Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wiggle New Forest 100: Part Two - Godshill to Finish

Godshill to Bashley

Upon leaving the first feed station in Godshill, we head out along the Southampton Road. Here, the landscape is much more agricultural and fields seem to head off into the distance over the well-kept hedgerows. A little top-up of air in the new Specialized Roubaix tyres has given my bike a bit of extra zip, especially when combined with the handful of jelly beans I’ve just eaten.

The view looking over the endless heathland with wild horses.
After a mile or so, we take a left onto the narrow Blissford Road and continue rolling along at a sociable 35kmh. We continue onto Abbots Well Road and the landscape begins to change again. Firstly, the neat fields lose their uniform hedges, then the fields turn to open heathland, the road begins to rise a little, before we come to a small switchback that carries the road upwards in a sudden burst. 

At the top of the mini-climb we’re greeted by the sight of a dead horse. Jones has started to flag a little on the climbs and with his head down in a determined fashion makes it to the top without even noticing the carcass lying half across the road. “Horse? What horse matey?” is Jones’ only comment on the matter. 

After this brief flirtation with the forest, a bit more rolling around the edges is required before we cross over a dried up ford, take a sharp left, and head back into the trees once more. The smooth tarmac and a sudden increase in the number of riders around us encourages us to up the speed and before long we’re really blasting through the countryside, albeit a little wary of any potential dead horses on the road.

Another brief climb and it is clear that Jones is struggling a little, but is more than making up for it when descending and on the flats, returning the favour of my earlier turn on the front nicely.

Now, riding through a forest on an autumnal day is quite a peaceful affair. An occasional conversation with another rider, the sound of the air rushing by or the noise of an animal in a field is the only thing to break the silence. 

Suddenly, a cry from a few hundred metres back reverberates along the Bolderwood Arboretum Ornamental Drive (a bit of a moutful). For a moment I wobble as I wonder what it was. Jones has stuck his head down and is going for it. I turn when I hear what sounds like a swarm of severely irritated hornets getting nearer. I shout to Jones to move over just in the nick of time as a small peloton of riders clad in club colours (I think) very similar to those of Team Sky go whirring past in a chorus of noisy freewheels.

Following a brief dip into the outskirts of Brockenhurst, we head back into the countryside and continue on through the forest before arriving at the second feed station.


Bashley to the Finish 

In Bashley, Jones is still looking quite spritely, possibly as a result of all of the fig rolls he’s been consuming. I’m generally still feeling quite good and stock up on jelly beans and bananas - being a coeliac the cakes and fig rolls don’t look too appealing to me. Either way, feeling refreshed, we head off.

A few miles along the Sway road, we run into traffic. A melee of riders and cars and vans all seem to be grinding to a halt. After three more miles of slow going we take a left onto a small lane after the village of Sway. We soon realise the cause of the disruption - a tractor pulling a trailer of horse manure.

Some of the braver riders use the, ahem, slipstream of the tractor as it chugs along at 15kph, but I suggest we stay well back having watched one too many episodes of Last of the Summer Wine in my life. To rapturous applause and the collective sigh of relief from the 100 trapped cyclists, the tractor pulls over and the riders jostle themselves back into order. The faster riders disappearing into the distance. The slow riders tootling along looking at the wild animals. The middling riders, like me, ratchet up the pace a little.

Trying my hardest to look like a serious cyclist heading towards Bolderwood.
We weave along a little, with the occasional event photographer popping up like a meerkat from the bracken, and we get to the B3054; a high and exposed road that rumbles over heathland. Jones starts to tire a little more. I’m getting a fantastic tow off a group of riders riding in formation and get dragged along until I reach Boldre and realise Jones has disappeared. 

He eventually catches up and is complaining of cramps in his legs. I try and convince him to get into a harder gear and lower his cadence, but he won’t hear any of it as he gets on his stubborn mountain bike head. A few miles later he comes to a halt and I begin to panic about our overall time. A couple of friendly cyclists stop by to see if he’s okay before departing whilst making sympathetic noises.

We get going again, but it is slow going. I resume my role as super-domestique and provide a tow, but Jones is struggling to hold on to my back wheel even at 20kph. I issue him with a few more energy gels and try and coax him along the road.

Realising we have around twenty minutes until our chances of getting a ‘silver’ time award disappear, Jones digs deep one last time after a frustrating thirty minutes of slow cycling. As we pass a small red brick cottage on a bend on the B3055 Jones comes alive and starts trundling along at a livelier 40kph.

