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Great Western Sportive 2012 REVIEW

by Jennifer Trotman

Date: Sunday 17th June 2012
Distances: 170km/105miles - 2036m climbing - £26 - 3 food stops
134km/83miles - 1730m climbing - £25 - 2 food stops
80km/49miles - 1061m climbing - £24 - 1 food stop
Start: Nationwide HQ, Pipers Way, Swindon, Wiltshire, SN3 1TA
Catering: free tea/coffee and muffin at the finish.  Hot food available at finish too.
Participants: 2000 max - c. 450 signed up.
Timing: bike mounted RFID chips
Signs: black on orange for all route signs, black on yellow for route splits and warnings.
Roads: lots of quiet scenic country roads, well surfaced, and not too narrow.
Goody bag:  Free souvenir t-shirt

The Pitch:
The Great Western Sportive has been one of the sportive hits of the last two years. The fantastic route on nearly traffic free roads has been a favourite with riders and press alike. And with a full 100 mile top distance and a huge 2,000 rider capacity. This ride is big in every sense!

Rolling across the ancient Ridgeway and winding through the beautiful Marlborough Downs, the route is a real treat, with broad, open roads echoing the sweep of the scenery. The folds of the Downs provide the gradients to put you to the test, but this is a ride to reward you for every challenge, not beat you relentlessly into submission. A riders ride, if you will.

The Ride:
I was up with the alarm, and greeted by the unexpected sight of blue skies and sunshine out of the window.  A little bit windy out there, but still so much better than forecasted earlier this week.  I've got this leaving for a sportive thing down pat now, and was off on schedule, flying down the motorway.  As it transpired, the M4 was closed between junctions 18 and 17 which  made all the traffic detour in slow convoy fashion down the A420. Luckily I'd left enough leeway in the schedule that the delay wasn't a big problem. I got to the start venue, at Nationwide HQ, south of Swindon, with time to spare, and there was plenty of free parking. In fact the marshalls weren't really necessary as there was so much of it.

Nationwide HQ Car Park

Mostly what they were doing was telling riders where registration was, as this wasn't at all clear, and which involved getting back onto the road and riding back down to the roundabout and taking the opposite exit to get to it. Luckily I'd figured that distance might be involved, so I'd opted for getting myself all sorted and ready before heading over there.

Pre-event emails and information had been plentiful, so all I had to turn was turn up at registration, rider number mentally noted, get my number, cable ties, and tag, and sign in. Number 340 all present and correct. Today's electronic timing was the attached to your wheel hub returnable RFID tag variety. Not my favourite and contrary to instruction I attached it to the front wheel not the rear - as there no way I was messing with anything to do with the set up back there.


There clearly weren't that many doing the event - around 450 were signed up apparently - as there were no queues for anything, including the all important toilets.

All Important Toilets

After a short and not all that audible briefing, we were on our way a little after 8:00am. The first, and one of the steepest, hills comes very early on, before the route settles down a bit and heads along the Avon Valley.  Thanks to the relative flatness of this section, there was quite a bit of impromptu group riding which was nice. Especially as we were heading into a nasty westerly wind - there's shelter in numbers! Other than the wind the weather was clement. Dry, mostly sunny, with temperatures increasing as the day went on. How nice is that?

Group Riding

Happily Unfocused

OK, so it's a little unfocused, but I'm smiling. I'm quite familiar with this part of the world, or some of it at least, as this is where the other half's family comes from, and I've also done the White Horse Challenge which uses some of these roads. So when we entered the village of Cherhill I knew where we were, and that some climbs were on the way.  We turned left onto the A4, and formed a line to do the long gradual climb along past the hill that presumably gives Cherhill village its name. Or vice versa.

Riders On The A4 Behind Me

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Cherhill Monument an Horse

As I said, it was getting warmer all the time, and it was time to remove the gilet so I stopped and let the peloton go on their way, so as to do that.

Long A4

After the drag along the A4, and a rather nice descent on the other side, we turned left and headed towards Avebury, though we were through it before you knew it. Well this is a sportive, not a sight seeing tour, right?


I knew Hackpen Hill was coming, but it was further away than I remembered. However it was 2008 when I did it last, so it's hardly surprising that my memory is a little hazy.

Approach to Hackpen Hill

You can see the white horse ahead of you, the road climbing and wiggling up the hill, with small brightly clad cyclists cresting the top by the trees.  Which would shortly be me. It was a bit of a slog, and there were a few who had resorted to shanks pony, white presumably, but the wheels went round, and before long we were at the first food stop.  Lovely views, but no toilets, tut tut.

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First Food Stop

Views From The First Feed Stop

I passed on the food, but being properly warmed up by now, I did stop and stuff my arm warmers in the saddle bag. The descent over the downs, past the racecourse, along to nearly Marlborough was a whole heap of not very technical fun. Nicely cooling too. The next chunk of the ride involved lots of ups and downs - never quite enough of one or the other in some respects. The next notable climb is Round Hill I believe, which was considerably steeper than most, and I was glad of my triple.

Riders Climbing Round Hill

Photographer On-The-Hill

As ever, there was a photographer on the hill to capture the moment so I captured him instead! On to the second food stop, small, well catered for if sweet is your thing, but again with no toilets. It was also next to a water pumping station, with the constant sound of running water, just in case you didn't already need the loo when you arrived.

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Second Food Stop

This time around I remembered to eat. My SiS bars are doing the job on the road in the first half of my rides, and my flapjacks are for stops and the latter part, depending on the crumble factor! Too much crumble and there's no eating them on the move. Mind you, I do wish someone would come up with a decent savoury fuel - after 4 or 5 hours of eating that kind of thing it's very hard to eat anymore, just because it's all too sweet.

