THEY are the highly controversial events that attract thousands of fitness fanatics to the New Forest.
But highways chiefs are threatening to regulate mass cycle rides in the ancient woodland and heath – following a spate of complaints about the behaviour of those taking part.
Hampshire County Council says it may be forced to intervene unless organisers draw up a code of conduct in a bid to reduce the impact of the events, which often attract huge crowds of entrants.
County council chairman Cllr Ken Thornber said: “Competitive cycling is changing the character of the Forest for the worse. If the organisers don’t agree to enforce a code of conduct it falls to us – the local highway authority – to take action to regulate these events.
“We cannot allow masses of cyclists to sweep down our lanes two or three abreast at high speed, disregarding horse riders and endangering residents and animals.”
Describing the New Forest as the jewel in Hampshire’s crown, Cllr Thornber added: “We will share it, but it must be on our terms.”
When asked to expand on his comments, Cllr Thornber said the county council could decide to apply for a by-law giving the authority greater powers.
“Every event would have to be licensed, which would enable us to insist that there’s a limit on the number of cyclists taking part, plus more stewards and a greater number of police to police it,” he said.
“The organisers would also have to clear up after the event. If not there would be a charge.”
Ironically, Cllr Thornber’s comments come just weeks after cycling in the Forest was given a £5.7m boost by the Government.
The scheme includes improvements to existing cycle routes at a £300,000 cycle hire facility in Brockenhurst – the village Cllr Thornber represents.
Organised cycling events in the Forest have sparked countless complaints about the speed and volume of riders using narrow country lanes.
Earlier this year a pony round-up at New Park, Brockenhurst, home of the New Forest Show, was cancelled amid safety fears because cyclists were due to use neighbouring land as a car park.
As reported in the Daily Echo, horse riders have urged show bosses to stop hiring out their land to the organisers of cycle events.
Last night Tony Hockley, chairman of New Forest Equestrian Association, said: “It’s reassuring that the county council is keen to bring these events under control so that numbers don’t keep escalating.
“It’s the sheer scale of the things that is causing the problem.
“We’ve seen more than 5,000 cyclists on a weekend and they don’t want to slow down for other users, which is what makes it dangerous for horse riders.
“Just crossing the road is extremely difficult if the cyclists won’t give way, which most of them don’t.”
UK Cycling Events refused to comment on Cllr Thornber’s remarks.
However, the organisation has defended the New Forest 100 Sportive that took place last month by highlighting the economic benefit to the area.
A spokesman said: “The event generated more than £322,000 for the New Forest economy, with 29 per cent of riders staying and eating locally.
“It was also pleasing to see that out of the riders who drove to the event, nearly 70 per cent shared (their vehicle) with at least one other person.
“Finally, 100 per cent of 1,163 riders surveyed said they would visit the Forest again this year, thus providing future economic benefits for the region.
“While Sportives are not welcomed by a small minority of residents, the benefits are certainly appreciated, with local accommodation providers and eating establishments receiving a welcome boost.”
Cllr Thornber, former leader of the county council, was speaking at the annual Beaulieu Estate dinner.
He listed some of the traffic issues in the Forest, including pollution caused by vehicles queuing in Lyndhurst and lorries passing within 3ft of ancient cottages in Beaulieu.
He said: “A Lyndhurst bypass was first proposed in Hampshire County Council minutes in 1900 – but 113 years later we’re no nearer a solution. Agencies will not agree a road cutting through beautiful areas and the people of Lyndhurst will not agree to a road bisecting the village.”
Cllr Thornber said HGVs were travelling through Beaulieu to avoid the Ampress Bridge, which carries the railway line over the A337 at Lymington.
He added: “Lowering the road would cost several million pounds and wouldn’t meet value-for-money targets in today’s economic climate. But dismantling the bridge and replacing the railway line with a bus route would be unthinkable.
“We must find solutions for the traffic problems at Lyndhurst and Lymington.
However, I fear that both are years – and millions of pounds – in the future.”
‘I was verbally abused by riders’ CLLR Thornber, former leader of the county council, says he was verbally abused by cyclists outside his New Forest home last year.
He and his wife were driving along a narrow country lane in Sway when they saw about a dozen riders speeding towards them.
Speaking at the time, he said: “They were two abreast and clearly cycling against the clock.
“I pulled over as far as I could but was still slightly obstructing them and received a mouthful of Anglo-Saxon abuse.
“I accept the right of cyclists to use the roads. However, they should stick to the main routes and not use narrow, twisting lanes.”
Mass rides one of the biggest issues facing Forest authorities
THE “explosion” in the number of cyclists visiting the Forest is one of the biggest issues facing the authorities.
Meetings of the Verderers, the National Park Authority and other organisations are often dominated by debates about the increasing impact of the sport.
Much of the anger felt by Forest residents is aimed at events organised by UK Cycling.
Anti-cycling campaigners tried to wreck the New Forest Spring Sportive in April by placing drawing pins in the road and vandalising more than 1,000 route signs.
The saboteurs struck again last month. They attempted to disrupt the Wiggle New Forest 100 Sportive event by ripping down signs.
Speaking at the time organiser Martin Barden warned that cyclists could have been endangered.
He said that his team were forced to make constant checks to keep one step ahead of the saboteurs.
Another Wiggle event is due to take place on December 8, with thousands of cyclists using gravel tracks in the Brockenhurst area.
The Commoners’ Defence Association, which represents the owners of the Forest’s famous ponies, is among the organisations worried about the growth of cycling.
Speaking at the Court of Verderers, the chairman, Dr Graham Ferris, said: “Huge numbers of cyclists are travelling silently at speed on narrow country lanes – at great risk to residents and livestock.”
Brockenhurst Parish Council is also concerned. A spokesman said: “The increasing number of participants, and repeated examples of unacceptable behaviour, have led the council to conclude that something must be done to regulate mass cycling events in the New Forest.
“There have been several actions by protesters aimed at disrupting the events, which demonstrates the strength of feeling over such large Sportives.
“We do not of course condone any illegal actions, some of which have safety implications.”