bikebritain News October 28, 2010

bikebritain rides the South Downs 100 Sportive

My final organised cycling 'foray' for 2010 was to be the South Downs 100 Sportive, the last road ride in the 'Super Series' organised by wiggle and UK Cycling Events. Having participated in the 'Haywards Heath Howler' (see previous bikebritain article), I knew the organisation and most importantly the route would be challenging - a fitting finale for my exploits in 2010. I was also determined to complete 100 miles and this provided the perfect test - 103 undulating miles through mid Sussex. I have recently cycled over some of the proposed route with a former colleague of mine so I had first hand experience of some of the hills on offer. What's more I would effectively be cycling alone. I was going to take the opportunity to ride round at my own pace, stick in the smaller front ring and see how I managed. On previous longer rides I had managed them OK, but I could not claim to be comfortable. I was hoping that this ride would be different.
The Start/Finish was at Chichester, just 25 miles down the road from where I live. The weather could not have been any better. Although it was still dark the skies where clear. It was going to be a chilly but beautiful day. For once I had actually fitted the bike into the car the night before. I did my usual faffing about, wondering whether I should put my leggings on - I did - and I was off. After a number of wrong turnings and hopeful sightings of the ‘Start’ at Chichester College I eventually arrived. Some more obligatory faffing, and I was ready to ride. I made my way to the start, waited for the 15 riders ahead of me to set off and then it was our turn. The master of ceremony made a couple of jokes about the amount of kit I had on my helmet (front light, rear light and micro camcorder) and we were off. 
Off and quickly climbing
We were soon climbing, riding past the racecourse at Goodwood. The sun was slowly rising and you could tell it was going to be fantastic day to be on the bike. It was pretty fresh and I was glad I had decided to use my leggings. The course basically took us North-East from Chichester heading up to Petworth and skirting the parameter of Haslemere. From there we wound our way West, past Midhurst and Petersfield, underneath the A3 on the farthest point of the 'Epic' ride loop at Warnford and then back to past Clanfield and Havant to Chichester. Despite living relatively nearby I had hardly explored any of this countryside - and I was looking forward to riding roads that were familiar but new to me.
Spurious Signage
My only criticism of the 'Howler' was the signage - and the same went for this event. I was riding the longest route - which was just as well because I didn't see any of the course splits. By the sound of things this was the case for a number of other riders too. The standard route was meant to be 70 miles - but many folks missed the split just before Petworth and continued along the Epic route. Ah well - at least it wasn't raining! There were a couple of very stiff climbs in during the first 50 miles. I plodded my way up the first overtaking a couple of guys as I went. What I didn't realise was that when the hill disappeared from view it went up again - and that was event steeper. By the top I was blowing heavily. It was a slightly different story on the next hill. This time you could see the top but it just went on and on, getting steeper and steeper. It was claiming a few victims as well - folks were walking up it, their cleats crunching on the stones as they struggled on. I wasn't going to have a Porlock re-run - so just dug in and ground out the ascent. It was ok. Terrific view of mid Sussex at the top though. Worth the effort. Some of the road surfaces were abject. The rain had brought significant amounts of detritus on the road and there were potholes everywhere. You needed to have your wits about you. There were some sneaky bends as well. I recall one descent where I pulled a left hander but got my speed completely wrong - too fast - and found myself worryingly close to the centre of the road.  
Liphook, 'Badger Down' and a man called 'Rob'
During the middle of the course I felt I was entering a Liphook time-warp. For about an hour every sign I looked at said Liphook. I couldn’t get away from the place. We were, in fact, doing a circle, allowing the fun route to join up with the rest of the ride. Mildly disconcerting though! I also noticed my third dead badger in the hedge - presumably hit by a car. Continuing West, we reached the part of the route where the Epic route took me towards East and West Meon. I had been talking to one chap who was attempting the standard route and was enjoying his company. Unfortunately when it came to the split I quickly, well immediately, found myself on my own. No big deal, but a shame when a conversation is prematurely brought to an end. I ploughed on regardless and took the 'Brown Sign' indicating 'Old Winchester Hill'. It wasn’t as tricky as I thought it was going to be, but I did need to stop half way for a comfort break. Grinding his way past me at this point was a Welshman called 'Rob'. I knew he was representing the principality because he was wearing a Jersey with a Welsh Dragon on it. I caught up with him and shared a few words. He was working hard - and a big lad. After a bit of banter we mutually decided riding together would be a good move. His mates had dropped him and I didn't have any. Sorted! We arrived at the final food stop, refuelled and learned that we had one last hill ahead. And it was 'biggy'. 20 miles to go. 
The riders ahead were walking up it, though there was no way we were doing that. We toiled, we climbed, we ascended. We reached the top - out of breathe - but the view was impressive. (The slider image is of myself and Rob reaching the top). You could comfortably see the channel from this ridge of the Downs. From here it was relatively plain sailing. The route was either downhill or flat - and we made full use of the relief. We overtook a number of other folks, including a guy on a touring bike who I had spoken to earlier in the day. I was pleased to see the finish line - but not relieved. I had paced it perfectly. 
Final Analysis
In the end I completed the course in a 'bronze' time of 7 hrs and 6 minutes. That was ok - but I was more pleased with the fact that I wasn't feeling half dead and had actually felt quite strong in the closing miles. I was asked for a few words after finishing the ride by film maker Ross Chapman - and there's a sound-bite of me at the end of the video talking about the last food stop! I've included it on the video section of bikebritain. I did attempt some head-cam video action myself, but it turned out quite tricky to turn the device on and off with a gloved finger. Need to work on that for next time. So now I'm looking forward to the first wiggle ride of 2011....
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