A WAR of words has broken out in the New Forest as the area braces itself for the first mass-cycling event of the year.
Both sides in the debate have gone on the offensive ahead of the two-day Wiggle New Forest Spring Sportive, which starts tomorrow.
More than 2,000 cyclists have entered the event, sparking fears that the Forest will witness a repeat of the problems experienced last year.
Cyclists were accused of endangering the safety of walkers and horse riders, swearing at motorists and even defecating at the roadside.
Now opponents of the latest event have published posters urging residents to alert the authorities if any of the entrants cause trouble.
The posters list 15 towns and villages across the Forest where critics claim incidents could occur over the weekend.
They add: “This notice is to alert local residents and visitors to the New Forest of this abuse of our tranquil locality and warn that this event could put members of the public at risk as they go about their daily lives.”
The sell-out ride has also come under fire from the New Forest Equestrian Association.
Chairman Tony Hockleysaid: “Many people will obviously be unable to avoid using parts of the route while the event takes place.
“They will need to take very great care as there will be a fast-moving stream of entrants for several hours each day.”
But cyclists have hit back in a series of tweets defending the event and accusing its opponents of Nimbyism.
Rod Howell tweeted: “Some of the words in that (poster) are disgraceful. Staying away this year.”
New Forest Cyclist added: “I’m a local, lived in area all my life, unlike this vocal, anti-cycling, Nimby minority.”
Another tweeter said: “The allegations against cyclists have no basis in fact whatsoever. Utter fiction.”
The poster which has angered cyclists
Most of the previous Wiggle rides were based in the Brockenhurst area, including New Park – home of the New Forest Show. But organisers were banned from the site last year after a pony round-up on neighbouring land was cancelled on safety grounds.
As reported in the Daily Echo, this weekend’s event is being hosted by Matchams Leisure Park, near Ringwood. Cyclists have a choice of two routes – one of 84 miles and one of 62.
The UK Cycling Events website says: “Riding with 2,000+ like-minded riders will ensure you have a magical experience.”
Wiggle boss Martin Barden sought to calm fears surrounding the event when he addressed a meeting of Ringwood Town Council last month.
He pledged that extra marshals would be deployed in a bid to prevent cyclists from causing any upset.
He also said the numbers worn by riders would be more visible, making it easier for any bad behaviour to be reported and dealt with.