CYCLISTS and business owners in the Forest have hit back at claims an event involving thousands of riders will cause “chaos”.

And they have taken offence at being called “Lycra-clad lemmings”, saying large-scale events are good for the area’s economy and run responsibly.

Their comments come after the Wiggle New Forest Spring Sportive, due to take place on April 13 and 14, was slated by a Forest business owner, who said thousands of cyclists speeding through the forest would pose a danger to livestock and people.

But Peter Holgate, who owns a computer services company in Fordingbridge, said: “That person’s outburst was alarmingly bigoted, with insults aimed squarely at cyclists in the New Forest. Local businesses need and rely on visitors for support and in my opinion this person’s attitude is disgusting.”

Arron Breedon, from Fordingbridge, who manufactures water sports equipment, said: “In a time when the economy needs all the help it can get and the time of the year when families are planning their summer holidays I am completely amazed that someone can or would voice such opinions and insults.

“The event is great and if car drivers find it frustrating to be stuck behind a bike on a public road they are probably not in the right frame of mind to be driving safely.”

Iain Locke, from Lymington, who runs a wholesale company, said: “This is completely crazy, criticising cyclists.

“The message it gives out is that the New Forest is an unwelcoming place to visit. This isn’t the case.”

Bike shop owner Mike Cherret from Ringwood said: “When these cycling events are on we can see the rise in customers through our door. They are great for business.

“Cyclists come and stay for a weekend, often with their families, and spend time enjoying the Forest before, during and after the events.

“My team at the shop have many years of cycling experience in the New Forest and none of us have ever experienced a New Forest pony or cow being frightened by a bike.”

Martin Barden, of UK Cycling Events, which organises the event, said: “To call cyclists ‘Lycra-clad Lemmings’ is frankly rude and insulting.

“To say 4,000 cyclists will block the road and cause danger or block the road from emergency vehicle access is completely wrong.

“We do not have a mass start but release riders in small groups every couple of minutes over a 2.5-hour period, to avoid bunching on the roads. We have an age range from six to 83 years old, so it is clearly not a competition. Many of our riders are mums and dads, doctors and nurses.

“We have safety signage, marshals and medics, and British Cycling, the police and Safety Advisory Group are happy with our format.

“Generally locals support the event and are pleased about the economic boost it provides.”