His burst of life over, I resume my place in front and drag him, and a small train of riders, along the Lyndhurst Road. The tarmac comes to an end after the gates to the event venue and we race over the loose dirt track to the finish line, separated by a single second on the timing sheets. 

After crossing the line, receiving a medal and contemplating food, we sort ourselves out and head back towards London, stopping at McDonalds on the way. The event was well organised, we were better prepared than the Brighton ride and we’re feeling happy with ourselves.

Our first organised sportive has been a success, and after an anxious wait for the official timing sheets, we find on the Monday that we have done just enough for a silver time on their classification. By a matter of seconds. But then we never do anything the simple way.

⇐ Part One: Lyndhurst to Godshill ❘

My ride activity data can be found on Strava here: http://www.strava.com/activities/87350025
My Strava profile can be found here: http://www.strava.com/athletes/1271231

Friday, January 03, 2014

Wiggle New Forest 100: Part One - Lyndhurst to Godshill

Late Starters

Some things in life are certainties. Some things in life are less certain. Some are a combination. You can, for example, be certain that where Mr Jones is concerned, you can never be 100% certain of anything.

In preparation for my first organised cycling event, accompanied by my increasingly cycling-mad friend Jonesy, I had done plenty. I’d been training up and around Epping Forest in all weathers on a route that takes you up three different climbs twice. I had been averaging around 200km a week and had given myself a three-day rest period prior to the Wiggle New Forest 100 on Sunday 6th October

Bikes loaded and ready for a midnight dash a New Forest Holiday Inn.
As it was, as Jonesy arrived in his gleaming 'pearlescent blue' Audi at 10.30pm in Walthamstow, ready for the drive to our hotel just outside of Southampton the night before our 8.30am start, I could feel the preparation slipping through my fingers. After around four hours sleep in a reasonably comfortable Holiday Inn, we headed towards New Park Farm on the outskirts of Lyndhurst, stopping off en route for breakfast at McDonalds. 

As we neared the event’s starting point, the steady line of cars pulling into the grounds began to play havoc with our collective adrenalines and we began nervously laughing at what we were getting ourselves into. There was time for registration, a quick check of the bikes, a quick read through of all the good luck messages and we headed off to the start line, still laughing like a pair of schoolgirls.


Lyndhurst to Godshill

Finally calm after around twenty minutes of laughing, we finally get towards the front of the queue for the start line. We are penned-in in groups of around twenty to thirty riders and given a quick safety briefing. At this point I must admit I am worried at my lack of practice clipping in and out with my new cycle shoes. Before I have chance to remember what I'm doing, we’re off.

The group snakes out of the grounds slowly and onto the main A337 road northwards. The slow rise of Clay Hill appears and already the riders are beginning to shuffle themselves into varying strength groups. A group of riders with super-expensive equipment flies past, Jonesy moves tentatively up the line of riders, and I get bored with the lot of them and push on, bringing Jonesy and a group of braver riders with me.

Just after Lyndhurst, the first mini-hill arrives by Emery Down. The hill is a small affair akin to Crouch Hill in north London. Jonesy and I go full pelt up the hill with others seemingly taking it a lot easier. Either we’re overdoing it, or they’re being overly cautious.

Sasha in the hazy sunrise, awaiting the start of the sportive.
Hitting 43kmh on the decent, we begin to get the sensation of being on a giant countryside rollercoaster, a series of small undulations keeping the momentum of the riders going.

A little after the village of Bartley, the road slowly starts to climb over the next 7km. Admittedly its not the steepest of inclines with only a few moments where the gradient hits the 5% mark, but given the trouble with any form of incline that Jonesy had in January it is a relief to see him keep up the pace. As we approached the little sting towards the end of Furzley Lane I shoot off, Jonesy not far behind and a fair few of the earlier starters are caught and overtaken.

Then it is out into open moorland for a while. Taking my role as super-domestique seriously, I take the lead, allowing Jonesy a tow, and every so often pass him an energy gel from my supply and bark at him to take it. 

The lush greenery along the Roger Penny Way seemed without limits. For a while it is as if we’ve veered off course with very few signs of life except the occasional wild horse. Even after a while there are no towns to blot the view, only occasional cars passing by in the opposite direction, and the occasional club rider overtaking at high speed.

After what seems like only a short period of time, around 30km in, we reach the first feeding station in the village of Godshill. We’re feeling good and feeling like our target of a ‘silver’ time of less than five hours to complete the 111km route is within our reach.

❘ Part Two: Godshill to Finish ⇒


My ride activity data can be found on Strava here: http://www.strava.com/activities/87350025
My Strava profile can be found here: http://www.strava.com/athletes/1271231
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