Event Review

REVIEW: White Horse Challenge 2017

by Jennifer Trotman

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REVIEW: White Horse Challenge 2017

Date: Sunday 23rd April
Distances: 89 miles
Entry fee: £30
Participants: c.500
Start: Shrivenham Memorial Hall, Shrivenham, Oxfordshire, SN6 8BL
Feedstops: two
Catering: free coffee/tea at start/finish, small cafe on site.
Timing: electronic tag on helmet, print out on arrival.
Signs: black arrows on yellow background
Roads: very scenic on quiet country roads.
Photos: sportivephoto.com
Goody bag: finishers medal

This year seems, so far, to be one for going back to events that I've not done recently.  This time around, having been unable to attend & review it last year as I was doing the Tour of Pembrokeshire, it was the White Horse Challenge.  Which again, like the Mad March Hare, I've done a fair few times, and do like.  And, as it turns out, Matt was able to join me for it too, and riding in company is always better.


Ready to Go

So.  Welcome to Sunday 23rd April. I wasn't feeling great.  Off form, not that well, and tired, having failed to sleep properly.  Not the best foundation for a day ahead on the bike.  Marvellous. But waking up to sunny skies helped.  And at least I didn't have to be trying to sleep any more.  HQ for the White Horse Challenge is at Shrivenham, about 1.5 hours from here, so the alarm (as if it were needed) kicked us into action at 5:00am.  Matt loaded up the car, we drank coffee, forced some breakfast down, and got away a bit after 6:00am as planned.

 Froxfield Food Stop

Matt on Hackpen Hill

Matt drove, being my chauffeur extraordinaire as ever, while I tried, and failed, to catch up on some sleep.  The sun shone, the wind did not blow, and we arrived where we supposed to be around 7:30am, to be marshalled onto the parking on the field near Shrivenham Village Hall.  Parking was already fairly full, and we were up at the end of what proved to be the penultimate row.  Several lines of cars were lined up and discharging expensive bikes and posh lycra.  Outside the nice warm car the weather was lovely, but distinctly chilly.  A short walk across the grass, trying not to get damp feet, got us and our helmets to HQ.  

Matt ready for Uffington
Amazing Uffington Views

As usual there were queues for the few portable toilets outside, and, as usual, the toilets inside were queue free, and let's face it, much nicer to use.  So I used those ones before rejoining Matt at Registration.  I joined my non existent queue to register. Tables were set out by rider number batches and presumably all the others in my batch had already signed up.  Go 549!  Matt wasn't quite so lucky, but it still didn't take long.  While he waited his turn, I signed my name, had my timing sticker stuck on the LHS of my helmet, and was given my bike number.  Formalities done for both of us, we picked up a map, cable ties, and a couple of free cups of tea, and headed back to the car to get ready. 


Choppingknife Lane

Much faffing ensued.  This early in the season, my sportive skills are still rusty.  Bikes to be reassembled, pockets to load up, and endless conversations about kit options.  Most around us seemed to think that shorts were a good idea, and also team kit.  With only one fairly long route option available, this event seemed to have attracted a more 'pro' crowd than usual - the average price of the bikes, and the kit on display, demonstrated that.  It was good to see quite a few woman around though, which is so often not the case.  Shorts weren't going to do it for me.  Do be serious.  It was cold, and I get cold.  Having had a good ride in similar conditions during the week, I was fairly sure that I had my outfit sorted, but that didn't stop me worrying.  So...summer tights (long), s/s base layer, l/s winter jersey, l/s mid weight jacket. Mitts with over gloves.  Neckwarmer and head buff.  And gilet. This may sound like overkill, but I know, from painful experience, that I get cold and then stay cold. Layers it is and was.  

Cute Cottage

Empty Car Park at HQ

Riders were allowed to leave between 8:00am and 9:00am.  We could have rushed and gone over earlier, stood in the shade amongst all the milling riders, and headed off first thing but...that didn't appeal.  And there's no rush for such things is there?  It's not a race, right?   So by the time we were properly ready and happy to get going there weren't many left hanging around at the Start Line.  One more trip to the facilities and at 8:13, IIRC, we were rolling over the start line, and on our way. 

Empty Timing Tent at HQ

First Food Stop

Brrrr.....chilly!  But sunny. My PMA (positive mental attitude) was doing ok, ish.  I know this ride, and I've done it lots, but for some reason the first 30 miles or so didn't seem that familiar.  Weird.  Funny how the mind works...  Wherever I was going, it was however fairly flat.  Fairly easy.  Which is good for warming up.  Not that it was warming up!  It was SO pretty though. We were all set for a long day in the saddle, and prepared for that.  So we chatted, admired the scenery, stopped from time to time for whatever - bits in eyes, calls of nature, photo ops, or just to take a deep breath so as to keep calm and carry on.

