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Wiggle New Forest 100 (Saturday) REVIEW

by Jennifer Trotman

http://www.ukcyclingevents.co.uk/
Essentials:
Date: Saturday 6th October
Distances: Epic (100 miles), Standard (66 miles), Fun (44 miles)
Entry fee: £28, £25, £16. Under 16s free. Sold out well in advance.
Start: Brockenhurst College, Lyndhurst Road, Brockenhurst, Hampshire, SO42 7ZE
Catering: free tea/coffee, hot and cold food available at start and finish
Feed stops: 3 Maxifuel sponsored food stops
Timing: electronic chip stuck on the left hand side of the helmet
Signs: white arrows/instructions on orange backgrounds, caution yellow triangle on black signs
Roads: quiet back roads around the New Forest and beyond
Photos: www.sportivephoto.com
Goody bag:  wiggle lezyne tyre lever, Cycling Plus, various advertising.

The Ride:
I have been somewhat spoilt lately, in that my last two sportives have been local.  I'd forgotten the horror of the 4:10am alarm call, the chill of getting dressed before the heating has woken up, the joys of loading up the car in the dark and the wet. I was so out of practice that rather than taking breakfast with me to eat nearer my start time, I forgot and had my muesli at 4:30am! Oops!

HQ was at Brockenhurst College, Lyndhurst.  After a night of torrential rain the two hour drive was a little more interesting than necessary, as the car and I negotiated the river pouring down Cheddar Gorge, and headed South East dodging the floods.  It didn't start to get light until around 6:30am, by which time I was half starting to think it never would.

I arrived at HQ shortly after 7:00am, which made me one of the first there, and got me into the best car park.  As I've been there three times now I do know my way around which does make things easier at that time of the morning, so I grabbed my helmet and headed for registration in the main hall.  Being early, the various stands forming the event village were still setting up, and there were no queues for registration, but there were plenty of people to deal with everyone anyway, so it's quite likely that there never were.  I was given my bike number, two ties, and a ticket for a free tea/coffee, and my timing tag was stuck on the LHS of my helmet.

signon
Sign On Hall

bike and number
Bike and Number

The forecast was for dry and sunny and fairly mild for October, which was all good, but actually it was pretty nippy out there to start with. A perfect faffing forecast then. I decide to stick with what I'd chosen, and leave the gilet and overgloves in the bag in case I needed them. Well - if you set off chilly you warm up, and then don't have to stop. If you set off warm, you warm up to hot, and then have to stop, and I thought I'd try and avoid having to stop if I could. That left me in long socks, bib winter tights, short sleeve jersey, winter jacket, mitts, and toe covers.  
Having sorted myself and the bike out, and used the more than adequate facilities, I headed for the start line rather early. Registration was supposed to be at 7:30, with starts from 8:00am onwards. Well I registered at 7:15ish, and was at the line at 7:35am. Still UK Cycling Events have been doing this a while now and they're pretty efficient. I fully expected to have to hang around at the start as riders gathered, but was still quite surprised to be amongst the first there.

start
Start Line

martin
Martin Barden Briefing Us

However there was a reason for that. As I was standing there, with a handful of riders, Martin turned up, gave us a quick briefing, and sent us on our way.  7:38am and I was off. Clearly we weren't the first group let go either, as there were riders ahead of us - which was probably a good way of spreading us out on the road without too much fuss. It was very early, it was definitely chilly and there was a lot of standing water around. Lots of water, flowing and in puddles and in floods, and with debris washed all over the roads by the overnight weather.  Not so good.  There was no hurtling around to be done in conditions like that, it was far better to be constant and careful, as you never knew when you were going to hit gravel, or leaves, or a hidden pot hole. It was hard to know whether some of the dodgier road surfaces are always like that, or were just like that as a result of the weather.

wet and early
Wet And early Morning

The sun was rising as we came onto the moors for the first time, and it was quite attractive really, if sunrise is your thing. Especially as the sun may have woken up but the wind was having a lie in, unlike me.  Shame it didn't stay away all day!  Anyway, the first couple of hours were shrouded in cloud, and the temperature failed to raise much, though my layers were mostly doing the job. It was also essentially flat or at most, sort of rolling. Just as well since there were plenty of other things to negotiate. Like I said, water, floods, and debris. Let's not forget fords, intentional and otherwise, and countless cattle grids, some of which were vicious enough to nearly shake your hands off the handlebars!  I walked around one ford, but that was almost more grief than riding through, so I rode through the rest...and got a soaking as a result. Clearly they're not usually that deep but still. I also hate cattle grids, though they were inevitable today. I gather there were some grid related accidents, particularly at the one which was instantly followed by a left turn. Wheels need to be at 90 degrees to the grid, not thinking about going anywhere else! I hope everyone is ok.

