The closed road sportive is the holy grail for organisers of mass participation rides, but can be very difficult to achieve for all but the biggest events owing to the unavoidable disruption to traffic.
Southern Sportive believe their Wight Riviera event, to be held on the Isle of Wight on Sunday May 20, represents the best of both worlds: closed roads for the opening 25km before opening out into a further choice of three routes that criss cross the island.
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We joined members of the cycling press to ride the aforesaid opening 25km, taking in the challenging cliff edge climbs and taking in the stunning sea views on a short loop from Yarmouth Harbour.
A popular misconception about the Isle of Wight is that it is flat. Nothing could be further from the truth. Its undulating geography provides a good challenge for the cyclist and features climbs that are challenging rather than downright dispiriting.
Any confusion between the island’s terrain and that of east Anglia is dispelled almost immediately with a brisk climb from the pretty town of Yarmouth to Norton, affording views north over the Solent.
The road then drops away as the route heads south to Freshwater along quiet, twisting roads, that, in tandem with the descent, combine to provide a real impression of speed.
We stop to regroup outside the Albion Hotel and enjoy oranges as Southern Sportive’s Phil Harrision describes the challenge and pleasure of the road ahead: the climb of Compton Down.
Long and steady, we found it easy to build a rhythm and were distracted from the effort by the frankly breathtaking views of the seascape. The following descent, also directly adjacent to the sea, was thrilling, and provided an opportunity to tuck low behind the handlebars and enjoy the effects of gravity.
As the descent ended and became flat, coast road, we turned left and began the northerly journey back to Yarmouth, past Shalcombe towards Thorley on quiet, rural roads, surrounded by open country on either side. The road climbs steadily before flattening for the few short miles past Thorley on the run back to Yarmouth.
A quick loop around the historic town past the ferry terminal ends the 25km closed road event, and will send those tackling the 62km ‘short distance’, a 116km ‘mid distance’ ride, and a ‘full distance’ ride of 154km on their way.