Since the early part of the year I had been discussing the possibility of doing the New Forest Spring Sportive with Ed Cosbie and Yvonne Evens. In typical style I tried to sign up the day after they sold out for both days! Email into UK Cycling Events to see if they would be doing extra places closer to the day (i.e. in a similar fashion to the No Excuses) but they weren't, however if I wanted to volunteer then I could get on the entry list.
Now yes, I'm sure there will be the age old discussions of public roads and the like, but given the organisation that is usually laid on I felt it would be worthwhile helping out (just a shame I didn't have an SNCC jersey to wear).
Ed and Yvonne arranged accomodation nearby at a holiday cottage (Bartley Barn, well worth a look if you're in the area) from Friday through to Sunday as their relatives were looking to come down as well. Due to the vagaries of my work I booked Friday off so I could get down there Thursday evening. We also had Naomi and Tim (Yvonne's sister and brother in law) and their daughter, Ella, staying with us. Tim had planned to ride the sportive but again got caught by it selling out.
As I couldn't check in to the cottage until mid afternoon I decided to take a ride out around the Hampshire South Downs, having grown up in Kent and cycled their South Downs I was expecting the hills in this area. I borrowed and modified a number of routes from Fareham Wheelers as they start off in Wickham just up the road from where I was staying Thursday night.
I was obviously feeling quite insane as despite knowing the wind would be SSW I decided on a route that took me north east of my start point and back down. I started off in fair weather but a bit blustery with threats of nasty weather later in the day. The route took me out through various villages and up into farmland on the southern section of the South Downs, the route then cut across to Clanfield, over the A3 and then north back into the South Downs. By this time the rain had been on and off leaving the roads slightly greasy and had to be very cautious on the descents (I think some new tyres are in order as the Vittoria's are a touch tough). The plan was to loop north through Buriton and Nursted and then back down through Ditcham woods but even though the Fareham Wheelers route went that way signs implied that it was a closed private road through a school. No matter I thought, I can follow the South Downs Way ... at least until that turned into a farm track and I found that I was riding cyclocross on 23C road slicks!
The change in route brought me back on to my previous track south of Buriton and then picked up the planned route towards Rowlands Castle where I thought I'd be able to find a nice coffee shop between the bouts of rain. Unfortunately this wasn't to be as a notice stated that the coffee shop was closed until further notice but was looking for staff (either very confusing or linked somehow). Pressing back on towards Horndean the route started to veer back west towards where I had started. Further country lanes took me down to Denmead then on to North Boarhunt. Again Garmin Connect was up to its usual antics saying that a private farm track was a paved road so I headed back into Wickham and back to the car. Slightly wet from the on and off rain (had chanced not wearing overshoes) but a good 50 miles and over 3,000 feet of climbing (including a hill with a hairpin which is why I wanted to that specific route). Also fortunately no punctures even with the CX fun and games. I had obviously beaten the weather as torrential rain hit as I headed from Southampton to the cottage within the New Forest national park.
The holiday cottage was a converted barn set-up to sleep up to eight people, dog friendly and just off the Beaulieu to Brockenhurst road in a hamlet called East Boldre. The pub was a five minute walk away (though we didn't manage to try it over the course of the weekend somehow) and a lovely view west across the heathland if you just walk out the main gate of the house. A very good find by Ed and Yvonne, we all got settled in on the Friday night and decided an early(ish) night was in order for the next day.
Saturday dawned earlier for one of the team than the others as I was due to be at the New Forest showground at 06:30. Certain that I'd be on parking duty for the duration I found that I was in the registration tent getting people signed in, attaching timing tags to lids and handing out freebies to those who had signed up early. I did try and persuade the volunteer on C's to tell Ed that his name wasn't down but the chap disappeared off before Ed showed up! Also the banter with fellow volunteers and the riders made the time pass very quickly, would definitely be something I'd consider doing again on the proviso that I worked registration! Oddest part of the registration process was warning people that locals had been out the night before removing signs and while UK Cycling Events had gone and put them back out they were suggesting people took maps with them.
Due to my volunteering duties Ed, Yvonne and I pushed off just before the cut off at 10am and hit our first mechanical within about 100 yards as my front deraillieur cable came free trying to shift to the 53T. Allen keys stowed away again we had another go and went on our way towards Lyndhurst. We unfortunately found our first injured people at the first junction in Lyndhurst as someone had hit a rather greasy drain cover, the injured rider's friends were warning people as they came up to the junction so we were able to avoid the offending metalwork. This inital loop took us away from the A35 through woodlands and then back on to the same road. The next split at Emery Down had us headed west with the wind starting to pick up in strength.
A climb took us up on to heathland only to drop down under the A31 and then back up again on to the exposed heath. By now sideways winds from SSW and sideways rain to go with it! We were a thankful to make the turn NE and have the wind at our backs for a bit. The turn before Fritham we could see that the road dropped and then climbed again and amusingly conserving our legs and moderating our pace on the climb we managed to pass all the people who had come flying past on the descent.
