REVIEW: Chilterns Wildwood kicks off the CX Sportive Season
Arctic blasts sees riders battle with sub-zero winds, thick mud and much more
By Mark Harding, Gran Fondo Guide
Hundreds of riders turned up early on very cold Sunday morning to tackle the opening CX Sportive of the season, the Chilterns Wildwood on February 12th. Nestled in the Chilterns, an area of outstanding beauty and one of the best places to cycle west of London, hundreds of riders signed on at Woodcote Primary School to tackle three courses of 40, 60 and 80 km.
Wearing number 125, a balaclava and several layers including winter gloves, I lined up with a cheerful bunch, intending to tackle the full 50 mile / 80 km course. A bitter “Russian High” saw a starting temperature of 0C.
After a safety briefing from the ever affable Martin Harrison from Cycle Events, I set off with the lead group looking forward to the day’s challenge, with slight trepidation.
Luckily there wasn’t a frost, however it had been very wet. I chatted with a couple of riders as we warmed up discussing the oncoming off-road sections ahead.
We headed south towards Maple Durham and the first off road part was around a farm which was tarmaced but ankle deep in mud. I settled into a rhythm pacing myself. Soon enough I hit the first off-road section called “Maple Durnham Single-Track”. This started off, as mud and climbed up through woods. Although it was cold it had rained quite a bit and the mud was pretty thick, like riding through treacle. I then descended some deep rutted, limestone single track which was great fun!
The climb towards Colin’s End on the road was tough, as I hit a strong headwind that brought tears to my eyes and had me clenching my teeth. In fact I think I lost all feeling in my front teeth it was that cold!
I was delighted to turn sharp left onto “Ladygrove Byway” the next off-road section. This off-road section was fairly technical, lots of mud, puddles and ruts. I changed down and powered through, keeping my cadence high. I popped a small wheelie over a tree branch which gave me some good traction.
A downhill section of single track led me to Goring and back onto the road which was a long uphill drag into the biting headwind towards Crays Pond. It happened to be the local flint hill TT course HCC/012.
The next off-road section was aptly named “Hell Hill Decent”. Fairly technical, my hands were aching from all the braking, but it was great fun! Being from a road riding background, my off-road riding skills are getting better and better, but there’s some way to go for me to be "up there" with some of the experienced MTB and CX boys! Some of the descending skills I’ve witnessed in CX Sportives are truly impressive and it’s so much fun mixing it up, rather than just riding road all the time.
I was now on the Icknield Road. The Icknield Road is an ancient trackway that goes from Norfolk to Wiltshire. It follows the chalk escarpment that includes the Berkshire Downs and Chiltern Hills. It is said to be one of the oldest roads of which the route can still be traced, being one of the few long-distance trackways to have existed before the Romans occupied Britain.
The next off-road section was pretty interesting, Beech Lane! It went from wet mud, then mud like peanut butter, opening up to slick mud on grass and onto deep farm track black mud. Great fun powering through, keeping my cadence high, it then started to climb uphill so picking a good line was my intention to get the best traction.
I reached the first feed station, met by the very helpful Phil Harrison from Cycle Events. Bananas, flap jacks and all sorts of goodies to eat and my favourite, Jelly Babies! Phil agreed it was rather chilly so I pressed on wanting to keep warm.
It was pretty cold and I found myself riding faster, a bit counter intuitive! The next section, for me was hell on earth, back on the road, running past Chiltern Park aerodrome. It was exposed to the killer headwind. I took the phrase “steaming nostril” to new dimensions! I turned into Bottom Lane which wound its way uphill and into woods which was great for shelter. Bang! Full front wheel blowout, bummer.
Got off the bike, changed the tube, but it had a pretty big split in the tire, the new tube was bulging through. Thanks to the 2 chaps on MTB’s who stopped and quickly helped me slip the last bit of the tire back onto the rim.
I had packed a spare base layer and gloves in my back pack, so I changed these over to keep warm. At this stage I thought the best course of action was to call it a day. Due to the cleverly designed courses and signage, I was on the 80k/40k course, so after I remembered that, I continued on.
The CX Wildwood course really is very well designed. As an early season opener, you’re never more than few miles from the start. It was a breeze getting back to the HQ, chatting with other hardy souls out on the course. I went straight inside and got a hot cup of tea and a bowl of veggie chilli. Result!
So I managed the 40k course and if I hadn’t have torn my tire I would have carried on and done the full 80km. My stoppage cost me a bit of time so I was presented with a Bronze for the 40km. A bit disappointing, but hey, at least I got in a good ride, with good company and great support from the CX Sportive organizers.
Here’s my Strava stuff: https://www.strava.com/activities/863598984
Wildwood was my second CX Sportive having ridden the Whitehorse CX last summer which was crazy fun. Coming from a road background it gave me a new emphasis, something to train for over the winter months and I’m pretty much hooked on the Gravel/CX scene. It’s a great excuse to have loads of bikes too!