First Food Stop Fodder

Forest Climbing

It still wasn't getting much by way of warmer as the miles ticked by.  But gradually things started getting a lot more familiar.  The flat country lanes turned into villages and then Royal Wootton Bassett which I know well, from well before it becoming Royal, and which I also knew meant the first of the White Horse's big hills was looming large ahead.  Well ok, it wasn't, not visually anyway, but it was mentally.  I wasn't worried about it from an ascent point of view.  

Getting Near the First Top

Green and Pretty

The Broadtown climb is a long gradual one with the odd bend, steep enough but not too steep, and I've done it before so I know I can do it. I was more worried about how I'd feel doing it, as it was likely to set the tone for the rest of the ride.  We headed down the high street, admiring the old buildings , and then out towards said hill.  I wasn't in any rush - it was time to eat, drink, gird my loins, and get ready.  Oh and try and spot the darned horse so I could take pictures of it - easier said than done...but easier than sometimes since the weather was clear and I knew roughly where to look!  


Here Comes Hackpen

And it was as expected.  A long slow drag up.  It went ok, as these things go.  Hard work, but doable.  I even dropped Matt for a bit...although he'd caught me by the time we finally reached the top, where I could breathe a sigh of relief and get back to enjoying the scenery.  I'm going to say this a lot I expect, but man it was beautiful out there today.  Green trees, grass, hedges, crops, yellow oil seed rape, bluebells, blue skies...just lovely. And the descent a couple of miles later on was equally lovely.  A marshal was on hand to warn us to slow down a bit, which is necessary here as it's wiggly and narrow near the top, the road surface ain't great, and if a car is coming the other way, you can easily have had it.  We hadn't, and so, as it opened up and straightened out, there was whole heaps of fun to be had.  

The First Climb

It Was All Yellow..

After the fun came more flat.  Country lanes, quiet roads, and the first food stop was ahead of us. Another few miles got us there.  We were among the last there, and staff gossip had only a handful of riders behind us and the couple of gents who were also taking refreshment there.  Not that we cared.  Knowing that wasn't going to make us suddenly go faster!  Time to top up bottles, grab some food, use the facilities in the hall, and sit in the sunshine getting it together for a bit.  Sat in the sun, out of the wind, I was practically warm for a bit.  I forced down one of the ham rolls that we'd brought with us as an antidote to the standard sweet fare, and tried not to worry too much about what lay ahead...   

Matt in the Forest

Matt on Top

Time waits for no-woman, and the broom wagon was lurking around. I may not have been having a great day, as predicted, but I wasn't quite ready to quit.  Bailing after 30 miles?  That's just a training ride, right?  Besides I knew that some of the best bits were ahead.  Cherhill, Avebury, Hackpen Hill, the Marlborough Downs...  So it was time to zip the layers back on and up and to head out again.  The broom wagon may have been removing the odd sign on its way - it passed us going in the opposite direction heading toward the food station - as one of the next roundabouts was distinctly lacking in signage, but I pretty much knew where I was going, so it wasn't a problem.  

The Middle of Nowhere

Ready for The Downs

And where we were going was the long A4 drag past the white horse & monument on Cherhill, up the appropriately named "labour in vain hill".  Well our labour wasn't in vain as, although we laboured on for quite some time, we made it to the top without incident; easier said than done with the sunny Sunday traffic flying by in both directions.  From there we flew down to the roundabout for the left turn to Avebury.  A little up and down, clinging to the curb so as not to get in the way of the ambulance that clearly had somewhere very urgent to be, and we were passing the famous standing stones, which is always kinda cool.  Given the weather, plenty of tourists were out and about and enjoying them too, which looked enjoyable, but it always feels better to be flying past the stones our way for some reason. 

Spot Broadtown If You Can...

The Hill With No Name

Out the other side, where the road gets wider, and swoopy, and kinda fun mostly, apart from when it's busy, which is frequently.  It's a case of getting the next few miles over and done with, as the Downs line the horizon, and slowly in the distance, Hackpen Hill gets larger... We were just past the half way mark, the passing of which had helped add a little PMA, so I was feeling a fair bit better about everything.   

Up Uffington

Yellow and Signs

Time for Hackpen Hill.  Another long drag with hairpins and plenty of up to it.  You can see it from afar, wiggling up the hill, but again done it before, and did it again.  Go me!  Matt struggled rather more than me - I think it definitely helps to know your enemy when fighting your way up it. The views going up and from the top were amazing, and made it all worthwhile.  I like hills like this one.  I may be rubbish at hills, even worse than I ever was, but that doesn't stop me kinda liking them sometimes.  Hey, I just have longer to appreciate them than you do   I'm not sure Matt appreciated it at all...  

