had been defaced, kicked down or removed, the spray painted directions on the road kept you on track. It seems a shame that some locals perceive the event to be a nuisance. I would imagine the cyclist collective brought a fair amount of money into the area that weekend. That said, perhaps I’d feel differently if I lived there.
Fitting cycling events into your life can be difficult. Nevertheless, on the strength of what I experienced in the New Forest, this sportive is definitely worth making time for. The countryside alone renders the ride ‘gently spectacular’. I am certain that 2014 will see at least 1 return visit……
For more information on the Spring-time sportive (choice of 86 or 58 mile rides), follow this link - http://www.ukcyclingevents.co.uk/events/wiggle-new-forest-spring-sportive-2014/
For more information on next years 100 mile ride in October, follow this link - http://www.ukcyclingevents.co.uk/events/wiggle-new-forest-100-sportive/
Words, Thumbnail and Slider Image - bikebritain ltd
 The 2014 dates for wiggle/ukcyclingevents sportives have been released and the New Forest features over two weekends – the 12-13th April and 4-5th October