Event organizer Martin Harrison commented “Turnout was really good despite the cold weather. It’s good to see so many people on bikes this time of year.”
Commenting on the CX Sportive series, Martin Harrison said “This is the seventh year for the Chilterns Wildwood CX, the original CX Sportive. In previous years we’ve seen people riding a mixture of MTB and off-road bikes, but in the last few years, CX/Gravel bikes have taken a larger percentage of the overall types of bikes ridden."
"In 2017 we expect this to be around 60% of all bikes ridden on our CX Sportives, to be CX/Gravel bikes, which is great to see.”
You can find the Chiltern Wildwood results and photos here, courtesy of photographer, Rob Barker: http://www.cxsportive.com/results/chilterns-wildwood-cx-2017-results-photos
About the 2017 CX Sportive Series
Surrey Hills Gravelcross CX, 5th March 2017
The next event the Surrey Hills Gravelcross makes it possibly the most ‘roadie friendly’ event to cross over to CX for the first time with lots of roads, although it still has plenty of dirt track and gravel sections. Somewhere between a Flanders Spring Classic and a US gravel grinder, but with a distinctly Surrey Hills flavour, it’s fast paced and ideal for the early season conditions.
The course has been re-designed this year to a really crossover friendly event from road. It concentrates on the forest fire roads in the Surrey hills for the off road sections making the ideal event for anyone coming from road riding who has the strength and endurance, but maybe not so much in the off road handling technique yet – that sounds familiar!
CX Sportives like to strike a balance where they are accessible to rider trying them for the first time, but doesn’t place limits on the potential of the bikes and the riding. It’s a developing format and new riders will get the most out of it learning as they go.
South Downs Gravelcross CX, 9th April 2017
With 76, 60 & 52km course options, the South Downs Gravelcross chops and changes between winding tarmac lanes, tracks and bridleways, and features sections of the iconic South Downs Way, it’s the ideal early spring outing. The course variety will keep you on your toes, the backdrop will keep you inspired.
Battle in the Bowl, 21st May 2017
Cyclocross meets gravel racing an epic setting! Hosted within Matterley Bowl near Winchester, the Battle in the Bowl features two hour races over a stunning four mile circuit, featuring flat-out fast gravel tracks, a breathtaking grass track climb around the rim of the bowl itself, a flying wooded descent back to the arena and over a mile of taped, technical classic ‘cross! 90% of the circuit will be viewable from the massive arena, making Battle in the Bowl a visually inspiring experience for racers and spectators alike!
CX Century: The South Downs Way, 8th July 2017
Renowned as a supreme physical rather than technical challenge, the South Downs Way is the most high profile answer to the long distance US gravel scene that we have. But so much more, too. The huge climbs and sweeping descents wouldn’t be out of place among the Tuscan Strade Bianchi, while the expansive coastal views are quintessential British beauty. Just 500 places will be available in this first year!
Ridgeway 100: Century to the Stones, 5th August 2017
Fast paced and perfect for tempo riding, the Ridgeway gives you plenty to get your teeth into. The route keeps you high up and offers continuous sweeping views, with just enough dips and diversions along the ridge to keep your climbing / descending muscles ticking over! The surface only occasionally gets semi-technical, leaving you with 100km of very rideable trail to enjoy.
White Horse Ridge CX, 24th September 2017
The Ridgeway; its Europe’s oldest highway, used continuously for over 5,000 years. And it also happens to be a ribbon of near perfect riding for CX and gravel bikes. The White Horse Ridge CX is all about the terrain! Unlike most of the CX Sportive events White Horse Ridge is 95% off road. The Ridgeway mixes mile upon mile of grass, gravel, dirt and chalk track, riding high above sweeping views of the Oxfordshire plain. The terrain is perfect for CX
Gold Rush CX, 15th Oct 2017
The Gold Rush is an intense ride, featuring 75, 55 & 38km routes, crisscrossing the lanes and droves of the Chalke Valley en route to Shaftesbury’s iconic Gold Hill, then brining you back to the start on a series of long, fast CX perfect drove roads.
Highlights include Zig-Zag Hill, which boasts the most hairpins of any hill in Britain; gradients of up to 20% dropping into the steep, Chalke Valley, and of course those long, straight, gently descending drove roads to the finish.
With all CX Sportive events, riders will enjoy; a choice of course distances (40,60,80k), Full course marking, detailed route map, Support vehicle / mechanical assistance on the course, Free CNP energy drink, Support/feed station on route (80& 60k only. Drinks station on 40k route), Free allocation of energy snacks for each rider at support stations and finish, on site catering – Hot and cold food and drinks, Electronic rider timing, immediate results for each rider at the finish with Bronze, Silver and Gold standards and Website results service
At CX Sportive events, you can concentrate on riding and they do the rest.
For full information and to register, please go to http://www.cxsportive.com
Make sure you add one of these to your Bucket List, you won't be disappointed!