Well the sun shone, 600 mile- and cake-hungry folks turned up, the course was excellent, the refreshments were plentiful and the setting among the best in the country. The Endura Lionheart has all the makings of a stalwart calendar classic after just one run. Good effort!
Driving down to the imposing house from the main road gave mixture of emotions: it's an amazing view across the estate from high on the valley wall, with rhinos and giraffes wandering about in the safari park. On the other hand, that was tainted by the knowledge that after a quick lap of the estate the first thing your still-cold legs will have to cope with is that same climb. Sign-in, on the lawn in front of the house, was relaxed and well-organised as 600-odd riders lined up for the off.
I'd plumped for the shorter 60-mile route which missed out the lovely Wylye valley but still offered a scenic whistlestop tour of Wiltshire and South Somerset. Despite being on my doorstep, It's not an area I've spent a lot of time exploring on the bike, so I was looking forward to the ride. First that hill, though. Mercifully it was steady rather than steep, though a few folk were in need of a rest halfway to the top, not a good portent for their ride... it is early in the season though.
Flattish lanes led us through the village of Crockerton to the Shear Water lake as the sun started to make progress through the early cloud. Then it was a succession of quiet, rolling lanes through the Wiltshire countryside taking in all Four Deverills (Longbridge, Hill, Brixton and Monkton) before a cake stop at the fifth, Kingston Deverill. Cakes were present in force, along with sandwiches, sweets, sausage rolls... oh, and energy gels. 'Take one only', said the sign, but most people didn't even bother with one. The tea stop was our first experience of the Lionheart's somewhat elastic concept of the statute mile, with the '1 mile to go' sign for the food stop actually about 400yds away. We didn't complain.
Next the route meandered through the fantastic scenery of the Stourhead estate, we rolled through Stourton just as the faitful were wending their way to church before heading out on a rolling section that ventured south as far as the A303 before hanging a right towards the picturesque town of Bruton. I'd decided to give Betty the two-speed Raleigh a run out since the weather was fine, and given the terrain up to that point I was feeling confident, even though I'd seen the profile and knew that the two big climbs were yet to come. The second food stop came and went, well stocked with the same fare as the first. this time we were made to wait about three miles from the '1 mile to go sign', just to mix things up.
First up on the big climbs of the day was Kingsettle hill which takes the Lionheart riders back into the Stourhead estate and past King Alfred's tower. It's a steep one, make no mistake about that. Steep enough that the climbing choices seemed to be restricted to grimacing and walking. Two speeds didn't look like they were going to be enough but with a bit of judicious zig-zagging to ease the brutal gradient I managed to make it to the top in the saddle. Just. mercifully it's not too long.
The descent down the other side of the ridge to Witham Friary was a blast, followed by another loop of rolling, picturesque lanes to take the course back to the bottom of the same ridge. The Gares Hill climb gains the same kind of altitude but it's a different beast to Kingsettle, longer and more even although still steep enough to be a stern test. Once we topped out we were looking towards the finish, and when we saw the '1 mile to go' sign, bets were on for what kind of mile it would be. As it turned out it was rather a long one, but we'll forgive that for the finish you get at the Lionheart, a half-mile downhill sprint along the long, straight driveway that runs straight up to the steps of Longleat house. Asa finish location for a sportive I simply don't think it can be bettered: it makes the ride into an event in one fell swoop. It's itching to be ridden as a sprint, though I quickly found the higher of my two gears wasn't really high enough, my legs going round like a washing machine on spin.
Back at camp there were medals and goody bags, free tuck and some chilled Sunday afternoon tunes as the finishers relaxed in the sun. Everthing ran smoothly and the whole event was well thought out and professionally run. Big thanks to Rich and the Live2Ride crew for the ride invite, and we'll definitely be coming back for 2012. You should too. In the meantime if you want to check you how you did a full list of timings will be posted on the event website www.enduralionheart.co.uk soon.
Dave is a founding father of road.cc, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.