Some 250 riders braved the challenge of an April Fool’s day sportive to conquer one of the most iconic hills in the south.
Participants entered in Southern Sportive’s The Joker ride set off from Salisbury Racecourse in low temperatures but bright sunshine on Sunday April 1 for a short route of between 50km and 80km, or a long route of between 100km and 150km, through the Wiltshire and Dorset countryside.
Organisers, Phil and Martin Harrison, had offered a series of ‘Joker’s Challenges’ – options for riders to reduce the distance at the risk of encountering more challenging terrain.
“Gold Hill was the highlight,” said Martin Harrison, of the iconic cobbled climb in the centre of the historic town of Shaftesbury. “The riders were cheered on by a crowd of up to 30 onlookers at the top.”
But the hill, made famous by the Hovis advert nearly 40 years ago, wasn’t the toughest according to those who completed the route.
“The consensus was that the toughest hill wasn’t even one of the Joker’s Challenges, but the climb from Fontmell Magna. Maybe that was the real joke that the course concealed,” he added.
Southern Sportive had also included so-called ‘Fool’s Choices’ on the route – off-road sections that reduced the distance but offered new challenges.
Robin Worman, 51, an airline pilot from Somerset, who has ridden the Dragon Ride, the Devil Ride, and the Tour of Wessex sportives, said the Joker was among the best he had entered.
“It was something out of the ordinary with both zig-zag and cobbled climbs, some rough country lanes and optional off-road sections.
“It needs to be on the calendar next year, if for no other reason than to give me a chance to ride five minutes faster and achieve a gold standard!” he said.
A published list of times and photographs of the event can be found on Southern Sportive’s website.