Event Review

Southern Sportive REVIEW

by Jennifer Trotman

Southern Sportive 2013

Date: Sunday 8th September
Distance: Short 71km, Mid 112km, Full 155km, Gauntlet 192km
Entry: £25, £27, £28, £29.
Start: Churchers College, Ramshill, Petersfiedl, GU31 4AS
Timing: Hub mounted timing chip
Signs: Black arrows on orange for direction, black on yellow for warning, route splits etc.
Photos: Volunteer photographer Mark Fryer of Fareham Wheelers, proceeds to Wateraid
Goody bag: Free coffee, muffin, and t-shirt. 

Today's sportive was the Southern Sportive. Last time I did it was in 2007, so it was practically a new event to me. It starts from Petersfield, which is a non-motorway 2.5 hour drive from here, so I drove down the night before. After a pretty good night's sleep in the local Premier Inn, I woke up at 6:00am to a variable weather forecast, wet roads, and a distinct chill in the air. Layers then.

The HQ, at Churchers College, turned out to be all of 5 minutes drive away and since I was there a bit before 7:00am, I benefitted from parking on site right next to registration and all the facilities. First things first - off to register. No queue as they were still setting up, and the only real wait was for the lady behind my part of the desk to be briefed on what she had to do! Find number 673, hand over the bike number and hub mounted timing chip, point me at the zip ties and the disclaimer form to sign, and that was it. Easy.

Registration at Churchers College

Back to the car, and faffing. The surrounding cyclists and I indulged in the usual 'what to wear considering the forecast' discussion. I've recently purchased a shiny new rain jacket, however, I was hoping I would never have to use it - a bit like an insurance policy. But since I had it, leaving it behind would have been both daft and also a guarantee of rain! So, short sleeved jersey, arm warmers, gilet, tights, toe covers, and the new jacket went in my saddle bag.

While I was faffing, other cars were filing in, and I could have sworn I saw Henry Peacock (of past Cyclosport fame) in one of them...and it turns out I did. He came past on his way to registration, and it was nice to have a brief chat to a friendly face. Albeit a young, skinny, very fit friendly face who was liable to do the whole thing in half my time.

Ready for the off

I had a bit of time to kill and considered buying myself a cup of coffee. However, the man behind the table was telling the guys in front of me that he didn't yet have any change and I didn't think my £10 note would go down well! Instead, I grabbed the bike and headed over to the vicinity of the start line to wait, use the toilets, and wait some more.

Riders were due to start in batches according to route length, though this was more advised than regulated. Since I was down for the Full route, I wanted to get away as soon as possible, and long route riders were allowed to start first. There was some discrepancy in the pre-ride paperwork as to when the start time was. Well, due to what looked like some difficulties setting up the timing gear, it wasn't just not 7:30am but a bit past 8:00am when we were finally called to the front line. Then followed a rather long-winded welcome, and a rider briefing. We were all standing there, getting colder all the time, desperate to get going. 

Rider safety briefing

Right. Finally we were off. I was with the first group away, heading out on damp roads, and glad of my layers. There was precious little time for warming up though, well, not the legs anyway. Warming up otherwise came shortly. After a brief stretch of flat, past swans floating serenely on a misty pond, the first climbing started all of a couple of miles in - tough, but I had a pretty fixed mindset for today. I'd looked at the route times, I'd looked at the distances and considered my recent form. The times I'd seen were for the Gauntlet route - which I'll explain later - but even so I could see it was likely to be a long day. It was Sunday, I was riding my bike, I had nowhere else to be and nothing better to be doing, so even if it took me ten hours and I suffered, why not?

So uphill I went. Exceedingly slowly as usual, but without too much strain. Up hill, down a bit, up more hill...wet roads that suddenly seemed to be becoming wetter. Drizzle turned into drippy rain, at which point Henry drew alongside for a bit before dropping back to be with his peloton again. And then the rain turned into downpour and the donning of the rain jacket became unavoidable so I had to stop half way up one hill or another to do so, at which point I imagine they passed me and disappeared into the distance never to be seen again. For the record, he was over 2 hours faster than me!

Riders faced changable weather conditions throughout the day

First food stop

There's a distinct lack of photos for today as taking photos in the rain is neither easy nor advisable. The wet also meant concentrating more, mostly on the road for obstacles, potholes, puddles...all things that tend to imply that keeping both hands on the handlebars might be a good idea. Thanks to the weather today, there were sadly a great many riders with a great many punctures...I think the record may have been the rider who had six, but who wants to beat that kind of record?

A while later the sun came out again, starting today's trend. Rain, sun, clouds, wind, rain, sun...you get it right? At least the wind warned you what was to come...and it went away again when the rain did. The first food stop came around 24 miles in, at which point the weather was looking lovely, making all the waterproofs look a tad superfluous, and there was a lot of stripping off going on. No toilets though - as with all the food stops - which always annoys me!

Start of Duncton Hill

The steep Goodwood climb 

I remember the hill from Duncton Mill to Duncton Quarry. The names should have given it away really. Mills are at the bottom where water flows down valleys, quarries are at the top where there's plenty of space to dig big holes. Still my kind of climb though - long and steady. After the second food stop, 49.6 miles in, came the long climb to Goodwood race course, which I remember from doing this first time around.

I can tell from the route stats that there was actually a lot of climbing overall, but there was also more flat than I was expecting. And some of the views from the top, especially earlier on, were awesome. All the way across the rolling green countryside to the sea beyond. The views were good, but mostly the rolling scenery was pretty but unremarkable. Lots of the same. At least all those ups provided a fair few downs which I could enjoy during those patches when the roads were dry. In fact at the bottom of one of them, coming into a village, I even managed to set off one of those you're going too fast flashing signs, which may well be a first.

Another steep section of the route tests the legs

The full/mid route split came quite early on, and I was surprised to see people taking it, since we were all supposed to be on the longer routes but then either they were wimping out, or were so fast they'd started later and passed me already. The writing on the split route signs was a bit small, and without a reminder that I was on the right route I did spend a while wondering if I'd gone the right way. At least the orange reminder ribbons and signs reassured me that I was on a right route if not the right route. But the miles ticked by and I didn't reach the end, so I figured I must have gone the right way. Various groups went past me, and quite a few of them actually said hello as they went past which made a very pleasant change.  Anything that makes you smile on a long ride goes a long way.

The route passed through some of the most picturesque scenery the South Downs has to offer

On to the route options. The original Southern Sportive was around 100 miles long, and very popular too, so the Full route remains. However, to add a little challenge to life, they've added a Gauntlet option which adds an extra 20 miles near the finish. I was considering doing it and when I reached the third foodstop, around 75 miles in just before the 2pm cutoff. There was a marshall walking around asking who was doing it, so that he could take numbers and keep track. I'm thinking an extra timing mat here and there might have made keeping track of folk easier? Anyway I said I might be, to which he said if that was a definitely maybe, he'd note it. I was the only one, and one of the other riders around me was heard to comment as to how that made me truly hardcore.

Still, at that point the rain jacket was still back in the bag, and I was feeling ok, so why not?  Time to head off again and see what happened.  Apparently there were two more climbs between me and the end on the 100 mile route, and I have to say that the climb to Butser Hill seemed to pass me by somehow. Just another up?

Dark clouds loom as another shower looks imminent

I spent most of the ride happily on my own, pottering along, and letting the mental cogs go around. At some point, just before what was the start of the third, longer rainy patch, I was joined by a nice chap called Rupert, who had spotted the Cyclosport kit, and hung around to chat for a while. We parted company for a bit when we stopped to put rain jackets on as the rain returned...and then came the final route split and there he was, with his brother Humphrey, standing in the rain, trying to decide what to do. Now quite a lot of me was leaning towards the 100 mile option, but...with remarkably little arm twisting I found myself going left, and manning up, as it were...  

And I'm glad. Sure, it was raining. But a little bit of me wanted to do the whole thing, just to prove I could. We hung out again for a while, but soon it was just me, happy doing my own thing, going up and down hills in the rain. After a while pootling around on my own, wondering if there would ever actually be a final food stop, or if they'd packed it away already, it suddenly materialised in a wet wood, from where Rupert was just leaving. I had a chat with the food stop guy, who reckoned there might be all of two guys behind me if they hadn't bailed thanks to the rain, but the idea of it being me as Lanterne Rouge oddly didn't bother me. Someone has to be right?

Map routes

Right. Twenty or so miles to go. I climbed my way up a couple more hills before an essentially downhill ten miles back into town. I felt a bit lost on the way back in, as I went past the same pond again I was worried I was starting over! Maybe I should have paid more attention to the map beforehand, which would have explained it all. A nice lady pedestrian reassured me I was heading in the right direction and clearly I was, as around 9 hours after I set off, I rolled into a practically deserted HQ, over the line, and handed my chip in to a team busy packing up to go home. I grabbed my free cup of coffee, passed on the free muffin, picked up my free orange t-shirt, and headed happily back to the car to sort my life out. When I got there I found Rupert and Humphrey were already there, packing up, drinking coffee and doing sensible things like stretching (which I also passed on!)

'Got the T-shirt'

I'm pleased to report I actually wasn't the last one over the line. Believe it or not, there were a few even slower than I. Very few mind, but hey, you know what, as it turns out, I was the only girl to complete that route. The Southern Sportive threw down the Gauntlet, I took it, and I won. I even got a Bronze. Turns out I am hardcore after all!

Official Review

1. Feed Stops (correct foodstuffs and energy drinks, the right many, well spaced) 8 out of 10
2. Timing (correct and easy to use) 9 out of 10
3. Signage (Clear, concise, maps, profiles, route card) 9 out of 10
4. Facilities (HQ, Parking, Toilets) 8 out of 10
5. Support (Sag Wagon, Outriders) 8 out of 10
6. Friendliness / Professionalism (Sign-in, marshals, support) 10 out of 10
7. Website - ease of use (Online and postal entry, clear concise) 9 out of 10
8. The Course (Area of outstanding beauty/scenic, quiet roads, cleverly designed?) 7 out of 10
9. Would you recommend it. (Would you ride again?) 8 out of 10
Overall Rating 84.4%

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