The Wild Boar Chase is a charity bike ride in The Forest of Dean run by The Lions Club. There are four different rides available; The Small Boar and The Woody Boar at 20 and 23 miles, The Hog and The Full Boar at 39 and 44 miles, as well as the Humbug chase for 9-12 year olds. This is a family friendly 9 mile loop, entirely off road.
Riders enter their chosen ride beforehand but can switch to any other distance on the day. The organisers then scan a barcode on your ride number to determine which distance you are riding on the day. This is not entirely accurate as my ride result came back as one of the lower distances even though I rode the Full Boar; this may of been my fault if I missed a checkpoint.
As a mass start event with over 700 entries, bottlenecks are a major issue in the first few miles. In an attempt to reduce this risk the organisers decided this year to slightly stagger the start. The Full Boar riders would be set off first and ordered into three groups; fast 3 – 4 hour finishers going first, followed by medium fast 4 – 5 hour riders and lastly, durable but not so fast, 5 hour plus riders.
Next up would be The Hog riders, The Woody Boar, The Small Boar and finally the Humbug riders. All set off at a couple of minute intervals. This is a welcome start format, as it IS NOT a race but still manages to keep the excitement of a mass start.
As a first time participant and one of only a couple of gravel bike riders, I lined up at the front of the medium fast riders group. My target time for the event was sub 4 hr which my basic maths told me would require an average speed of 11.4mph.
When the horns blew to signal the start, the whole field surged forward towards the gate and funnelled through onto the first fireroad. Once through the gate the pace was high as riders jostled for position in the early stages. Although it is billed as not being a race, it is obvious straight away that to a large proportion of riders in the front groups this was going to be a race, albeit, an unofficial one. When 700 riders are charging down a fireroad, two and three abreast, its quite a buzz to be in that ‘pack’. Having said that, its quite clear that the majority of mountain bikers are not used to group riding; line changes were happening everywhere and there was a distinct lack of communication and hand signals among the groups.
After the first few miles the bunch had strung out and I settled into my own pace.
My setup for the ride was a steel Genesis Fugio, 700c Hunt wheels and 35mm Kenda Flintridge tyres. Not the lightest setup or the most rugged but I ride in these parts quite often with the UKGBC group rides, so I know what to expect in terms of terrain and this bike and tyre setup has worked well here in the past. All around me are mountain bikes and this event started and grew up as a MTB event, but to be honest, if you are happy to tackle a few sections of technical downhill then a gravel bike is a good choice. 80% of the ride is on fireroad.
After one and a half hours riding I was well ahead of target at 12.3mph average. The gravel bike setup and skinny tyres didn’t hold me back on the first sections of singletrack and I easily kept up with the mountain bikers around me. Surprisingly, those around me were also keeping up on the gravel and fireroad.
Another hour of pushing hard and I came to the first technical downhill sector, Rookery Lane. I had been warned of this section but did not want to be holding anyone up so I attacked it hard! Luckily, the Kenda tyres are very durable as I heard the heart stopping sound of the rim pinging on rocks and roots. I backed off a little and pulled over to let two mountain bikes past; “Fair play mate” was the shout from the second rider as he past.
With the hardest part under my belt, I pressed on with the aim of sub 4hrs in mind. A few more climbs and some nice fast descents and I arrived at the side of the River Wye, the lowest point of the route. From here, there was a fast, flat mile or so along the river before the start of the days longest climb back up from river level to the highest point of the route, at just over 760ft. I was feeling tired, but I knew this climb well. It a nice steady climb, 2 miles at an average gradient of 5.5%.
This is where my calculations for the day went astray. I was averaging 11.5mph at the bottom of the hill, and from memory I thought this was the final climb of the day with just a couple of miles of undulating or downhill to the finish. It was going to be tight to get under 4 hours, so I went as hard as I could after 40 miles in the saddle. I crested the top of the climb at 3 hours 45. Only 15 minutes for the next 4 miles!
It was slowly starting to dawn on me that this was an impossible task and I was not going to hit the target. A quick check of the elevation profile on my GPS confirmed there was still another tough climb to go and it was over a mile long. I kept plugging away but my average was slipping further away from the target.
The finish line at Speech House was a welcome sight. I crossed the line at 4hr 12 minutes (moving time) with an average of 10.7mph.
There was an array of complimentary cakes and drinks (donations for the charity box) at the finish. A welcome chance to rest weary legs and chat to other riders, who all seemed quite impressed that I had finished The Full Boar on this funny drop bar bike with skinny little tyres.
I will be returning next year to beat that 4 hr time! Maybe with slightly bigger tyres, I think 40mm would be great.
Incidentally, the fastest time on the day was 3hrs! That is insanely fast, and one of the fastest riders was on a fat bike. Respect!