We feel sportives divide opinion these days. Years ago when we first got into road cycling, we used to use sportives to learn some new routes and roads, challenge ourselves on hills we hadn't known about and test ourselves against other riders. Fast forward to 2018 and there are literally millions (slight exaggeration!) of sportives throughout the year at home and abroad. Companies and brands have realised that sportives are a revenue which can be milked. We're speaking here in reference to our own experiences. With our good pal Ali, we took part in the Gran Fondo Northern Ireland last year and although the route and it's backdrops were stunning, the organisers themselves were far from that descriptive as you could be. It just had a feeling of being thrown together with not much thought, example being the food stops were probably the worse we've ever experienced coupled that with the police stopping riders from completing a certain section because the road was being open to traffic (it was a closed road event), it annoyed a lot of riders. Even the event photography was disappointing, poor Ali should of had a cracking picture of him climbing Spelga Dam with a stunning view behind but ended up with basically someone else's wheel covering his face with a very boring angle of the neighbouring field! Not surprising to know that he didn't buy it...
On the other side of that coin though is that you do have some companies who can do it right. The people who run the London Revolution, Threshold Sports, know hospitality. You are very much looked after in every way and the whole sportive had a festival feel to it. So it can be done well but is there a sportive out there which ticks all the boxes and covers your good deed for the day by sending all the proceeds to the local charities? Yes there is. It's the Little Lumpy.
We've had this on our to do list for a couple of years now because of the location, it is more deep into Surrey than we do like to venture but the route itself wouldn't look out of place in our The One series. We threw it out there on Twitter for anyone who would like to give it a go and we ended up having a mini chaingang forming. God Twitter pals Nick, Mark and Daz with newbie Rich Taylor joining the ranks accompanied Chris D and myself in tackling this very undulating route. For once, we didn't know jack about any of the climbs so we were going in blind. HQ was in the leafy town of Haslemere and straight away we realised the rollout to this ride was on top of a small climb, that's great knowing that it comes after 100 miles of pedalling and 8000ft of climbing!
You could tell from the off this annual sportive is a soft spot for quite a few riders. We arrived as the first wave was going out. You had a local radio station supporting the event for the day but if didn't have time to grab breakfast, there was a bacon buttie on offer for free for those who were getting the tummy rumbles. Lovely moment though was being signed in by one of the main volunteers Aine (pronouned Awn-ya!) who was running the social media for the event. Not sure who felt more starstruck! We were hoping to ride our new purchase for this event but without going into too much detail because it is a long story, the delivery of the Planet X AeroRacer had issues so it was down to our trusty Tarmac to get us round the roads of Surrey and Hampshire for the day. Probably only critique we can think of but the zip ties for putting your number on the bike were a tad short, some had just ended folding it up underneath the handlebars or zipping it at the back. One thing Gran Fondo NI did do which could be implemented for next year was they used numbered stickers that you would wrap around your seatpost, could also be cheaper for next year Little Lumpies?!
In the days leading up to this feared ride, we had switched sides from a Garminite to a Wahooligan. Our 6 year old Edge had stopped uploading so we bit the bullet and purchased an Elemnt Bolt. We only had a few rides with it so we crossed our fingers it wouldn't crash on us if we happened to get lost! All was set, GoPro was running too on our Nut-R axel mount. The weather was a little fresh to start with but we opted for no base layer or arm warmers, we started to regret that a little for the early roll out.
Straight away, the road were rolling through the back lanes of this part of Surrey, very quiet which turned out to be a theme for the day. I know it was a Sunday but was everyone having a 24hr nap?! First main climb of the day (because there were so many little ones dotted around, it was difficult to keep track of them all!) came around the 10mile mark. The climb of Rondle Wood was a steady ascent which we all kept together, even Chris managed to contain himself! There were much harder climbs to come but none had the spectacular name as Turkey Island! We glad we didn't 'wing' it because it was a short grind but it was another 'feather in the cap' for the day! Lousy puns!
At this point, Rich had a bit of a mechanical. He noticed his front brake had lost a lot of hydraulic fluid. We don't know enough about disc brakes to even comment but he had no tension in his leavers so not surprisingly, he took it very easy on the descents. For once though, our Tarmac was being quiet. Often a knocking from the bottom bracket or a creaking from the bearing somewhere will do it's best to send us insane but it was smooth for a change. Think it was trying it's hardest not to be swapped for the Planet X on future rides! The first feed stop was approaching and all the hype had been about the selection of cakes on offer. Well, the spread was ridiculous. Flapjacks, brownies, cookies, cakes, biscuits, fudge, sandwiches, bananas all made by volunteers from the local communities. It put every feed stop we have ever been at to shame! We were looking for a doggy bag to stock up on but the others wanted to get going!
The Queen climb of the route was, which would feature twice but from different approaches, was Butser Hill and it came right after the feed stop. The actual drag up to it starts from quite far out and you have to cross a few junctions to get to the actual core of the climb but it was quite a gentle ascent to the top. Most of us stayed together although Chris started to find his climbing legs and began to breakaway. The views up the top were stunning looking back into the rolling valleys. The descent back down would be the way we were coming back up later on, a narrow one track lane looked much steeper than it's sibling so we kept this in mind to save the legs for this climb.
Our favourite climb of the day though was one with another peculiar name, Little Switzerland. Now it didn't have harsh switchbacks but it did snake around the woods and the road surface was very good. So good that we all started to push on a little more and the group started to fracture. All good fun because we all know how the roads are like at the moment, potholes and cracks all over the place so when you get a road like this, you've got to enjoy it haven't you?! Ironically, this climbs actually starts from a town called Steep, the climb wasn't really so if you're ever around this way, this is a climb to enjoy and grab a great time on!
