The Wiggle New Forest Spring Sportive is the perfect excuse for a weekend away. I rode it on Saturday, which was great as it meant that I had the rest of the afternoon and all of Sunday to explore the beautiful surroundings of the National Park. It also turned out to be one of the most popular sportives in the South of England, attracting all kinds of cyclists*, from beginners to veterans - and everything in between.
HQ at Somerley House
New to this year's edition was the location of HQ: Somerley House, located between Ringwood and Verwood, in Hampshire - providing a stunning setting for the start and finish of the event.
Luckily, we had a car this time so we could bring the bikes in the parkland that was nicely reserved for the sportive. Logistics were well thought-through too: cars would drive in from an unpaved road from the back of the parkland, whilst riders would ride out from the main paved road towards the gated entrance of Somerley (1 mile, traffic free), and from there off to the New Forest's main roads.
The queue to go into the car park, and the queue to the starting line were horrific: the longest I've ever seen! Nevertheless, the atmosphere was really relaxed... probably thanks to the sunny and relatively warm morning.
At the HQ tent cyclists were able to grab free lubricants and use bike pumps for last-minute fine tuning. At the surrounding stands, you could stock up on bike parts, food supplies, hot coffees or tea. Upon our return at HQ we were inundated with random freebies: a PowerBar recovery bar, some salty crackers, drinkable yoghurt, free water refills, and - my favourite - the Muc-Off bike cleaning station!
The hellish first 15km
Now in its seventh year, the Wiggle/UKCE New Forest Spring Sportive offers two routes: standard with 67 miles (108km) and epic with 84 miles (135km). The sportive featured in the "UK's Top 10 sportives" and attracts around 2,000 riders over the weekend, as it runs on both Saturday and Sunday.
The ride starts in the south-west corner of the New Forest and completes an anti-clockwise loop. Despite the sportive passing (mostly) along quiet lanes where you can spot dozens of wild horses, cows and donkeys, the first 15km are quite hellish.
Riding along B roads, despite being early morning, the traffic is quite heavy and too many drivers quite impatient. For example, as soon as we turned left at the gates of Somerley House a Land Rover driver on the other side of the road decided to let cyclists know how much he hates us by driving with his hand glued to the horn: despite his lane being completely empty and "cyclist-free".
Along the first few km we also saw a lot of cyclists stopping for punctures. Now, I have to admit that I'm a bit prejudiced about the infamous New Forest saboteurs.... but an alternative explanation to all the punctures could be that the unpaved road at HQ and the wet terrain might have played their parts too. I will leave this to you to decide, trying not to push my bias too far!
Epic route split & Lepe Beach
The New Forest Sportive is definitely rolling, with only one hill worth remembering and mentioning (more on this later). Up until the split point, the ride is quite uneventful, with the only exception of 1) excitement at the first sights of wild horses, and 2) small challenges on easy hills, such as Braggers Hill, Wilverly Road rise and The Stinger, all around the villages of Burley and Sway.
At about 55km in, the epic route splits from the standard route at Beaulieu which, by the way, is a ridiculously beautiful spot. As soon as you pass the village Beaulieu Hill will bring riders again on to more quiet roads down in a loop towards the sea, all the way to Lepe Beach. It is at this point that the weather, in a split second, turns from decent to wind, storm, and even hail. I went into the Lepe Beach's toilet facility for a quick stop. And when I came out the headwind and rain was hitting cyclists quite badly!
Anyway, the storm calms down quite quickly (thankfully) and it's now time to "Wiggle it back" as we've passed the half-way point at 75km, through and out of Beaulieu again. Riders on the epic route re-join, only briefly, the main route and the riders on the standard route; but soon take another right turn into a (surprisingly and brief) industrial area. After some very exposed segments, fighting headwinds, we go back to the standard route towards Lyndhurst.
Just one short, steep hill
It's now the time for the one and only killer climb at 110km in Nomansland. Strava suggests it to be only a 7% gradient (I have some doubts here), but for sure, after so many miles in your legs, it definitely feels like three times steeper than that. So much so that I saw quite a few cyclists pushing bikes up the hill! The good new is that once at the top (and please remember to smile for the photographer here, whilst you're gasping for air), it's downhill all the way, with just one final feed stop (get ready for the crowds) and back to HQ.
*Final, long footnote (a.k.a. Laura's grumpy note)
All kinds of cyclists were on the sportive... but too many inconsiderate cyclists! I've had really bad experiences from other fellow cyclists on this sportive. This has never happened to me before, and believe you me, I've been cycling for years and even supported many "group riding skills" sessions, so I like to think that I know what I'm doing.
Blame the inexperience, blame the arrogance of "expert" cyclists, blame the weather, blame whatever you want but the fact is that cyclists should know how to ride in big events: especially when the organisers make such a big fuss about highlighting and flagging the Cycling Code. I was almost knocked down twice.
The first time within the first 20km when a cyclist hanging (forever and annoyingly) on my wheel decided to ignore both the marshall and the "Give Way" road sign and failed to brake on time on incoming traffic, deciding it was safer to crash into me!
The second time, along the Epic segment of the ride where a "I'm too cool to slow down" cyclist decided to overtake me on a blind spot, miscalculated the bend, lost control on the wet tarmac, and came inches away from me, obliging me to swerve on the further left-hand side of the road, off the tarmac track. I mean, seriously, this is cyclist to cyclist... and he didn't even stop to say sorry!!
The New Forest is a beautiful place to cycle, and the sportive is well organised with an excellent route - but cyclists, please, have consideration for your fellow riders so that we can all enjoy the day!