Back to obstacles - and the "wild"life.  Since I was riding on my own today, and talking to the animals is a good a way of alerting to them to your presence as any, just call me Dr Doolittle.  I have talked to cows, horses, donkeys and even a ginger cat.  To horse riders and local dog walkers and other residents.  And even the occasional other rider, albeit only in (literally) passing.

cow stop
Cow Stops Play

first time on moor
First Time On The Open Moor

At this point I was quite enjoying myself. The scenery was stunning, with wide open skies, views as far as the horizon all 'round, and precious little traffic to interrupt the idyll. However being rolling, at best, it was quite tiring. No downs to relieve you from the ups, just constant pedalling which is, on your own, quite hard work.  No-one to hide behind, no motivation to go faster. The first food stop came at around 30 miles in, about 5 miles after I'd started hoping it would turn up. With three stops on the route I'd sort of been hoping they were equally spaced, so it was a relief when I turned left, saw the "fuel station ahead" sign, and knew that I was going to get a bit of a breather. Fuel as in Maxifuel - the sponsors - you see? It was quite nice to have a quick stop, and I was even engaged in conversation by some fairly local riders who were able to tell me whereabouts Blissford Hill was in the route (about 30 miles from the end apparently), so that I could put off worrying about it until later!

first food stop
First Food Stop And Riders

All the foodstops were at village/town halls which meant proper toilets.  This one only had the one however, so there was a bit of a queue.  However several riders decided to make do later, being male and that being somewhat easier for them, and the rider in front of me proved that chivalry is not dead and insisted I go before him.  A proper gentleman - thanks!  That done, time to eat half a banana, chat, and enjoyed the time out, before heading back out on my own again.

roaming
Roaming Free

It was still overcast and chilly, and I was asking myself why, since the forecast had said it was going to clear up later in the day. Then I realised it was only around 9:30ish so it was actually far from later in the day even if I had been riding for nigh on two hours! Then it actually got a bit chillier, and I was debating whether or not to put the gilet on when finally, around 10:00am, the cloud started to clear, the sun started breaking through and the temperature improved, along with my mood, a little.

ponies
Ponies and Moorland

After about 5 miles the "Standard" route went left, and my "Epic" route went right.  It didn't even occur to me to go the other way as this wasn't billed as being a particularly hard ride, the weather was ok, and I wasn't doing too badly. However the next 30 miles or so weren't half as attractive. This is not to say that they were unattractive, just not particularly remarkable. We left the moor behind, and also the official New Forest area, and headed northwards through country lanes and towns.

The second food stop came as somewhat of a surprise, as it was only 15 miles after the last one and I barely felt like I'd gotten going again. However I'm very glad I stopped as the ladies there were absolutely lovely and probably provided me with my longest conversation of the entire day - thank you Ms Orbea and Ms Specialized! Apparently I was the first lady through, which is always nice to hear, even if it is because I was away early and hadn't been overtaken by any other girls.

second food stop
Second Food Stop

Actually I overtook lots of riders as I went along. There weren't many that went past me, just a couple of groups. I'd have loved a group. The rest was the usual leapfrogging riders, as various kit became familiar, and wry smiles were exchanged when we passed each other again, either me passing them or vice versa.  Riding on my own was proving a tad lonesome, and I realised I was dawdling as I was finding it hard to motivate myself. No real climbs to challenge myself with, no descents to make me grin, just lots of riding, with some slogging thrown in for good measure on slow grinds up, or into the now present headwind. I wasn't getting anywhere near the average speed I'd been hoping for, which was also annoying me.  I would have taken more photos but the best views tend to be of things you're flying past, and I knew that stopping would make me even slower. The route was extremely well signposted, so at least I never felt lost.

pretty church
Pretty Church

I started giving myself small goals to aim for, to break it down and try to make it more manageable. 50 miles to be half way.  Then 60 miles. Then 66 miles to be two thirds of the way through.  Then 70 to start looking for Blissford Hill. 20 minutes until the next bite of bar/flapjack. That kind of thing, you get the picture.  Mostly today was about the scenery, which I tried to make a point of enjoying, and let's face it, even though it wasn't as nice as the early stages had been, it was fairly pretty.

