It’s cycling on roads that you can access all the time, but thousands of people spend there hard earned cash to follow a few arrows, why? There has got to be something more to it?
I’m not one to have an opinion on something without gaining some first hand experience, so I booked myself onto a ‘Wiggle Super Series’ Sportive – The New Forest Epic, sounds extreme! It was also a good excuse to head to the homeland too. It was 84 miles, I knew that it would be flat and if there were hills they wouldn’t last long, so I should be fine! It’s not a race, it’s just for fun…but it is timed?!?
So, my classic training in preparation for this consisted of getting the road bike out for the first time this year and head out for one 60 mile blast over the hills in Wales and a couple of mountain bike rides, that’ll be enough, right! I did pretty good at the whole ‘carb loading’ beforehand though, that is to just biff out and eat too much right!!!
Any who’s the day arrived, had all the fancy pre-ride information come through including links to the route map (so I could just take the route and go ride it, for free…just saying!). It was 30 minutes from home and not knowing what to expect set of at 7am to make sure I am well within the start times (start early, hopefully finish earlier!). I knew this was a pretty popular one so thought there may be some queuing involved. More alarm bells – I had to get up way too early and then drive somewhere else and queue to ride my bike on the open roads that head back very close to my house! – sounds a bit silly to me, think I need some more convincing to be honest!
The sun was shining, the mood was light, the venue – Somerley House was very picturesque, the field car park was filling up with hundreds of cars, shiney bikes getting revealed and all fancy kit on display everywhere you looked. This was no small event! I Wandered up to sign on, tunes blazing, new stuff you don’t need, to be bought and many port-a-loos! Signing on took, but a moment and first freebie – Mucoff mini lube, along with map and number board, nice touch. Spotted it was a rolling start (didn’t really read the pre-ride info) so I was in good time, no need to rush. Sorted my kit out, deliberated how much spare stuff to take, went with less, it was sunny so sacked of the coat (may have been an error) but lighter = faster, right? I was set, headphones in (another topic of debate I bet), Strava set, Garmin route on, it was go time!
A little wait before starting, as they were setting off groups with 2 minute intervals with a briefing that I didn’t hear a word of, bet he did that a few hundred times! We cruised off the start line, time to warm up and settle on the bike. Only after a short time I was passing a lot more cyclists than I anticipated, had I set off too fast? A marshall even shouted, ‘pace yourself’ as I passed, I took it on board but I was happy with my pace! Whatever was going on it was highly satisfying passing so many blokes! (Again not many women out there at all). I kept catching groups, sitting on there wheel, but finding it too slow, so passed them hoping to find a group that would be my pace. The smooth roads kept coming and finally I found 3 guys who were going at a nice speed so snuck on the back of there train (is that what it’s called, not down with the roadie lingo!). It then got to a small incline and the pace dropped, so I passed them all, smiling inside as they commented, ‘I’d be that quick if I was that light’ (surely it’s power to weight ratio’s, no?). They couldn’t let me pass quietly! It was a while before they eventually caught me back up and then I was content to stay with them for a while. It was until I got bored of the view and they slowed down again that I passed them. I do like seeing what’s ahead of me, not just someones butt!
The roads, came and went, some smooth, some not so smooth. Oh this led me to realise again that I’m a new roadie who doesn’t ride in a group because they all kept doing secret signs behind there back. It didn’t take much deciphering as to what they meant, but I didn’t do them as well, just wasn’t in my head (sorry to those who were following me!). It didn’t feel very long before I was on familiar roads, which meant 35 miles was nearly done, woohoo that went quickly! Not long then and I was rolling into the first feed station just after 1 hour 40 (not too bad). This is a perk from your standard ride, the spread was good – sweets, flapjack, nuts, fig rolls, bananas, gels, and drink. Could have stayed a while just to munch but knew if I did I would seize up, so I pedalled on with the thought that I was nearly half way and feeling pretty good.