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Second Foodstop Timing Matt

Time to ride over the timing mat, complete with satisfying beep, and be under way again, though a brief field stop was necessary a little further down the road. Before long I was over halfway through the ride - always good mentally. As you can see my Garmin was working today, though I did try not to obsess too much about what it was saying.

Garmin Working at the Half Way Point

More up and down, more sunshine and one final stop to remove layers.  My capacious saddle bag had enough room left in it for my legwarmers, and there I was in Cyclosport jersey and shorts, all summery and everything. There are worse places for a quick break, no?

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Scenic Monument

Having had the wind behind us for a while, we had to head north for a bit and then turn back into it, and I'm fairly sure it was way more of a hindrance than it ever was a help!  Luckily the route was quite wiggly so it wasn't too relentlessly into it all the time. The final foodstop was about 16.5 miles from the end according to the helper there - making the route total about to be 101 miles, not 105. Amazing how much that helps mentally. I managed to persuade him to tell me it was all downhill from there too.

Third Feed Stop an Matt

Third Food Stop Riders

After another half a banana, and some more flapjack, we were off again. No timing mat beep this time, though I did ride over it, honest! Time for the last hour or so to the end. At least it stood every chance of being an hour, but this was obviously going to depend on the wind, which was doing nothing for my rapidly dropping average speed, and how much climbing was left to do. And there was more of both. There was the long slow drag variety of hill which, to be fair, wasn't hurting too much.

Gradual Climb

green and blue
Green Grass and Blue Sky

The sign for Hinton Parva forgot to mention that it was pointing us towards another big hill - Blowing Stone Hill, which was another variety entirely.  Quite a kicker in fact when your legs are already practically at the finish, and not inclined to be inclined! Talking of signage, as you can see it was pretty clear. Orange/black for the route, yellow/black for warnings and splits, with plenty of both. Then there were my favourite signs - orange repeater ribbons - to reassure you that you are indeed going in the right direction. Even if the gpx file supplied hadn't been accurate - which it was - I'd be surprised if many riders got lost today. I didn't see many with punctures or mechanicals either, which was good.

warning signs
Warning Signs

This particular sign was a very good idea as we were about to cross a busy main road, at which a growing group duly waited, and waited, and waited. The rider who came from behind us, barely looked, and just rode straight across is a very lucky individual indeed. After that there were a couple more kickers, short but nasty, to come, but my legs were on their way home and weren't having any of it. Time to get back to the finish, after a quick sprint down the main road for fun.

The Finish Line

Me at the Finish Line

I was pleased to get to the end, especially that bit earlier than I'd been expecting!  It's been a little while since I've done a hundred miler, so I was pleased with how it went, though to be fair, it was considerably less hilly (c.1500m) than advertised (c.2000m). Having handed in my tags I was given a voucher for a Tea and a Tee. That would be a coffee, a free muffin and a souvenir t-shirt for me. I definitely had a bit of post-event buzz going on, as I sat in the sunshine chatting to other riders, including a couple who actually came over to chat to me because they knew who I was, and wanted to put a face to the name, which was quite flattering. Nice to meet you both.

finish hq
Finish HQ

Cycling time: 6:09:37 hrs
Distance: 100.38 miles
Avs: 16.3 mph.

I had a chat with Martin the organiser, who recognised me because we met at the Joker which they also organise. He was pleased with how everything had gone, although the weather forecast this week had blighted the turnout somewhat which is a shame. Earlier this week they were wondering whether they might actually have to cancel and would never have guessed at how nice it would turn out to be! If the weather put you off, that's a pity, because you missed a lovely day in the saddle.  Incidentally, I think this would be a great sportive for anyone looking to do their first 100.  Some challenging ups (but not too much so), some lovely downs, with beautiful countryside and great organisation - the perfect way to get you hooked on the sportive drug.

tired rider
Hard Day in the Saddle

Riders Chatting at the Finish

Personally I had a great ride. Good weather makes everything so much nicer doesn't it? I wasn't exactly flying, but it did go pretty well, and my legs pretty much did what they were told.  I met some great people, topped up the vitamin D levels, and enjoyed some lovely scenery. To put icing on the sportive cake, my official time, which I checked on the way back to the car, was 6:27 and a Silver!

The Riders:

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Andrew Bennett

"I arrived early, lots of parking and a great location with no rain in sight.  Registration was simple with no queues and lots of well needed toilets. I started later than I wanted to as friends were running late, but after a good rider brief we were off! Clearly signed route, and some small bumps to get you into things. Formed a nice group, however Chaingang springs to mind and we were only 20 miles in! The roads were in general clear, which was surprising after the amount of rain in the past 7 days, then I get a puncture! Fixed with the help of my mate then we were off again at a more respectable pace for a 100 mile ride. Past the first real testing climb and we were at the first check point, with plenty of food and drink. Then we were off again and picked up a number of riders and onto the next Checkpoint at 70 Miles. The route is great, lots to look at and all the riders were friendly. Continued on and hit a number of long climbs in to a head wind, with the final checkpoint at 85 miles I think, which was just right as I was running low on water.  One tough 20% climb to go and then a steady number of climbs to the end - 100+ Miles done. I collected the very nice T-Shirt, a cup of tea and muffin, and relaxed with other riders. A great route and I recommended it, challenging however good fun, achieved a gold classification too. I will be back next year"

Steve Moran

Steve is doing both Etapes (again!) this year as well as the Haute Route so by comparison this probably wasn't too much of a challenge for him.  Having ridden most of it with him I can confirm he made the hills look easy!

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