A little kick of a climb up to feed stop 2 was so worth it as it gave way to the view of the day. A gorgeous blue sky looked down upon the fields and rolling hills of the Hampshire countryside, a sight well worth the ride so far. Again, the spread at this feed stop was just superb and was a little bit quieter as the epic route which we were following was now solely on it's own. After grabbing the opportunity for a great panoramic, a fun descent down bypassing a classic car cruise coming up, the group fractured a little as some of the group wanted to go aero! The route was heading out West and we started to feel a few aches in the legs due to the spikeness of the route but it was a testament to the group that we all naturally formed a chaingang to carry us all through the rolling roads. Another climb, another themed named road. Wheely Down. No, we're not making this stuff up!
We hadn't realised how close we were to Portsmouth and Southampton and even Nick was contemplating riding on to see his son at uni' but realised he still had to drive back to Essex! The route began to loop back East. A couple of short climbs and a fun fast descent where we all tried to keep each other's wheel brought us to the second climb of Butser Hill. Poor Mark started to get cramps which you could tell annoyed him. He is a guy in great shape and from what he was telling me, had lost a bit of weight over the years, he looks like the Sussex version of Froome. Put it this way, if you shook his hand, you'd be afraid of cracking a few fingers! He was also hydrating himself with the stuff from Elivar, designed for those of an older age and I must admit, I did give him a few digs about this! But it wasn't helping him at this stage of the ride and he began to hold back on the climbs.
Coming in to Harvesting Lane, the group began to break up. We always approach a climb with the sole intention of just getting up it so no surprise seeing Daz, Nick and Chris push ahead but even they began to fracture from eachother. The climb itself was steeper than it looked. But our 32 cassette was doing it's job. We found for once we weren't pushing squares and began to apply a cadence I think Chris would of been proud of. We passed Daz and he gave out a good shout to keep us going. Chris was out of sight but I spotted Nick's wheel so I aimed for that whilst trying not to go into the red. You didn't really get a chance to look out into the valley as because it was a single track road, looking out for traffic was more of a priority, luckily there was none otherwise I think most of us would of been forced to stop.
With the group reformed, there was still 35 miles left and plenty of climbing to conquer. I was a little worried as to how the legs would fair in this last third, I normally like to consume a carby meal half way through a century ride and although the feed stops were excellent, had I had enough fuel left to keep the pace up because the average was around 16.5mph which for us, was a decent pace for a century. Our GoPro at this point had run out of juice even though we had brought two batteries and for the first time we heard a worrying sound from the bike. Looking down at the axel, the GoPro housing was spinning round frantically. Pulled over quite quickly as I didn't want the front wheel to suddenly roll off or the GoPro to be splattered across the road, I swapped the mount over with the actual nut I had been carrying around with me. Mile 80, I looked up and they had all gone. Every corner I took, I thought they would be there waiting but no, the group had probably had enough of my company and decided to crack on. Fair enough, I had the map and 20 miles weren't too far...
But it was at this point, the legs starting to fail dramatically. It was like pedalling through PVA glue. I even had to stop to wolf down some Haribo but even they didn't do much. The last main climb was a pure undulating rough road winding through Barfold Wood. The climb of Blackdown was horrid. Hated it. This wasn't Little Lumpy's fault although it was their route! But the legs were sapped of everything! Even a last minute feed stop where I tried to take on more water failed. I checked Strava after, it took me 30mins to cycle 4.5miles! But give ourselves a little credit, we didn't stop and we kept ploughing on. We did have one guy who overtook us a couple of times but then had to stop 20m up the road with cramp. We were constantly yo-yoing up this pure drag of a climb!
Finally over, we tried to take in some more food with a slow munch on one of our SiS bars. A rolling downhill cruise into the actual town of Haslemere, would be interesting to see who forgot about the kick up into HQ? Because I think cramp man did. He overtook us again and as Woolmer Hill bent round to the right, the gradient kicked into the high teens. He had to stop. I just made sure the legs kept turning. We actually asked one of the riders, Frank who also helped out promoting Little Lumpy and said hello to us on route as he spotted who we were (more celeb' spotting!), about Woolmer and he replied with an evil smirk that the ride used to finish in the town but someone had the bright idea of including Woolmer too. You evil evil people!
Finally rolled into HQ and the others were already sitting down having their chilli! Now, that was tough. A century ride with 8400ft in total. Our ass was sore so sitting down wasn't what we wanted but a couple of cans of coke did the trick to wake us up! The local radio station was playing out some reggae, probably to chill everyone out. We then found out it was Mark's first ever century ride. We were touched we could be there with him to share the moment! Once again, the riding company was second to none. Pleasure to meet a newbie in Rich, Nick, Daz and Mark as usual a joy ride with and Chris, we've said it once and we will say it again, just go racing mate!
As for Little Lump. Well, what a homely sportive! Run by volunteers raising money for some very worthy charities, the feed stops are just amazing. You pay to ride the mainstream sportives and you'll arrive at the feed stops and you'll grab a couple of gels, maybe a random fruit bar and top up on the fluid and off you go. With Little Lumpy, you get a picnic! You can choose to a range of distances but with the others, we wanted to a whole day out on the bike so we opted for the epic. Be warned, it's a toughie. Not much flat to recover on and we feel it wouldn't be out of place on our The One series. The route is signed very well although the red epic signs did tend to camouflage into the dark spots in the woods, maybe a fluorescent pink next year perhaps? There really is not much else to improve on though, the weather was very kind and that helped because some of the country lanes were a tad rough in places, if it had poured down with rain, a cyclocross bike would of been appropriate so do a rain dance if you decide to put this in your 2019 calendar. Get in early too as there's early bird prices so give Little Lumpy a check out if this write up has intrigued your insanity!