MORE than 1,000 riders lined up for the start of the 12th LiDBA sponsored bicycle ride at Bohunt School in Liphook on Sunday and organisers are hoping to top last year's record £52,000 raised for local charities.

All eyes turned to the skies as the countdown began for the start of the "elite" ride.

But the rain held off until the end of the ride and as organisers and stallholders cleared the Bohunt at the end of the day, the heavens opened and torrential rain fell for the rest of the afternoon.

Members of LiDBA had worked hard to keep the sponsored ride as safe as possible as the number of entries continues to soar year after year.

This year safety around the Bohunt at the start, where hundreds of riders converge and queue for registration, was more tightly organised than ever, with every precaution taken to make the start of the ride problem-free.

As 10 am drew closer, hundreds of cyclists of every age and standard of fitness, riding every kind of bicycle, waited for the off.

There were firefighters in full kit and helmets, riding for the Firemen's Benevolent Fund, there were outrageously dressed "jockeys" riding for the Methodist Amateur Dramatic group, there were teams for the Scouts, for sports clubs and for many local charities.

At 10 am the "elite" riders sped off up the Longmoor Road and out towards Rake and Petersfield.

This special group of "serious" cyclists would be home and hanging up their cycle clips before most of the rest of us had even negotiated the dreaded Lynchmere Hill.

Shortly after the last lycra-ed elite bottom vanished from view, the huge snake of "ordinary" cyclists began to weave its way out of the Bohunt entrance.

The roads were lined with wellwishers and there were roars of encouragement as nearly a thousand riders began their 25-mile marathon down towards Petersfield.

Veterans of the ride knew the first hurdle was the long slow slope out of Rake and as they passed the Sun Inn, hundreds of cyclists put their backs into it and worked their way up the incline, knowing if they couldn't at least ride this one, there was no hope for distant Rogate or Lynchmere.

Then it was plain sailing down the bypass and round the corner for the first welcome drink break.

It was just after 11 am, with at least another hour yet to go for many riders who were just approaching the second challenge of the ride, Rogate Hill.

Spirits were not helped by cheerful marshals announcing with a smile: "The first cyclists have just made it home."

Hurrah! For the first time in five years, for some riders there was the success of actually riding up the hill, albeit it at a slower rate than some of those who had dismounted and walked.

There was another well-earned drink at the top of the long hill which marked the halfway point of the ride.

Then ever-onward passing signs heralding only nine miles, eight miles, seven miles to go until that dreaded left turn to Lynch, which meant IT was not far away.

The mood became quieter. There were looks of determination on every rider's face and then it struck, gently at first and becoming steeper and steeper. It was Lynchmere Hill.

Amazingly there were still those who rode past cheerily and some who even carried their children on a back seat or in a buggy they pulled behind.

There were those who only reached the top because chocolate bars were being dangled just out of reach. But reach the top, the vast majority of riders did.

And then the signs said two miles, and only one mile, to go before the welcome home cheers sounded from the grassy banks at the entrance to the Bohunt.

And while the riders were negotiating the main course, there was another one for the junior riders who lined up for a sponsored ride around the playing fields at the school.

And supporters waiting for riders to return took the opportunity to browse the stalls set up around the grounds after cheering cyclists off at the start.

It will be some time before organisers have a clear picture of how much money was raised on Sunday. But they can take pride in another LiDBA ride, thoroughly enjoyed by cyclists, organised efficiently and with every safety precaution taken.

Gordon Hall for LiDBA told The Herald: "We were delighted with the way the ride went this year and we would like to thank all the drivers who showed such consideration to all the riders. There were no injuries on the ride, but Owens Cycles who toured the route during the ride managed to fix an amazing 15 punctures.

"We are very grateful to our main sponsors Greenways, Barons of Hindhead and Owens Cycles who provided unstinting support."

Mr Hall added: "The main thing for riders to remember now is not to rest on their laurels, but to start getting their sponsorship money in so that we can give it out, because that's what the ride is all about."

For the record, the first man home was 16-year-old Paul Forde of Liphook and the first woman was Alton College student Cat Spinney, who was also first home last year.