Cyclosport.org REVIEW: Eastbourne Cycling Festival and Sportive
Words and Images: Mark Tearle
The first and hopefully not the last Eastbourne Sportive, organised by Events Director and local cycling impresario Rupert Rivett for SRS Events rolled the first riders across the start line of King Edwards Parade at 08:30 on a very blustery Sunday morning.
The Sportive was one of long list of exciting events for the inaugural Eastbourne Cycling Festival, in partnership with The Tri Store held on the Western Lawns on the sea front.
Rupert also edits and runs the 'On The Rivet' website, a local website for local cyclists - it's actually a very good way for local cyclists to connect in a casual way, as well as organising group rides and the regular Wednesday night meet up and the Preston Park Velodrome in Brighton.
I digress a little but there's always a reason for that...having taken part in the late night session of Rollapaluza cold sprints held at the Afton Hotel the night before, my legs and head didn't really feel ready for what turned out to be quite a brutal awakening (that might have been the beer).
It was quite a busy weekend for me so I (wisely) chose to do the mid route - the 128km "Challenge" ride as opposed to the 172km "Classic". There was a shorter route available, the "Tour" at 80km. This being local to me I decided to cycle the 10 miles to the registration HQ rather than bundle the bike in to the car. Yes, yes I am quite smug about reducing my carbon impact by not driving.
The sportive HQ was set in the rather beautiful Devonshire Park Tennis centre, a stone's throw from the beach and set back just behind the new Towner Gallery complex and Congress Theatre. The facilities excellent and registration over and done with in a trice! No muss no fuss... bravo!
From King Edwards Parade the course takes you in a westerly direction to Beachy Head, climbing at the zig-zags and along the Birling Gap loop before heading inland towards the Weald and the Rother Valley.
These roads I know only too well, each ridge and rut. The first two climbs were enough to warm up the cold muscles and the pace that Jean-Francois and I had set out on was quite high tempo.
Jean-Francois is another local, though like many not originally from around here - he plans to cycle the full route of the Tour de France this summer, madness I say, though of course it is for a good cause. You can follow his exploits via his blog here http://tourdefranceorbust.wordpress.com/
So, inland though Polegate and then heading north via Hankham into the Pevensey levels, cutting through this windswept landscape and on to Herstmonceux ('ceux' pronounced 'zoo' by the locals...don't get this wrong, they will hurt you!).
The countryside and roads beyond this point begin to get particularly technical. By technical I mean there is never a descent without an ascent following it almost immediately. These are not nice long flowing climbs either; they are short sharp bruising little buggers!
The roads are narrow and the hedges high so you never really get a good sense for what is coming next. This is not a criticism; I happen to think that the courses were exceptionally well considered, well signposted and showcased exactly what East Sussex has to offer for a cyclosportive event and for riding in general. After all cyclosportives are supposed to be a challenge, right?
The first feed stop was in Brightling, with a good range of sustenance on offer and importantly toilet facilities in the village hall. The 50 mile course split just the other side of Brightling.
On high into the Rother district the route takes you through Burwash, famous for Kipling's country pile, Batemans (no, not the exceedingly good cake guy you philistines, Rudyard Kipling, the Nobel Prize winning writer and author of the Jungle Book).
The view back towards the South Downs from here is really quite stunning, though no photograph I took could really do it any justice. From Burwash the route takes you through Witherenden and then into the quaint village of Mayfield.
Mayfield hosts the second feed station which tends to be a usual spot for an SRS Event, and a good spot it is too. From Mark Cross the Challenge and Classic routes divide. There was no faltering in my resolve to only do the challenge... looking at the course maps now I think I made the prudent choice.
The 178km Classic route takes the riders on a tour of Ashdown Forest from Mark Cross, heading towards Groombridge, looping round through Fordcombe and Cowden before coming back through Forest Row and Chuck Hatch to have a go at Kidds Hill.
The two routes join again somewhere near Hadlow Down in the Weald heading south again towards the South Downs. The final feed stop was at Chiddingly ('ly' pronounced 'lie' here in Sussex...again, don't get this wrong you will be slain).
Across the A22 through Laughton, Ripe and Chalvington the roads are comfortable and the riding pleasant; lulling you in to that false sense of security feeling that you're nearly done, though of course you've got the South Downs to climb over yet.
The route then begins to follow along the Cuckmere Valley, crossing the busy A27 at Berwick. This is possibly the safest place to navigate across this busy road, the round-a-bout giving the cars and lorries an obstacle that would usually slow them down, though as my friend Simon found to his detriment this is not always the case http://www.saltedmackerel.cc/ (Simon is an excellent writer and this is a great blog but be warned there may be some swear words, which given the circumstances are quite forgivable).
This incident might well have been a one off to which the organisers cannot be held liable but perhaps some marshalling or some high visibility signs for the drivers might not have gone amiss. Possibly in this case it wouldn't have made any difference anyway.
From Exceat the road rises looking out to sea as the river meanders to its final destination. Passing Friston Forest, down the fast descent from East Dean and then up and over finally back to Eastbourne.
At the finish line there was an instant print out of your results, a certificate and a bag of goodies including a new water bottle from SIS and a Rego recovery drink sachet...both more than welcome, you can never have enough water bottles in my opinion and the Rego drink is actually rather pleasant (I prefer the banana flavour).
Just as I got back to the Cycling Festival Village on the Western Lawns the Eastbourne Criterium race was about to start; a great event to hang around to watch if you had the time. There were of course many other attractions, including exhibition and trade stands, a 'come and try it' time trial event, Wattbike Challenge, a 'go-ride' obstacle course, family rides and Cuppuccino rides for women to name but a few.
Eastbourne is a gentile kind of place (if you squint hard enough), but given its location at the foot of the Downs and reputation as the 'Sunshine Coast' it is ideally situated to host a Festival to celebrate cycling and to help make it an activity as accessible as possible.
Some areas of the town were shut off to traffic including most of King Edwards Parade, which for a busy seaside town this is quite a gesture and I really hope this event and it's attractions including the cyclosportive return year on year.
Around East Sussex there is a great cycling community developing, which brings me back neatly to my short digression earlier, thanks in part to the efforts of Rupert Rivett, The Tri Store, In Gear, the Morvelo Bicycle Apparel brand based in Brighton, Enigma Bikes in Pevensey, local cycling clubs, SRS Events, The Puncheur and too many others to name and of course by virtue of its roads and landscape. The Eastbourne Cyclosportive shows what a great place this is to ride a bike (Visit Sussex; you can write your cheque out to Mr Mark Tearle Esq, thanks).
The next event on the SRS Events Calendar is the Tour De Weald which is a gruelling 200km challenge that crosses East Sussex into Kent and back again.
I should add that thanks to the generosity of Scott I still have the Neil Pryde Alize, though sadly I have to part with it this week. Riding that bike has been a wonderful experience and I am seriously considering making a purchase next year. You can read an excellent review here http://road.cc/content/review/35445-neilpryde-alize if you're interested in finding out more.
As usual please stop by and rate the cyclosportive if you were there or add your comments under this piece, many thanks for reading.
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