If at first you don’t suceed, try and try again. After two rain-soaked and wind-battered visits to Devon to ride the Hammer Sportive in 2012 and 2013, the sun finally shone on RoadCyclingUK – well, we remained dry, at least -for our third trip to the South Hams to preview the 2014 event.
The event’s organisers have revised the routes for this year’s ride but given the, erm, lumpy topography of this part of the world, the Hammer remains one of the toughest early-season sportives on the calendar and cyclists preparing to ride on Sunday April 13 should bring their climbing legs. In return they will be rewarded with a beautiful route which delivers the best of the South Hams region.
The man behind the event, Andrew Thompson of Hammer Sports, has tweaked the three courses, removing many of the unkept, narrow farmtracks that criss-cross the area – and with it reducing the amount of climbing – and replacing them with a route which combines fast country lanes, quiet back roads and a only handful of those farmtracks, which are either leg-bendingly steep uphill, or tight and technical downhill.
The result, he says, is a route which flows better and, despite a never-ending supply of climbs, enables riders to achieve a higher average speed. We’re inclined to agree – but this remains a challenging sportive and a stern test for any rider, serving up 1,350m, 2,200m and 3,000m of climbing in 65km, 105km and 135km respectively. Riders on the day will enjoy everything we’ve come to expect from a modern sportive, including a well-signed route, free parking, massage, supports vehicles, a broom wagon, and gold, silver and bronze times, as well as the option to pre-order a post-ride meal.
Our preview ride took in the 105km Jack Hammer course: which, by and large, is either uphill or downhill for its entire length, with a succession of short but steep ascents which delivery plenty in the way of challenging pitches – up to 20 per cent – and the jagged shark’s teeth of our Strava route profile is testament to that.
We spent the night before our ride at the Sun Bay Hotel: a cycling-friendly hotel with secure storage for bikes and a restaurant which serves up hearty food to fuel hungry riders. The hotel overlooks the stunning Hope Cove and is only a five-mile drive – or, if you wish to inflict more suffering before and after the sportive, ride – from the event HQ at Salcombe Rugby Club.
The rolling route tests the legs from the start but the real action begins after the town of Kingsbridge, following perhaps the only flat road on the route, with a hairpinned climb which rewards riders with stunning views of Slapton Sands. The road then drops to Blackpool Sands, where the pristine sand and turqoise waters threaten to take your eyes off the fast descent.
From there the road leaves the coast, heading inland onto the moors and the climbs keeping coming. None are particularly high, with the route topping out at a shade over 700 feet, but they appear endlessly on the horizon. Thomson is a regular visitor to Belgium and the South Hams’ climbs remind him on the country’s bergs: short, steep and in plentiful supply. The event, as a result, will take on something of a Belgian flavour, with waffles at the three feed stations (two for the short Trip Hammer route) to replenish dwindling energy supplies.
The final climb serves as one final Hammer blow. It’s nicknamed Salcombe’s Alpe d’Huez thanks to its five hairpins, climbing from the beautiful Salcombe Sands on a road which serves the multi-million pound second homes which scatter the hillside. A maximum gradient of 16 per cent is more than enough to empty the legs before a short descent to the finish, where riders will arrive in the knowledge that they’ve cracked a tough but rewarding ride – and they’ll have sore legs to prove it.
Routes: 65km, 105km, 135km
Entry fee: £25.99 (65km), £29.99 (105km, 135km)
Website: Hammer Sports