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Report: Endura Lionheart Sportive
A new event on the calendar for 2011, the Endura Lionheart Sportive looks set to become an early season classic. 600 riders arrived at the stunning setting of Longleat House for a choice of 100 mile or 100 kilometre routes around the Wiltshire and Somerset countryside. The initially cold and grey weather soon cleared to make for a stunning day and the lawn in front of the imposing house made a great place to sign on and get everything sorted for the ride to come.
I'd opted for the longer route and I set off with a group of riders at about 8.30, the route taking in a lap of the estate past the enclosure of the infamous Longleat Lions. They weren't in evidence - maybe they'd decided to have a Sunday lie-in (lie-in, lion, geddit? Oh never mind...)
The first obstacle to the riders was the hefty climb out of the valley that the estate sits in, glimmers of the sunshine to come burning through the clouds and highlighting the field of rhinos in the distant safari park.
Flattish lanes lead through still-sleeping villages, a hotch potch of thatched roofs and chocolate box cottages. After a short while the 100km loop split off right while the 100-milers continued straight on. Amazingly this road was almost all downhill as it followed a river valley and, in a decent group of riders we were absolutely flying on the deserted roads.
The 30 miles to the first feed stop disappeared in less than 90 minutes. Ah, food. The quaint village hall at Wilton was staffed with the friendly faces of the local WI who'd obviously spent the previous week baking cakes sufficient to feed a small army. That was supplemented with gels and bars from event sponsor Torq, sandwiches, bananas and sausage rolls. I (somehow) managed to refrain from eating too much, just as well as the road headed uphill after that as we crested a rise and dropped into the next valley.
The miles disappeared smoothly on the gently rolling roads, a perfect introduction to the season. Reality intruded rudely at the 48 mile mark where a short section of the A303 (very well marshalled and signed) saw us encounter more cars in that short half-mile than in the rest of the ride put together!
The final third of the ride saw another well-stocked food station complete with happy cyclists and smiling WI and the two stings in the tail to this ride shown on the route profile as large red lumps. The short but steep climb of Alfred's Tower could be seen from quite a distance, the dramatic 18th Century folly visible on the summit as the roads gradually wound closer. The climb saw a few people reduced to walking.
The rapid descent off the hill was followed by more of the same picturesque and beautifully quiet lanes before looping round to the final climb (actually part of the same ridge) of Gares Hill. Longer and more gradual than the first one it still proved too much for some people. The rolling terrain which followed was deceptive - every time you thought it must be nearly over there would be another undulation. Eventually it was over and what a finish.
The swooping descent through the massive entrance archway of Longleat and the arrow straight driveway to the finish banner in front of the house was easily the most dramatic finish to any Sportive I've seen that tempted everyone into a sprint finish.
Back at base there was a finishing medal, hot veggie chilli, more cake and Claude The Butler, the coffee man serving out of his retro converted Citroen H Van.
Endura Lionheart organisers, Spin Events are hoping to develop this inaugural event to become a true festival of cycling and, from first reports not just here but from the riders concerned, they've got off to the best start they could hope for.