I’ve ridden this round-the-New-Forest cycle route every year since 2008 - and at least this time I was organised enough to get in to the event properly rather than ‘banditing’ it as I did last year through it being over-subscribed.
This year marked a difference as the route had been changed noticeably from that used before. Previously the course had been a circuit around the whole of the New Forest, but this year it was re-routed to take in a more westerly route within the Forest whilst remaining the same distance with the event base for the second year running in the port town of Lymington.
In the weeks before the event the organisers had been in touch with those of us riding about further changes in the planned route due to circumstances beyond their control. The organisers of this event are the local branch of the charity the ‘Cyclists Touring Club’, or CTC and have been staging this ride on the second October Sunday every year for the last 21 years without any fuss or bother, with the popularity of the event increasing over the years mirroring the popularity of cycling in general in Britain.
With the increased interest in cycling, more events have been springing up around the country, and one company in particular ‘UK Cycling Events’ backed by their sponsor - cycling supplies website Wiggle, have become ubiquitous with these cycling ‘sportives’ nationwide.
The Gridiron is run as a 'staged' route, with stops to have your card stamped to stop people from racing around like loons as fast as they can and causing a menace to other road users, with the route being entirely on open roads… This is not necessarily the case with the ‘Wiggle’ rides that have caused a lot of controversy, especially in the New Forest where local residents have been fed-up with the attitude of a minority of riders racing the routes above the speed-limits for the road, disobeying the highway code and being a bit of a pain in the arse towards them, so in turn a minority of the residents have actively been sabotaging the riders by spreading tacks and nails across the route to disrupt them.
All of this has soured relations between the ‘Wiggle’ organisers and the residents of the New Forest and they have not further helped themselves by deciding to stage another event on the same day on part of the same route as the Gridiron.
The Gridiron had been permissively organised months in advance by the CTC with the route approved by the local council and was progressing as expected, when it was discovered that the Wiggle ride was on the same day and on sections of the same route having not been organised in the same manner with the local council. When this clash of the course was pointed out to Wiggle, they said they would amend it… However it turned-out to be mere lip-service and they carried on regardless rather than taking any steps to avoid this - most likely because they are event organisers running paid events for a profit rather than a charitable organisation running an event for the benefit of others, so they have no concern outside of their customers.
To avoid the problems caused by the clash of courses, the Gridiron’s organisers decided a week in advance that they would reverse the direction of their route so as to try and avoid the two event’s riders directly sharing tarmac and the sections in question would hopefully be ridden at different times of day by both events and even in different directions which would hopefully also lessen the impact on the residents of these particular spots.
Anyway, back to the proper cycling, and following the car-train of bikes and riders down to Lymington, I parked-up just down from the leader centre event base and bumped in to the other Hook guys who were down to ride - Walshy, Mike Roff, Stu Charles, Dan Elbro and Alex Narey.
All registered we met-up with another load of riders, friends of Mike Roff, who were on their second long distance road-ride having (along with Mike) ridden the Surrey to Reading 45 mile route earlier this year… En-masse we departed and made our way out into the wilds of Lymington and the start of the 60 mile circuit.
|Off in to the morning light.|
|A pensive Walshy!|
When we arrived we noticed we were not at our full complement… We were missing Mike Roff & Dan Elbro. The pace we had ridden this first leg at was a steady 15mph so not too fast that people would be drastically cut adrift over just an hour’s pedalling… We waited, and waited, calls were made to phones, connections dropped and still no sign, all we knew was a garbled message that they were still out on the course!
Part of the party had decided to push-on as a unit already as they were riding on MTB’s and were a bit slower as a consequence whilst the rest of us remained as there was not a great deal of point in everyone hanging around… After 40 minutes of waiting, we were all starting to get cold with the standing around, so the executive decision was made to push-on. With the missing still being out on the course there was a possibility that by chance Mike and Dan had somehow not seen the turn in to the village for the checkpoint and had continued on and rejoined the route beyond it, which would carry them another 43km before the next stop!
Taking this hypothesis and running with it, or rather cycling with it, I set-off at a pace to try and catch them if they were somewhere out on the course. The worst-case was they were 30 minutes ahead of us on the course at a pace between 10-15 mph which could put them around 5-7 miles down the track from where we were.
About 15 minutes in to this notional pursuit I caught-up with the guys on their MTB’s who were cracking-on at a fair pace - they had not seen Mike or Dan whilst keeping an eye-open for them… I sat on the front of the group for a while to give them a tow before I decided to head-off taking Wesley with me in my slipstream.
|This never fails to amuse me and my tiny puerile mind :)|
|Its amazing what you cycle past!|
Not having seen Mike or Dan on the whole 43k route having got around as fast as I could, I got in touch with Walshy by text and let him know that they certainly were not in front of us!.. After relaxing for around 5 minutes eating some biscuits and drinking tea, Wesley arrived and joined me for a bit of a relax before all the others on their MTB’s.
After we were all fuelled-up we mounted our trusty steeds and headed off on the final blast of 40k back to Leamington. This final leg was in large parts the reverse of the first stage in previous years so it was different seeing it from an alternate perspective. Starting off with a decent downhill stretch I pushed-on once we hit the bottom letting the others carry-on at their own pace with Wesley accompanying me for the first part of the slightly shorter 41k stage.
Touching the edge of Ringwood and crossing the A31 we ended up in the midst of the Wiggle crowd again. This confused those of us on the Gridiron no-end as at this point our field of riders was well spread, so when you caught up with some other riders - and you could not distinguish who was riding what event, it was very tempting just to play follow the leader and disregard the route instructions. Fortunately I had my wits about me and was able to ignore the other riders and carry on with the Gridiron route… Leaving all the other riders behind it transpired the whole lot of them were on the Wiggle, so just as well I paid attention to where I was and what I was doing.
|You can't escape cycling hipsters.|
Stashing the bike in the van and getting changed I returned to wait the others return with the camera out to record their finishing. As I waited for them to arrive, the support crews of families arrived for the big occasion, and when Mike Roff appeared round the corner he was chased down the road by his eldest lad, which was a touching sight to see.
I can understand the shifting of the event base to the leisure centre in Lymington, as it is certainly able to cope more easily with the bump in numbers that the increase in popularity of the event and cycling in general has brought, plus with it being in a quite picturesque port town it makes it more family friendly for anyone coming along to support those in the event and applaud them across the finish line.
Riding this different route I found it more taxing than the previous one, although still a very pleasant circuit. If anything this one keeps you out in the open countryside for longer and seeing different sights or the same ones from a different perspective are always welcome. I wonder what it will be like next year?
30/11 update: Had a good chat with Mike about what happened on the first stage - it transpires they got to about a mile of the village hall and took a wrong turn, ending up back on the course... But only 3 miles in to the start, so the guys they tagged along with ended up guiding them back round the 20 miles they had just cycled, this time ending at the village hall, which makes the mileage that the pair of them cycled just over 80... and the consequential dinosaur's bottom that this gave them: Mega-Sore-Arse!
I leave you with the photos of our party members as they returned: