The New Forest 100 sportive is organised by UK Cycling Events and sponsored by Wilier – they of the rather nice Italian bikes – and while there may not be many Giro-style climbs in this part of the world, it’s definitely a great place for riding a bike.
It’s been ages since I cycled in the New Forest, so this sportive was a great reintroduction to the area – now one of Britain’s newest national parks. The start/finish was just outside Brockenhurst, in the heart of the park, and the route kicked off with about 10 miles through classic New Forest scenery of wide grassy areas dotted with trees and patches of gorse. The landscape was gently rolling, giving legs a chance to warm up, although the drizzle forecast for the afternoon seemed to arrive early, making the roads a bit damp.
Three route options were available - the 100-mile ‘Epic’, the 70-mile ‘Standard, and a fun ride of 40 miles – all staying together at first. Near Ringwood, the fun route branched off, leaving Standard and Epic riders to drop down into the valley of the Hampshire Avon and work north via Blissford Hill – at 1-in-4 the steepest climb of the day.
A major feature of the New Forest is the huge number of free-roaming animals – ponies, sheep, cows, horses, donkeys and even pigs – and, despite the vast swathes of grass for their grazing delight, many of these animals seem to prefer standing in the road. No great danger if you keep your eyes open, but I did have to occasionally brake and give way to oncoming beasts. Avoiding the huge piles of stuff they leave behind on the road was more difficult.
Near the settlement of Nomansland, the Standard riders turned east, while Epic riders continued north, through Downton and near Salisbury before swinging south back towards home. All routes came together again for the final loop through Lyndhurst and Beaulieu, then a stretch near the Solent with sea views, followed by an energy-sapping final few miles on rough roads with wind against, before a welcome decent to the finish.
Over 400 riders took part in the event, and the three distance options attracted a great range of ages and abilities. There’s no winner in a sportive of course, but ‘medal standards’ were awarded to everyone beating certain times. On the Epic route, more than 50 earned gold for getting under 6 hours 4 minutes. About 60 got silver (under 6 hrs 50mins), and 30 got bronze. On the Standard route, the stats were 60 gold, 86 silver, 60 bronze, and on the fun route it was 8 gold, 19 silver and 42 bronze.
All three routes kept mainly to minor roads, so car traffic was no problem. With at least two other cycling events in the forest that day, I think we saw more bikes than cars. As for facilities, the feed-stations were all well stocked with food and drink - including High 5 gels and drink, and Eat Natural cereal bars. The finish HQ was a sports centre, so the hot showers and proper changing rooms were welcome. Many riders also took advantage of the free bike wash provided by MucOff and Mobi Pressure Washers to remove the aforementioned animal deposits from fames and wheels.
UK Cycling Events maybe new on the scene, but they run a tight ship. This coming weekend, their second event is the South Downs Sportive, with the start/finish in Chichester and again the choice of three distances: 100, 70 and 40 miles. See www.ukcyclingevents.co.uk. If it’s too late to book online, you can enter on the day. At the same site you can see details of an impressive array of sportive and off-road events planned for 2010.