To describe the topography of South Hams as flat would be erroneous.
Lumpy might be closer to the mark; hilly, closer still. Grueling, debilitating, vertiginous: these are other adjectives to describe the area of south Devon that next year will host the Hammer Sportive.
Two routes will be offered: the Claw Hammer at 100km and the 100-mile Sledge Hammer, both starting from Kingsbridge and taking in parts of the route used in stage seven of this year’s Tour of Britain.
Neither option will be easy. The Claw Hammer, while shorter, still boasts 12 climbs within its 100km length, and over 2,000 metres of climbing. The Sledge Hammer is set to live up to its billing with a parcours encompassing some 21 categorised climbs: a total elevation of 3,600 metres, or, to put it another way, 200 metres more than the respected Dartmoor Classic.
I rode from Kingsbridge with two of the organisers from Hammer Sports: Andrew Thompson, who regular RCUK readers will recognise from his column on European sportives, and business partner, David Hamilton, a British Cycling commissaire.
Andrew, thankfully, was six weeks in to his off-season and not at his Tour du Mont Blanc form, while David put in a Stannard-esque effort on the front, sheltering us from the wind while Andrew talked me through what they have in store for those brave enough to tackle their sportive.
In a nutshell, Andrew will bring to bear his considerable experience of Europe’s biggest sportives (he was a competitor last year in the UCI World Cycling Tour and qualified to start among the ‘front’ group at the world championships in South Africa) in formulating a ride through the beautiful Devon countryside.
Official lead cars and grouped start boxes, familiar to readers who have ridden La Marmotte and L’Etape, will feature on both Hammer routes, which will be staged for the first time next year, on Sunday April 14 2013.
RCUK’s preview ride took in the Hammer’s route along the coast at Slapton Ley, an impressive sight, with a road running parallel to, and seemingly only feet from, the coastline; a freshwater lake to the north and open sea to the south cutting off the road from the mainland on either side.
Once past Slapton Ley, the road turns sharply upwards, offering the first proper ascent of our preview ride, and the first of many for those who will ride either the 100-mile or 100km events; the former includes just five kilometres of flat road, making it a dream for climbers and a serious challenge for those determined to master the art of riding uphill.
Both routes will include a timed hill climb, and points awarded in gender and age-specific categories will count towards the Hammer Trophy competition, which may include CX-sportive style events starting next autumn. Results for the sportive and the hill climb, and the points gained from each towards the Hammer Trophy, will be published within 24 hours.
A word here on the Hammer Trophy. Andrew and David are planning a series of events for clubs and teams as well as individuals, of which the Hammer Sportive will form only a part. Hammer Sports will form its own club, with membership open to all, in any part of the country, with the aim of creating a network for cyclists who can post their day’s riding plans on the club’s Facebook page, inspiring others in the vicinity to come along. Team membership will be offered to those who prove competitive in events, but Andrew insists that individuals who have made a decent attempt at an event but don’t take themselves too seriously are more likely to be offered a place than riders who have “won everything” but are “a bit miserable”.
Back to the Hammer Sportive preview. In keeping with an RCUK tradition, the rain, err, hammered, down, stinging the skin, and making my outing on 50mm deep section rims at best a poor choice and at worst, a foolhardy one. At every gap in the hedgerow, the wind tugged remorselessly at my wheels; on one decent, bringing me into rapid and unwanted contact with a stone wall.
With conditions worsening, and the prospect of a larger dose of howling winds and driving rain to come before we saw Kingsbridge again, we quickly reached the collective decision to enter a comfortable looking pub where we ordered soup and talked over the cycling world and its many delights and controversies, including more details of next April’s Hammer Sportive.
Registration will begin the day before the Hammer Sportive at an ‘event village’ hosting displays and seminars, and participants will be able to register for a pre-booked meal held the night before the event. Andrew is keen to introduce the concept of the ‘pasta party’ – another staple of the European sportive scene – to UK events, and says Kingsbridge and nearby Salcombe are filled with restaurants suited to the task.
Despite the rain, our preview ride was hugely enjoyable, filled with moments familiar to all cyclists when you realise the conditions are not about to change, and enjoy the ride for what it is: a test of resolve, and, in the case of those riding deep section rims, of bike handling too. Hammer Sports are pitching the event at those seeking a serious challenge and hope to make it one of the UK’s toughest sportives. In South Hams, they will certainly have the terrain. Tour of Britain winner, Jon Tiernan-Locke, is a native, and from my taster ride, it’s clear to see how the terrain has formed the rider.
The Hammer Sportive will be held on Sunday April 14 2013. All of the support facilities typical now of large-scale sportives will be included, among them a signed and marshaled route, electronic timing, feed stations, broom wagon, mechanical support, first aid, and photography.