The Southern Sportive organisers have added a new Super sportive option to their September classic. Martin Harrison fills us in on their inaugural test ride.
The Southern Sportive is back on Sept 11th from Petersfield on the South Downs, and its course is one of the most familiar in the country. The original South Downs Sportive, thousands have ridden it since its 2006 inception, and the resoundingly positive feedback we've received for this outstanding course has ensured that it has hardly changed since then.
Things change and the sportive scene is developing though, and many riders are looking for new and bigger challenges. So we set ourselves our own challenge; to add a new and bigger Southern Sportive course to the event, without affecting the established classic route that so many riders have come to love. And, having put our plans in place, we thought we really should go and ride it...
The Wilier Gauntlet turn off presented itself after 136km of the Classic Southern course; a reasonable sportive within itself, in fact the exact distance of our recent Woodcote Sportive! We had already tackled the three ascents of the Downs on the Western leg from the Petersfield start. Buriton Hill was the first of these, a short and sharp warm up and wake up call just a few miles round from the start. A criss-cross back over the ridge and a loop of the Rother Valley at Harting had brought up Harting Hill. This was a tougher proposition, and reminiscent of a leafy Alpine foothill as the damp from the light overnight rain diminished into a brighter day.
The route turned back once more, dropping over the saddle of the Downs at Cocking and traversing the valley once more on sumptuously green and pretty roads. At its eastern tip the route turned its sites upwards once more, for the final northern face ascent of Duncton Hill. Duncton felt the biggest of the set so far, as our legs began to feel the accumulated workload. Whether it's the wider, busier road or just the nature of the hill, somehow there is something of the drill sergeant about Duncton Hill, as it beasts you up its slopes.
The eastwards leg dealt with, we turned back west, and over the formidable lump on which Goodwood sits. The racecourse is high up and enjoys some wonderful views, but they come at a cost. The miles passed more easily through to Rowlands Castle, barely higher than sea level, but then followed the long, hard upwards grind around Butser and Old Winchester Hill. The reward up there is the most spectular views of the route so far and, traditionally, the knowledge of 20km plain sailing back to the finish. But this year, just along the Droxford road, comes the choice; cruise the Classic back to the finish, or take on the Wilier Gauntlet...
The first choice was tempting on our preview ride, but we here to ride the Gauntlet and see how it changed the shape of the course. We rolled down into the Meon Valley and crossed the main road at Warnford. The climb of the ironically named Wheely Down Road seemed to sting more than perhaps it should; maybe due to the long miles in my legs so far, maybe due to a subconscious desire to be winding down. Enough of that though, I had to shake any thoughts of the finish and concentrate on this new challenge!
At the top, the route turned right and wound down narrow lanes with pleasant views northwards. A sharp left at the bottom and we were rolling along towards Hinton Ampner, famous for the spectacular contemporary gardens of Hinton Ampner house. Tourism would have to wait for another day though, as the Gauntlet turned again, and started to rise, through Kilmeston to the Milburys pub and then onto the Downs above Winchester. This whole stretch is effectively two climbs separated by a short descent and they sap your energy by attrition, rather than by full frontal assault.
A treat was to follow though, as we turned left and downwards, onto the most perfectly resurfaced stretch of smooth rolling tarmac heaven I think I have encountered in this country. It was as if the road had been buttered, and descending silently through the trees on it was blissfully invigorating! Another left changed the tone again though, as the Gauntlet wound up to its coup de gras. If this was indeed a gauntlet, what came next were the knuckles; a series of short, punchy climbs with a sharp drop running into the next.
This long into the day, these relentless jabs took their toll. Trying to take them at pace required a concentrated effort on the climb, and immediate acceleration over the top to try and build momentum to get you as a far up the next incline as possible. And then, repeat to fade... Having softened us up, the Gauntlet delivered it's knockout blow; a tight corner robbed us of speed and then up, up, up onto Beacon Hill, where an extra support station will greet you, lucky rider, but a slump over the bars and last drag on the water bottle were our only respite.
The work was over now at least, and all that remained was to hang on to the finish in Petersfield. I don't mind admitting, the strength was gone from my legs now, and as we rejoined the Classic course to roll through picturesque East Meon and across the low, rolling foothills north of the giant mound of Butser, I was just glad to be finishing. Any thoughts of a final flourish into town evaporated, as we spun out the final miles. We had set out to add an extra dimension to an established course, and we think we've achieved just that. Certainly, my legs were telling me so for a few days afterwards!
Find out more at southernsportive.com, or by calling Southern Sportive on 0118 988 6041.