Relaxing Riders


Welcome to the top of the Marlborough Downs.  Having done the up, I'd earned the Downs, and the down from here to Marlborough is one of my favourite stretches of road anyway.  It's about 15 minutes of mostly down, with a bit up up towards the end to get to the town itself.  Now that I can both do AND enjoy.  And I did.  Muchly.  A  little while later we finally reached Marlborough high street where a couple of marshals spotted us coming and pointed us in the right direction.  Well, the left direction anyway.  They were looking a little demob happy, probably because their work here was nearly done...lucky them! 

Timed Uffington Climb

Top of THAT Hill

Before we left town we stopped at a petrol station for manna from heaven.  AKA fizzy orange.  It's my pick me up, and I needed one. Thanks to that fizzy orange and the miles counting down now I was definitely feeling a better, but Matt was suffering a bit now - this was hopefully going to be his longest road ride ever - and from hereon in he did have a tendency to be a little slower than me, and behind me on the ups.  I don't have speed, but apparently I still have stamina, which is good to know! 

Trees Before Descent

Up On Top Of the World

We headed out of town and took the left turn down my other favouritely named road - Chopping Knife Lane.  Our is not to wonder why...  The stretch after this is lovely and quiet, down what is more of a track than a lane, along the side of a wide valley.  This is followed by country lanes, cute villages, forest climbs...all beautifully quiet, and the perfect place for carpets of bluebells to flourish.  I love bluebells   And then there's THAT hill.  

Views Behind

The one I always forget is there that suddenly, after a right turn over a river, is the road ahead of you.  It's steep.  With a nastily wiggle in the middle, and it goes on for longer than you think it's going to, or want it to. Ramsbury Hill I think.  Up which I plodded as ever.  I did my own share of wiggling to reduce the gradient a little, and it was proper hard work.  I very gradually made my way up, ahead of Matt, having got the jump on him at the start since I knew it was there, and then it was done.  Another tough hill under my belt. 

Wootton Bassett

After recovering, and a fair few miles of swoopy in the middle of nowhere roads, admiring the rolling scenery, we made it to the second food stop at Froxfield Memorial Hall.  Where they were quite literally packing up around us.  Not that this stopped them being friendly, or meant that they didn't have provision enough for us.  We took a little time to stock up on gels and fluids, as well as to get rid of some of the latter - food stops at village halls are the only way to go! 


So, two thirds done, or thereabouts, and one third to go.  The home straight then?  Well, kinda.  A chunk more miles, but only one real climb left apparently.  One hell of a hill at that.  The timed climb challenge that is Uffington.  The foodstop staff conveniently forgot to mention the other two fairly substantial ups we had to get over on the way there.  With ups come downs though...so it wasn't all bad   Still, they weren't hills in the way that Uffington is.  Knowing the route as I do, it was really tempting just to miss that out completely - as it's just a little loop of the main road.  But to have made it this far and then bail on it?  I couldn't bring myself to do that.  Up we go.  Well, after a brief chat with the marshals at the bottom first, one of whom had made his way here from that first food stop I think.  


The ride was definitely closing up behind us!  Off we went and, somewhat oddly, it wasn't quite as hard as I remember it??!  Maybe because we had it to ourselves and I wasn't having to dodge other riders, or feel the pressure of spectators watching to see how I was doing.  (Having set off late, we did most of today completely on our own).  Whatever the reason I think I actually enjoyed most of it.  Not the first steepest bit but yes, after that, with Matt leading the way for a change.  I sat back and took time to look at the views, and maybe to give myself a little pat on the back.   


And that was that really.  Time for just a few miles more, down and then along, at a fair pace if not a sprint, to get us back to HQ.  Where we were, as expected, nearly the last ones back.  Not only was the actual ride time rather worse than usual, but what with all the stopping we'd done en route, we'd been out on the road for considerably longer than that!  Not that we cared.  We'd done it   Matt had done his longest ride ever, on pretty much sod all training, whilst having to look after me.  I'd done my longest ride in a very long time, and all things considered, we were both pretty happy. OK, so we didn't break any records, and I've had better days but I did kind of enjoy myself.  I still like this event.  It's small but perfectly formed. It's well run, the scenery is amazing, and the hills are challenging but nicely spaced out.  I may have to do it again.  Again ;) White Horse Challenge done!

Official Review

1. Feed Stops (correct foodstuffs and energy drinks, the right many, well spaced) 10 out of 10
2. Timing (correct and easy to use) 10 out of 10
3. Signage (Clear, concise, maps, profiles, route card) 9 out of 10
4. Facilities (HQ, Parking, Toilets) 10 out of 10
5. Support (Sag Wagon, Outriders) 9 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) 10 out of 10
8. The Course (Area of outstanding beauty/scenic, quiet roads, cleverly designed?) 10 out of 10
9. Would you recommend it. (Would you ride again?) 10 out of 10
Overall Rating 97.8%

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