The Endura Trek Lionheart Sportive roared into life for its third incarnation, the first of the big Sportives of the year, in theory heralding spring. However spring seemed to have sprung in the wrong direction this time.
The first sign that the weather might not be as glorious as previous years was seeing gritting trucks going up Frome high street on the Saturday evening! Come Sunday morning, the green rolling hills of Wiltshire were being steadily covered by snow and the temperature was hovering around zero degrees.
Given the freezing conditions and the number of riders (1500 entries, up from 800 in 2012), the organisers took the difficult but sensible decision to remove the 100-mile route option leaving everyone to tackle the 100-km route, itself no mean feat in the day’s conditions.
Setting out round the perimeter of the stunning Longleat House, the steep and very wet climb out of the safari park into the clinging grey murk soon had a number of people walking. A combination of the months of winter road grime and today’s snowy wet conditions certainly laid down the challenge early on. Out onto the roads and through the woods, the pine trees and the snowfall deadened any sounds save for the harsh breathing of riders and the occasional slipping tyre on the soaking wet climb. Once up on the ridge road, the open terrain caused the temperature to drop another notch.
"Out onto the roads and through the woods, the pine trees and the snowfall deadened any sounds save for the harsh breathing of riders and the occasional slipping tyre on the soaking wet climb."
Winter adds an extra layer of challenge at the 2013 Lionheart
Group riding was sensibly out of the question in this wet weather, unless the following rider wanted a constant spray of freezing water and gritty mud. Everyone pressed on, heads bowed against the big snowflakes and soon enough the little village of Mere appeared through the clag and riders were welcomed into the yard of Yapp Wine Merchants to be greeted by a cheese and wine stall. I love Sportives that offer something a little bit different (although there was also the sturdy spread of rolls, fruit and homemade-by-the-local-WI cakes). Unfortunately, the weather made it almost impossible to sit around and enjoy the continental atmosphere and it was obvious that some riders were starting to chill.
From here on, these pretty country lanes of Wilshire were spread with riders as the better-prepared followed the full 100-km course and others cut back towards the finish. The signature climb of King Alfred’s Tower was as steep and tough as previous years, this time with the added technical aspect of a wet descent to follow. By now, mud-splattered riders were arriving back at Longleat in various degrees of both relief and jubilation with event sponsors Juice Lubes working overtime as Claude the Butler served warming coffee from the back of his converted Citroen H-Van.
This event will go down as one of the more memorable Sportives, the weather made it a huge challenge for everyone but in spite of that the organisers put on a top notch ride that remains one of the best season-opener events. It may also serve as a reminder that even on Sportives as well run as the Lionheart, riders and their bikes still need to be well prepared for all conditions, even in to the spring months of the year. Roll on British summer time.
For more events through the coming season, see our extensive calendar.
Did you brave the 2013 Endura Trek Lionheart? Tell us your experiences below.