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The Southern Sportive REVIEW

by Holly Blades

Words and Images by Mark Tearle: This Sunday I made my annual pilgrimage to Petersfield in Hampshire to ride my bike and collect a free T-shirt.  I don't know what draws me back year on year, but this ride is such a classic and hosted in such beautiful countryside it is impossible not to be drawn back.  

The years passed we have been very lucky with the weather.  This Sunday saw Britain battered by what were the remnants of Hurricane Katia, diverting its energies from the East Coast of America to find our shores.  Admittedly Scotland and the North came off a lot worse than we did down here in the South Eastern corner of Britain, but the weather had done its damage.

The journey up was uneventful, my usual 5am alarm call dragging me out from my slumber to gather everything I had prepared the night before and bundle it all in to the car.  It had rained heavily in the night and the high winds were still evident.

Arriving at Petersfield cars were marshalled from the Churchers College to car parks near by.  The marshalling was good and the signage back to the college, where the ride begins and ends was certainly helpful.

The event organisers had prepared a challenge on this year's event.  An additional 35 kilometre section of course which they had dubbed "The Wilier Gauntlet", taking the total distance to over 192 kilometres with nearly 9000 feet of climbing involved.  Foolishly I had agreed to take part in this folly but having a conversation with my body that morning I knew I wasn't really up to it.
Turns out my mind and body weren't really up to much that day, despite enjoying every minute of the ride.  At the mid section and full route split I made the decision to take the shorter route of 112 kilometres, rather than exercise myself too much on the full route, or even the Gauntlet.

This is not something I would usually do, especially since I measure the classic Southern Sportive as a yardstick for my fitness and how I have developed over the year as a rider.  I guess I am just tired; it has been a very busy year so far - physically I probably could have managed but my motivation just wasn't in it at all.

I have an obligation to bring you the lowdown on the Southern Sportive.  Despite my lethargy I did enjoy riding and everything about the event was typically well organised from the Southern Sportive organisers.  Numbers seemed a little down on the 1200 that were attracted to Petersfield last year, but I put that down to the weather putting people off.  I am told that at least 100 people had signed up for the Gauntlet.

The weather in actual fact turned out to be fairly pleasant.  It did rain in patches and the roads were in a bit of a state due to some debris being washed off the fields from the lashing it received during the night.  A quick note about punctures I think - get some decent tyres or at least make sure your current tyres are up to the job and make sure your air pressure is correct.  I was so surprised to see the amount of people by the side of the road in the early stages of the event fixing punctures.  There is a very handy guide to correct tyre pressure via this link (I don't work for Michelin).

I won't preach on about that, sometimes it is just plain bad luck.  Next time I report that I get a puncture you can all point and laugh.     

Just before that monster climb at East Harting there was a rider down - he looked in a bit of a state but it wasn't really clear what had occurred - there was plenty of help it seemed so I continued on.  It turns out the man was stung by a bee or a wasp - it is rare that you get to hear about the fate of someone you see down on the ground but it is nice on this occasion to have a report back that all is well and a full recovery has been made.


The Southern Sportive takes on some of the most iconic climbs that this area of the South Downs has to offer; East Harting, Duncton, Butser Hill and Old Winchester Hill, each with their own unique challenges.  

The hill at East Harting is steep, slippery and painful as you climb through the trees, Duncton sweeps up, the road surface smooth and the views across the Downs unforgettable.  From the direction of travel on the Southern Sportive Butser Hill is a nice ascent, with far reaching views across to Portsmouth with the Isle of Wight just in view on a clear day...the descent is thrilling.  

Old Winchester Hill is the final climb and with 80 plus miles in your legs this is a real challenge.  As you take on the southern aspect of the escarpment your legs are burning, ready to burst, lungs too and then relief once you are up on the ridge, windy, exposed with the hill sloping away to the left and right.  Glorious.  

It is then a meander back to Petersfield, taking the non-direct route through parts of the Meon valley.  This really is one of my most favourite places to ride a bike and with many very good Sportives now taking their courses around this corner of the South Downs, the Southern Sportive remains the original and the best for me.

This year the Wilier Gauntlet was an option for anyone taking on the Classic 155km route; with the added incentive of an extra feed stop, a special photograph, medal and a certificate for anyone completing this new challenge.  This, plus a good quality T-Shirt unique to the event, which all riders receive, means the £26 entry fee offers excellent value for money.  

I vow to be back next year and this time hopefully in a better frame of mind.  I hope the Gauntlet remains because I think this is an exciting development and a great addition to an already classic course - it is certainly a decent challenge if you are up for taking it on.       

If you were there and managed to complete the Gauntlet course we would love to hear from you.  As usual please add comments below and offer the course a rating here 

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