UK Cycling Events, the organiser of two annual sportives in the New Forest, has found a new base for the rides that should put them out of the reach of New Forest NIMBYs.
Vociferous criticism from a small number of New Forest residents and councillors last year led UK Cycling Events to look for a new venue for the start of the ride.
There have been attempts to sabotage the rides, including tacks being dumped on the routes and signs being torn down.
After talking to other venues, including Gang Warily recreation centre in Blackfield, the rides will now start at Matchams Leisure Park, just outside the western edge of the New Forest and across the River Avon in Dorset.
The first New Forest event of the year organised by UK Cycling Events is the Wiggle New Forest Spring sportive on April 12-13.
A statement from UK Cycling Events said: “The route incorporates the same spectacular scenery of the New Forest National Park, combined with wild animals grazing and picturesque villages.”
Martin Barden, director of UK Cycling Events, said the new venue meant there would be “no disruption” to New Forest residents as a result of the ride.
He added: “We have moved to Matchams as the venue offers hard standing parking for all the riders.
“We chose to withdraw from Gang Warily as the decision-making process was taking too long and we wanted to ensure we had enough time to inform residents of our planned route.”
Opponents of the rides have been lobbying Hampshire County Council to impose restrictions on the events, and had hoped that persuading the larger venues in and around the park not to host the rides would lead to a reduction in the number of participants.
In November last year, Hampshire County Council leader Roy Perry said that the council has no power to regulate sportive rides in the New Forest.
Earlier this year, UK Cycling Events voluntarily reduced the number of entries to its new Forest events by 20 percent. Nevertheless, Tony Hockley, chairman of the New Forest Equestrian Association told the Southern Daily Echo’s Chris Yandell: “Matchams can accommodate a couple of thousand cars, so we could be facing events on the same scale as before.”
Peter Roberts, chairman of the New Forest Association, said: “Cyclists will still ride across the Forest in rather large numbers, causing the potential to disrupt working practices.”
In October last year, the New Forest Verderers cancelled a planned ‘drift’ — an exercise in the care and maintenance of the semi-wild pony stock — blaming UK Cycling events for refusing to change the date of an event.
Martin Barden said that due notice had been given of the event, which was planned the previous year.
He said: “Despite offers of altering our event and working with the drift to ensure it was safe and could continue, the Verderers made the decision to move it to another day.”
The danger from cyclists to livestock and wildlife is often cited by opponents of the rides but according to the New Forest National Park Authority there have been no incidents involving animals and cyclists since records began to be kept in 2008. The majority of animal accidents in the park are caused by drivers, and after many years of improving safety on New Forest roads, 2013 saw an increase in incidents.
Events such as the Wiggle New Forest Sportive organised by UK Cycling Events also bring substantial economic benefits to the area, according to Martin Barden.
“The last event alone provided a financial benefit of £325,000 to the local economy,” he said. “We also wish to continue promoting cycling in the National Park which is in line with its aims of providing enjoyment for all.”
If you're wondering what all the fuss is about, here's the organiser's video from last year's Wiggle Spring Sportive:
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.