It's not every day you get to ride with a professional cyclist, let alone six of them, but that is a day that 500 lucky riders got to enjoy last Friday down in the New Forest as part of the unique Garmin Ride Out event… and I was one of them.
Now in its 4th year, the event has grown in both attendance and popularity. If you're if you're one of the lucky few with a golden ticket, it is one of the undoubted highlight rides of the year. Garmin put the event on as they want to give something back to the sport, and time it nicely to coincide with the Tour of Britain so they can arrange for their sponsored team to put in an appearance.
So when an email invite arrived in my inbox the other week, and with the entire Team Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda Tour of Britain team in attendance - that's Tyler Farrar, Nathan Haas, Lachlan Morton, Sep Vanmarcke, Jacob Rath and Steele Vonhoff – I knew it was too good an opportunity to pass up. I have ridden the event twice before, and enjoyed it thoroughly on both occasions. Cycle racing is a very accessible sport but rarely do you literally get to ride shoulder-to-shoulder with professional cyclists. Especially so close to such a big race.
Due to demand, the event continues to grow. It's now up to 500 people and that meant a new venue in the shape of the Avon Tyrrel Centre, (still within the beautiful New Forest), was arranged for the day. A grand house overlooking a large garden was given over to a morning of activites. Garmin Edge and Connect demonstrations, a Muc-Off course, and Cervelo's Phil White even made the trip and talked carbon fibre construction and the importance of aerodynamics, fielding questions from the large crowd.
And then the Garmin-Sharp team are presented to the assembled throng, squeezed into a marquee that really isn't large enough. A short question and answer session followed; they're asked about their season so far, their aims for the Tour of Britain, how they train effectively and a host of other question strands follow. It's all very interesting stuff, and they're clealy enjoying the company of the assembled guests.
And then it's time to ride. The morning activities, as interesting and enjoyable as they are, are just the appetiser to the main event: a 50 mile ride with the pros. The Garmin team had been out for a training ride in the morning to properly stretch their legs, so this would just be a gentle spin for them. For the many cyclists here, it was a little more serious. There was plenty of fervent activity before the start and many downing gels as nerves kicked in - the ride grows closer to being an actual sportive every year.
If you've never ridden the New Forest, you're missing out on one of the UK's hidden gems. Contained within a very small area is some idyllic riding. Fast sweeping country lanes, long rises, steep inclines, and a real difference between the densely wooded lower roads to the windswept plains higher up. While there isn't all that much climbing, the ascent of Blissford Hill, a short 25% ramp, surely tested the legs of most. If a chain were to snap, it would be here.
Unlike last year where groups were set of with relation to a projected average speed, this year they opted for a simpler strategy of sending everyone off up the road in groups of 50. This produced the desired effect of stringing the 500 cyclist out, avoiding large groups massing together and getting overly excited. The roads in the New Forest are narrow at best and there's little space when you've got a decent sized group trying to ride two abreast and approaching cars refusing to slow down, so thinning the group out like this worked a treat.
Before too long though, the close proximity of the first few hills and the strong headwind on the higher roads in the New Forest forced natural selection to play its part, and riders soon thinned out even more. Clustered together in dwindling groups with lone riders stranded between, it's quite a sight to look ahead and see a long trail of cyclists bobbing along.
The ride isn't billed as a race at all, it's a leisurely ride, but that doesn't stop the many wannabe racers from pushing on the pace. By the time we leave the well stocked feed station at the halfway point, the pace is getting a little tasty and, with no pros in sight, small groups form and there's some well organised through-and-off. Soon we're pushing the pace hard, sweat is starting to flow and before I know it, we're back at the event arena tucking into large plates of pasta and salad, taken on the lawn in the sun, watching the remaning cyclists flood across the finish line.
As for the pros, well I didn't see any out on the road, which is a shame. With so many cyclists taking part it was never going to be easy to bag yourself a pro, or a good wheel to suck. Last year I was able to spend a happy few miles chatting to Cameron Meyer about his season, training and racing, this year I had to make do without. Still, it was another thoroughly enjoyable ride, the best yet.
Well done to Garmin for putting the event on. They don't charge anyone to take part (when they easily could) and instead use it to thank their loyal supporters and fans of the team. There aren't enough company's out there doing anything like this.
If you get one of the tickets for the 2013 ride, take the day off work and make the journey, you won't regret it.
Riding in the New Forest
If you fancy enjoying a ride in the New Forest, and I thoroughly recommend it, then there is ample free parking dotted along the many roads that criss cross the New Forest. We started near Burley Village which makes a good place to start or finish a ride with its tea rooms and cake shops. There's plenty of B&B's and hotels in the village as well if you intend to stay over and make a weekend of it.
For routes, then Garmin's Connect explore section makes it easy to find a suitable route. http://connect.garmin.com/explore
And here's a nice video from the event, so you can see what you missed.
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.