dappled
Dappled Sunshine

hampshire
Hampshire Countryside

a hill
A Hill Of Sorts

At around the 70 mile mark, we re-joined the "Standard" route which did wonders for my mental state. Not only were there now far more riders on the road so I didn't feel quite so alone, but there were an awful lot of leisure, charity, mtb riders etc...also known as plenty of rabbits for me to hunt down and overtake, which helped me start feeling that maybe I could actually ride a bike ok again. As we got the moor back, I got my mojo back. Too little too late, and I was never going to be breaking the speed limit...but hey.

speed limit
The Speed Limit

I was expecting the next food stop and then Blissford Hill, according to my insider acquired knowledge. However as I turned right at a motorcycle marshal marked junction, there it was and the food stop wasn't. I wasn't expecting that, and I'd be planning to do some mental preparing myself for it first! Ah well. I was either going to make it up it or I wasn't, right?  It's the first hill that steep I've been up on the new bike.  It's the first time I've climbed a hill out of the saddle on it too. It's the first time I've been up this hill without the very bottom gear on my old bike. So it was all a bit of an unknown. I was in bottom gear as soon as I hit the climb, and though the legs spun wildly for a while, that didn't last long as the 25% gradient bit. Up, out of the saddle, climbing, in sight of the top. That wonderful moment halfway up when, in sight of the photographer and the gathered audience of locals, you know you're going to make it. And I did. As I announced to the waiting crowd, I now officially rock! 

I was happily back on my way, safe in the knowledge that the big challenge of the day was behind me.  Cheered me up considerably - I think I'd been worrying about it quite a lot in hindsight!

epic
Epic Meets Standard

With 30 miles or to to go, I was mentally getting into the final straight. Not that this was going to stop me stopping at the final food stop of course, where I could have had sweets, sandwiches, cake, the works.  The foodstops were a bit like Alice in Wonderland - divided into "drink me", "eat me" (now), "take me" (eat me later).  Half a banana for me then.

third feed
Third Food Stop Goodies

I could have had my bike fixed or tweaked too, and several people were having their tyres brought up to proper pressure.  I saw quite a few riders dealing with punctures, probably due to all that debris, and I crossed my fingers to avert the puncture fairy every time I passed one, which seems to have worked.  

mechanical
Mechanical Assistance

Time to head for the end. I played tag team with various other riders for a bit, before finally finding a guy in MTB kit on a Trek to follow. We took it in turns, though I should have taken a few more at the front - and I might have done if it wasn't for him dropping me on every slogging climb, and there were some grinds lurking towards the end. It definitely helped having him to follow even if only in the distance sometimes.

a trek
A Trek To Follow

There's always less forest on this ride than I expect, especially considering that it's called the New Forest.  Robin Hood would have had nowhere to hide here, it's not surprising that he stuck to Sherwood!  However there was a nice stretch through some sections of Forestry Commission land, with arboretum, and parkland and the like before we ended up back on the moor and heading for the finish.

arboretum
Arboretum

Not much further before we were back and riding through the contrastingly busy Brockenhurst, and finally riding over the finish line, which came as somewhat of a relief. MTB man and I shook hands, so there were clearly no hard feelings about my lack of weigh pulling. One goody bag, one medal, and one very tired me heading for the car.

finish line
Finish Line

The event village was busy, with live music, and a food tent where there were burgers, and some fantastic smelling paella - generous portions for £4.  Inside was cold food, hot drinks, and plenty of space to chill out if outside in the sun didn't appeal.

Having been here before I knew there were changing facilities. I hadn't realised there were also showers lurking at the end of those changing rooms, so just for once I actually had a shower before going home. Oh man, the luxury. It was nice to be all clean and changed and kinda feeling like a girl again, even if only in jeans and a t-shirt. Feeling almost human again, I went off and had my free coffee, and had a nice chat to Steve Hancock, one of the riders I'd met on the route and left behind me. It almost felt like talking to a friendly face, which was a lovely way to round off the day. We both agreed that the massage looked nice, but that we were too lazy to have one!

massage
Massage And Coffee

My official time is 6:20:02 which puts me just 5 minutes outside gold, and much slower than my last two Wiggle New Forest rides, which was a bit disappointing, dagnamit! I'll blame the layers, the knee, the insides, the colder air, the lack of company, whatever works. Silver it is.





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