When I signed up to do the New Forest 100 Sportive, organised by sports retailer Wiggle, I was still buzzing from having completed the Surrey 46. I had enjoyed that ride so much I wanted to compete in a similar event before the summer was out.
And so that is how I found myself being chauffeured to the New Forest by Mr London Cycling Diary late one Friday night in September — destination Premier Inn, Ferndown, about 15 minutes drive from the venue at Somerley House, in Ringwood. (The things you do when you have a bike, a crazy idea to ride it 54 miles through unfamiliar territory and a willing enabler.)
When the next morning dawned it was warm (if not particularly sunny) and dry, the kind of conditions that are perfect for cycling. Well, that’s what I thought.
When I eventually hit the road (after queuing for at least an hour to get to the start line), I realised I hadn’t factored in the wind; this event was going to be bloody hard work. It wasn’t exactly blowing a gale, but because much of the route was on exposed heathland there were a lot of crosswinds threatening to take the bike out from under me. And when there weren’t crosswinds, there were headwinds. And when there weren’t headwinds there were blustery winds. And… well… you get the idea.
The scenery, of course, helped compensate for the difficult cycling conditions, although I could have done with a few less hills.
I loved cycling through vast open heathlands, tall pine forests, small villages and productive farmland. I lost count of the number of free-roaming animals I saw — sheep, ponies, cows and even some big black and white pigs grazing by the roadside — but by mile 40 or so I was feeling more knackered than I had expected to feel at that point and the only scenery I really wanted to see was the finish line.
I had a burning pain in my left shoulder that wouldn’t go away and my energy levels had plummeted to zero. I’d basically bonked. And I was no longer enjoying the ride.
Fortunately, I had two cherry-flavoured gels in my pocket to give me a much-needed boost. Normally, I avoid gels because consuming them feels too much like swallowing thick snot, but these got me through the last 10 or so miles. And when I eventually turned in to the Somerley estate, with around 750 yards to the finish line, I went like the clappers — if only to fool all the onlookers into thinking I’d been riding at that speed for all of the previous 53 miles!
I have to be honest and say I was disappointed with my time (the official one is a lot longer than the 4:03 my bike computer recorded because it factors in the time I spent and the drink station), but it was a great feeling to reach the finish in one piece!
And the medal and t-shirt, provided by Wiggle, and the beer, provided by Mr London Cycling Diary, at the end made it all worthwhile.
Total distance: 53 miles | Ride time: 4hr 23min 58sec (including stops) | Average speed: 13.2mph