The route slowly bent its way from NW to west and then south west before a kick east then south towards the first feeding station at Hyde. At this point we had our first (and fortunately only) incident with Ed losing all power as Blissford hill kicked from a gentle rise to a short, sharp 25% climb and his bike decided to sideways from under him. Yvonne and I were a bit behid and heard a rather bemused (possibly girly) yelp before seeing Ed keel over with a look of shock on his face at the change in gradient and unable to get his cleats free. No apparent injury/damage sustained apart from possibly hurt pride we stumbled to the top (along with a lot of other walkers) as Yvonne and I stopped to make sure he was in one piece! By now the rain had definitely stopped but the wind was still in effect and Tim decided he would actually join us from feeding station two for the last 18 or so miles, probably much to his regret as we later found.
After a brief stop to refuel we pushed onwards with the route heading south again through the Gorelys and Mockbeggar before bending back east towards Linwood. We eventually rejoined our earlier route out and despite looking pretty evil heading west the drop under the A31 and climb back up were actually a lot easier than expected (well for Ed and Yvonne, I was suffering a touch at this point despite the weather having improved). The road split again south of the A31 and headed slightly south of our route out and entered the woodlands again (finally some cover from the wind!) We dropped south east then due south after crossing the A35 before emerging on to heathland and heading east towards Brockenhurst. This probably cheered a few riders up as the start was near Brokenhurst but having studied the route and seeing it on the Garmin we came into the town and then swung back out again towards the west following the Burley road. Heathland and wind ruled this section and then the heavens decided to open again!
The route kicked south east through Wooton with feed station 2 a welcome break from the rain near Tiptoe. At this point Tim still gamely decided to join us and was dropped off by his wife. Full marks for still joining us in rather nasty weather as we headed out towards Sway. Bonus points for use of carrier bags as overshoes but I don't think the fact they were from different supermarket chains (one bright orange and one white) earns any marks for style. According to Tim they lasted about 5-10 miles before coming to pieces and his shoes started to become soaked.
I'm not sure on the restorative properties of flapjack as I'd eaten at the second station pretty much the same as station one but I must have gone off like a jack rabbit as I unintentially lost contact with Yvonne, Ed and Tim quite quickly. Though they apparently came close to gaining on me at Boldre. There were some lumps and bumps between Boldre and the Lymington-Beaulieu road and I almost missed a right turn at Pilley but fortunately spotted that people signalling right were part of the sportive.
Once on to the main road between Lymington and Boldre I decided to just get my head down and cranked the pace up past 20mph mark getting some dirty looks as I went past people who had dropped me in better conditions. This section of the route took us within a few hundred yards of the cottage but I carried on past until Hatchet Pond and a car park entrance where I knew I could wait in some shelter until we could reform the group.
Once back together again we headed west towards Brockenhurst (that town again?!) with the weather still in full force. We had to wait at the level crossing and I think the bunch start getting away from the cars got me eager as I once again pushed on a bit too hard and went off the front of the group. Knowing there was a queue of traffic behind the riders I felt it better to press on rather than try to ease up; once more I pushed the pace up to get to the finish. Pulling into the showground, which was starting to look like a right mess, we collected our finisher medals and Wiggle/sponsor goodie bags (even Tim got given them, I think those volunteers were quite rightly on autopilot and to be fair Tim deserved free stuff given he could have chosen to stay nice and warm indoors!)
We took stock over a quick coffee before jumping in cars to head back to the cottage. We were all pleasantly surprised that the worst issues we'd had were a shifter cable coming loose and Ed coming off on that hill; we'd fully expected at least one puncture with all the cattle grids and it appeared to be the most common cause for stopping as far as I could tell. It had got to the point that the parking organisers were having to push people out as the fields had turned into a quagmire, fortunately I got a tonne and a half of Volvo estate out without resorting to assistance, must have learnt something driving in snow in the Jura mountains!
On getting back to the cottage, showered and feeling decidedly more human we found that Sunday's sportive had been postponed due to the state of the showground and sections of the route being flooded (also I was pretty certain that areas of the New Forest which were a combination bridge and ford would quite definitely be fords by the next day). Checking the weather for the day we had apparently had 24mph winds gusting up to 59mph, no wonder it had seemed like hard work coming across the heaths!
Saturday evening we headed into Southampton for a group meal at a Japanese restaurant I knew of (I had also eaten there Thursday night so was expecting curious looks from the staff) that did a buffet but they cook/prepare dishes to order. The restaurant said they wouldn't charge for Naomi and Tim's daughter based on the guess that she would be trying some of what we were eating, bonus points already for them.
Sunday morning was a bit of a later start as we'd all stayed up discussing and having a couple of drinks when we got in from the restaurant; Tim and I dropped into Brockenhurst to pick up one of those child chariot/trailer affairs for Ella to ride in as we'd decided on doing a small ride together, for us to warm down and for Tim and Naomi to get a ride in. Poor Ed was left with towing duty as the metal work round Tim's drop outs meant the connector was at the wrong angle and my QR skewer was too short! We did a relaxed pace 15 miles (originally planned as 10 but once again the wonders of Garmin Connect saying private tracks are public, properly metaled roads) which involved a chance to see the sea and swinging by Bucklers Hard where some of the wooden warships were built before Portsmouth shipyard took over. Very good effort from Naomi on this one given she had not ridden a bike for approximately 18 months. Fortunately the weather was much better with only a bit of a shower and some blustery winds.
It was a shame to leave the New Forest so soon but I think a return visit will be planned; after all, they are public roads! Defintely would like to have a crack at the combined New Forest/Isle of Wight ride as well. And hopefully by all accounts we might see Tim out on a Sunday morning at the Market Square.