The weather began to change, from glorious sunshine to a few grey clouds appearing and temperature dropping a smidge, but still dry. It headed down and round to Fawley and Lepe to catch some intermittent rays at the sea side, love a good sea view and it didn’t disappoint, but no pics to show you. If I was on my tod I would have stopped, but I had someone following me, so felt I should push on to keep the pace. It looped back round to the very pretty Beaulieu where cars, coaches and bikes were causing havoc in a quiet little village! If I was going for a cruise in a car this weekend I would have totally been annoyed by the amount of cyclists blocking the road. However, being one of those cyclists I was very content to hog the road and knowing that I was part of something bigger with riders everywhere I felt a bit more comfortable about taking my rightful place on the road (Not being stupid with it, unlike some of the cyclists). On solo rides I always end up swerving into the side to let cars pass. Cars were a second thought on this ride!
There was a short 20 miles to the next feed station and that’s when the clouds just released a bit of the wet stuff, with many riders sheltering whilst I grabbed a quick feed and mooched on. I had got cold pretty quickly and I was feeling the chill and half wishing I just had that coat that was in the van! It didn’t last long though thankfully and with a push on I warmed up a little bit, but now it was time to get back. Passing a few more marshals guiding us safely across the busier roads and turns we were on the home straight, but with probably the hardest section to go. There was a climb! Ok it was small in comparison, but it required a bit more effort to get up, some were walking it (though that just shows the mix of fitness levels on a sportive, all welcome!). This led onto an open road with a flipping head wind. I was on my own at this point which was tough. It has a big impact being sheltered by a rider in front of you, it’s nuts. I just couldn’t catch up to the guy in front, energy levels had dropped a bit. I really should get some training on how to hydrate and consumer energy stuffs as I ride on the road, found it very hard. This was evident as I didn’t have a single gel and probably took in just 750ml of liquid, not good really. I could do so much more!
A few narrow lanes, a couple of squeezes to avoid donkeys, ponies and cows (love the New Forest, animals come first!) and we were reaching the end. A good thing to as my legs were feeling the burn. I didn’t want to slow down and roll in, there was a few groups ahead that I thought I could get past, so that’s what I did. End with a bit of flare, oh yeah! Crossed the finish to be handed a medal, a t-shirt, some nibbles and respectful smiles and nods from fellow riders who said ABSOLUTELY NOTHING for the duration of the ride. It’s a different atmosphere when you finished, everyone is feeling a sense of achievement and satisfaction and you naturally want to share your experience with others. The times are yet to be put up, but according to Strava, my riding time was 4 hours 36, not too shabby for my first outing into the Sportive world, but will it be my last? Here’s the list of rider times to see what the vast mix was! Wiggle Sportive times. The photo’s will pop up here Sportive photo at some point soon!
Here are my thoughts:
– You have to pay to ride your own bike on roads that are free
– You have to drive to another location, where you could ride from your front door
– Time limit and feeling like you shouldn’t stop
– Not actually that sociable if you’re on your own
– What if the weather is rubbish – you’ve paid, do you go?
– Feed stations and marshals
– Great if it’s in an area you have NOT cycled in – they should pick the best roads and route, so no need to guess and hope
– Support all the way round
– The fun of chasing people down, even if it’s not a race
– Feeling like you’re part of something bigger, have more authority on the road
– Get to check out times and photo’s of yourself riding like a boss!
– Meet new riders if you find someone chatty!
Taking all this into account, I would say there is definitely a place for Sportives, but it’s more to ride with your buddies in a new location not to show off (or not) on your home turf! Those just wanting a personal challenge in a safe environment where there is support if it all goes wrong. A nice place for those more experienced to use as a training ground or increase the distance and give a purpose to training plans. For me I may hunt out a few more ‘challenging’ ones or those others have recommended because I’m not made of money, ha ha! This just shows me that I use the road as a training ground, I head to the trail on the mountain bike for a fun day in the saddle, the MTB marathon series being a superb example as a sportive equivalent, just muddier, hillier and cooler!
What do you think to the ever popular Sportive rides?