wiggle's New Forest Sportive - Prologue
Here's the plan. The wiggle late summer sportive held in the New Forest last September was the best organised one day sportive event I'd had the pleasure of riding. As such it was a simple step to book the entire weekend off this April and elect to ride both days, one short, one long. Looking at the map it also seemed a reasonable suggestion to ride down to the New Forest on the Friday as a warm up to the main event. And so hatched the so called 'triple header'. It would be the most mileage I'd have ridden over 3 days for a long time. It was the weekend before Easter and my preparation in terms of hours on the bike was still a little lean, but timing wise it was a great opportunity so I would be stupid to play safe. I don't play safe very well. This account focuses on Fridays 'warm up' ride from Haywards Heath to Brockenhurst. The actual review of wiggle's New Forest Spring Sportive will be posted shortly.
The Warm Up
Despite staring at google maps for some time my thoughts on the route to the New Forest hadn't changed; I would effectively follow the A272 to West Meon, head cross-country to Eastleigh, join up with the A35 and enter the New Forest close to Lyndhurst. This looked like the most direct route and for the most part I would be able to ride on roads that weren't too busy. I would also cycle during the middle of the day which would also be in my favour. This route would minimise my faffing around with electronic maps which I find distracting. For reasons I shan't explain I began via Burgess Hill. From there I traversed my way to Henfield and Partridge Green, heading toward Dial Post. This was all familiar ground. I was steadily riding towards an intersection with the A272, just beyond Adversane and The Lime Burners public house. I was 90 minutes into my ride, settling down into a nice steady rhythm and enjoying the sunshine. For the next 40 miles my task would be simple. Petworth, Midhurst, Petersfield were all located on the A272 so all I had to do was ride the undulations.
This section of the ride was uneventful. I rode through a number if pretty villages on the way all with pubs I knew I'd forget, but made a mental note of visiting them nevertheless. It was about mileage accumulation. The navigation and 'fun' part would come once I headed south from West Meon. On reflection I need not have ridden as far north as West Meon. I could have taken the East Meon turn off the A272 and effectively lopped off an unnecessary corner. I'll know next time. At the A3/A272 junction I decided to head towards the sea. I was about 20 miles to Portsmouth but I needed to head south west. My timing here was fortunate since this road was also largely empty.
Eastleigh was a substantial marker. Not only had I been cycling for about 4 1/2 hours but it meant I was getting close to Southampton and Friday rush hour traffic. As it transpired I was riding right alongside Southampton airport. I looked left only to see a Dash8 Q400 take off 100 meters away. The road was very busy, traffic was slow and dense. Everyone was trying to get home after another week at work. At the end of the airport access road I was greeted with the first of two very significant gyratories. This looked pretty tricky. 4 lanes wide. Absolutely not cyclist friendly. It actually looked like suicide, packaged up as a roundabout. A lull in the traffic occurred and this was my chance. I hammered out of the junction and rode as hard and as visibly as I could towards the sign post for the A35. Luckily for me, that move went without incident.
I was soon skirting through the west of Southampton. This wasn't much better. Traffic was nose to tail, traffic lights and aggression everywhere. No cycle lanes of any note. I kept my wits about me and kept an eye out for A35 signposts. With 75 miles in my legs they were getting tired but adrenaline was keeping me going. I did not have time to worry about anything else other than staying beyond harms way. The map didn't indicate the reality of the route I'd chosen. Unsurprisingly this was not signposted as a national cycle way. This was not a route to be repeated on a bike.
This thought was compounded at the second gyratory of the day. More of the same, lots of cars hurtling around in a circle - and me. Not ideal. To make matters worse I also missed the junction. I was so busy staying alive I rode past the exit, so ended up doing a second lap for good measure! The final major intersection was about to come, in the form of the A35 dual carriageway - across the Solent. I was in the middle of 5 lanes hoping that the nearby drivers were not looking at me as if I was 10 points. The road climbed and dropped over the other side of the bridge. I could see a cycle lane on the other side of the balustrade, but I had no idea how to get there and this was not the time to stop and ask. Just keep riding and keep your eyes peeled.
Soon after there was an opportunity to ride on a cycle lane of dubious qality. Still, it got me off the road. I now had chance to reflect on my legs felt. The answer was very tired. There was nothing left. I needed to coast to Brockenhurst now. A minor incline greeted my entrance to the National Park, but it might as well have been Everest. My legs just did not want to know. First comes Lyndhurst, then comes Brockenhurst, down a long straight road I told myself. You can do this. I cruised, painfully into Lyndhurst, out of the saddle stretching my back as best I could. This ride had been harder than I had anticipated.
Passing the Maserati garage I turned left and left again. Next stop Brockenhurst - or the Rose and Crown to be more precise. Familiar 'wiggle' road markers we're already up, so I knew I was in the vicinity. I passed one hotel and then another pub. No! Wait! That's the Rose and Crown! I was so relived. I free wheeled into the pub car park and unclicked my shoes. I was a mess. I did my final piece to camera and that was it. I stumbled towards the beer garden, dragging my bike with me. I looked a complete state. A pint of water, a pint of orange juice and lemonade, a pint of Staropramen plus a packet of salted peanuts later I began to feel human again. 154 km. The ride had been longer in both time and distance than I had expected. Sitting down, barely able to move, I wondered whether I'd have anything left for the main event. I didn't want to call it right now.........
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