They say the best preparation for a long cycle ride is a good night’s sleep. So as I lay awake at 4.00am on Saturday 24th September, in the knowledge my alarm was only 30 minutes away, I started to think about what sort of mess my mind and body would be in approximately 12 hours later as I made my way back from the Wiggle New Forest sportive. Not wanting to take things gently, I had opted for the Epic 100 mile event which was described simply as “hilly”.
I wasn’t alone as Stuart, Archie and Andrew had all stepped up with the funds and gusto to join me on this trip. At this point I should point out that it’s all the fault of Andy who with one email created the chain event that along the way also picked up Twiglet-Legs Tony. We had agreed to meet in the New Forest at 7.30am for an 8.00am start and with Stuart loading up the bikes on his modern VW camper van the night before everything went very smoothly and to plan.
Taking the preparation advice another stage further, we shot out of the start like it was a 10 mile time trial and were very quickly passing cyclist after cyclist at what felt like blistering pace. At least until those quite tall and beefy looking chaps went past on their deep rimmed whirling 63cm sized frames, cruising along with only their cadence resembling any similarity to our style of riding. The truth is, that without discussion, I think we had all elected to give the ride our best efforts and to not be too worried about the distance completed or remaining, but simply focused on enjoying a fast group ride that left nothing in the locker as they say. In fact, the surprise to us at the first stop after about 25 miles was not how our average speed had maintained well over 17 mph but how on earth we managed to turn into the stop so quickly without either hitting a stationery cyclist or worse, having someone ride into the back of us the moment we stopped. All a bit tight there Wiggle in my view.
Loaded up with flap-jacks, an energy bar (just the one honest), a fig roll, a water bottle for power something and a pocket full of jelly beans we set off on the next stage. Back on it, we managed to clock up the miles once again and this time over and through some of the New Forest’s most scenic roads and villages. It at last felt like the New Forest in the ‘brochure’ and it was a joy to be flying up and down the undulating roads despite the head wind and personally I was looking at each point of the road and relishing the opportunity to push on through to the next bend, bridge or junction.
As before, the second stop came sooner than expected and we were greeted once again (rather disappointingly to be honest) with the same collection of sponsored refreshments and therefore the quarter of a banana suddenly tasted like a fine delicacy against the back-drop of artificial sugars and energy supplements. Not that it stopped me from putting a couple of wafers in my pocket I should point out!
The third segment was likely to test our legs to the fullest. The weather was now slightly cooler, the sweat getting thicker, the roads darker and the wind a little louder. As we pushed along we very quickly left the New Forest region and headed more towards Romsey and surrounding villages such as Broughton and beyond. It was just after here we witnessed our first serious incident of the day – or at least the remnants of. Some poor bugger for reasons we will never know, was laying on the ground in quite a bit of discomfort and with even more turf now sticking out of his helmet. Not able to aid we carried on and by this stage were in the mood to just ride and ride. The roads were relatively kind, but the wind wasn’t and had we known a bit more about how to place ourselves in an Echelon I think we would have formed one. But instead, and being brutally honest, it was at this point I was grateful to see the strong legs and lungs of an Archie, Andy or Tony leading the way up-front. In fact, just when it looked like they might pull away a little, I noticed we had reached the top of a small incline to be greeted by our final food stop and yes, more power bars.
After a much slower stop the remainder of the race turned into more of a blur. My body was now used to the sweat-dry-sweat cycle it was going through and my water bottles, which were never empty, provided comfort if not refreshment as I rode. My legs though felt good and if anything warmed up and comfortable pushing along. With so many other cyclists around, and in particular always one in front, it was a nice feeling having something to aim for as we wheeled a few in here and there. The hills were the most pleasurable as we seemed to glide up without even a gear change at times but we were the lucky ones at this point. We’ve all been in the situation of being that tired or new cyclist labouring up an incline and it was therefore a chance to share a positive friendly message with some of them on the way up, although I am not sure our speed would make them feel too good about themselves.
Usually at the end of every Saturday cycling ride we finish on Marshfield High Street almost like soldiers returning from a war in search of recognition, a loved one or that unseen new born child. Despite this going on for years now, nobody had ever so much as noticed our peloton, let along given out a whoop or a cheer. Wiggle though made up for this. Not only were we greeted by the ubiquitous inflatable finish line, but a live band, the smell of barbecuing steak and a wall of children and mothers (well at least 6 or 7) lining the finish line clapping and cheering. With T’shirts, a medal, more sugary power drinks and to be fair a jolly good setting and atmosphere, I am not sure Wiggle could have done much more to have made this a good day and I think the six of us agreed it would be a ride worth adding to the calendar again soon.