It’s hard to put into words my relief at this race. After a seemingly endless list of events where I have pulled out – it’s nice to get one on the board and one as iconic is a bonus.
I was given a 07:00am start, which meant that I booked into the Holiday Inn Express Wandsworth – a hotel a couple of miles from the start line. The hotel did offer to store the bike in the luggage room and a quick peek showed a half dozen bikes stored there, but I elected to take it with me into the hotel room. I was a little disappointed that they did offer breakfast until after 7am so I would have to grab my own brekkie. On the morning I had a Weetabix Drink, 1 croissant, 1 banana and crept out of the room at 06:00am.
The start was well organised, with plenty of space, plenty of toilets with no queues (bonus). But as we were about to set off, a certain wet liquid started leaking from the clouds above.
There were 3 main start times, 06:30, 07:00 and 07:30. The officials were checking the numbers on the start which were colour coded to match the start time. At 07:00 we began inching forward towards the start line, it took approx 10 mins to get over the start line.
Part 1 – 16 Miles to the Rugby Field
The only way I can describe this is … painful. There are so many people, so many bikes that it was more of a challenge to stay safe than it was to cycle. The average speed would have been about 10 mph and I almost got wiped out a couple of times. It was within a couple of miles I started seeing punctures. Lots of people at the side of the road fixing their puncture. No support from organisers or fellow cyclist (including .. hang head … me).
After about 8 miles, there is a series of two climbs – this really did start thinning the crowds and I saw lots of people walking. It had continued the drizzle the whole time and I was feeling a little miserable. It was also warm, so I was cooking in my boil-in-bag jacket. On the second hill, I had to stop to take my jacket off and carried on cycling up the hill.
At the rest point, I bought myself a nice slice of Lemon Drizzle cake and stopped for a toilet break. The first time I had worn bib shorts and needed the loo, it’s funny the shapes you pull in order to go.
Part 2 – Miles 16-26 to Curious Pig Inn
This was the nicest part of the route. Mostly downhill with good roads. It was over too quickly. The weather had started to improve at this point too!
I was cycling with a group of friends and by this time we kept getting separated so we decided to keep to pairs from this point onwards.
Part 3 – Miles 26-41 to bottom of Ditchling (includes Turners Hill)
Another part that wasn’t too bad, the number of cyclists were thinning out a little bit – and although Turners Hill was tough (kept dragging) I managed to make it to the top without stopping.
I almost missed the designated stop point where I and the team were regrouping.
I did see a few people at the side of the roads getting medical help and being attended to by medics – quite sobering.
Part 4 – Miles Ditchling Beacon
By this point I was tired, I was still a little cold but the earlier hills had taken it out of me. I knew the worst was coming but one way or another I was going to make it to the top of the hill. Ditchling has a long stretch to the bottom, and there are a lot of trees so you can’t see the hill, until … you can. I mean you have to lift your head to see the top and this menacing evil looking hill stares down at you.
It wasn’t as busy as I had seen on YouTube, there was plenty of space to cycle to the top but I didn’t make it – I must have made it about half way when I decided that was a respectively effort, moved to the left and hopped off. I feel like I let myself down a little bit but I didn’t have much left. I feel I *could* make it up Ditchling under ideal circumstances – but given it was at the end and I was tired.
Part 5 – To the finish
We stopped at the top of Ditchling to take a couple of pictures, it was blustery and cold at the top. I had now gone further on the bike than I ever had before, I took a moment to reflect that the last time I cycled 40 miles I was shattered, and tired and didn’t think I could make it. I was far more comfortable with the distance this time.
The ride to the Finish wasn’t the ‘8 miles all downhill’ I was promised, firstly there were heavy crosswinds and some stupid cyclists texting while descending at 30 mph.
The roads were not fully closed, and we had to stop dozens of times. It was hard to build up momentum.
The finish line was nice a MC read our names we crossed and received a nice medal. My family had been waiting for an hour in the cold so were keen to head back. I headed to wards the official Park and Ride point which was not very marked. Then it transpired they had badly planned their coaches and drivers and that there would be no coaches for nearly an hour. After cycling 55 miles the last thing you want to do is wait 30 minutes for a coach. Not impressed. The race village itself was a let down too.
On reflection I am happy that I achieved this, our time was about 4:15 of cycling time and 5:30 with breaks. My windsock states that we had a headwind for 70% of the ride and we helped raise nearly £1k which is a bonus.