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A Look Back at Last Year's South Downs 100

by Holly Blades

It is the Wiggle South Downs 100 Sportive this Sunday. In 2010, Cyclosport.org's Mark Tearle completed the route - Here is his review of last year's great event to give you an idea of what to expect.


It was dark when I got up (5:30am), it was dark when I left the house (6am), it was dark when I filled the car up with diesel (6:10am), which was kind of lucky because I suspect that a man in head to toe black lycra looks very strange on a Service Station forecourt (I stuck stealthily to the shadows). The dawn was breaking just as I arrived at Chichester College (7am).


I am nursing a cold, nothing too onerous, but mix phlegm wad on the chest with asthma and a freezing cold morning then you are cruising for a bit of time with a nebuliser. Not wanting to let the side down I was psyched to ride; I didn't have a temperature so I thought it would be ok.

The thermometer in the car was reading 3 degrees centigrade, this didn't exactly inspire confidence but I had my mantyhose on so I was offered some degree of self assurance! It was cold and breath was like steam in the early morning air.


Registration was in the big sports hall of Chichester College and was, as I have come to expect from a UK Cycling Event, relaxed, easy, laid-back even; bike number, sticker for helmet and complimentary energy bar, sign the sheet and done!

By the time I had had a coffee and emerged from the hall the sun was up and the sky was a pale October blue. I was joined by Kim (from off of The Winchester 100 and Southern Sportive fame) and together we moved to the start.

Martin was there and did his usual regaling speech about signage, caution areas and feed stations and handed out complimentary gels - in all seriousness though this is necessary and much appreciated. By now it was 8am and Kim and I were in amongst the first groups to leave.

This must be the 3rd or 4th time I have cycled in the South Downs area this year and it has been interesting to see the landscape in the changing seasons. Come rain or shine this remains one of the most stunning areas of the South East to ride a bike.

 

The route as planned takes you for a spin round the Chichester one way system and then out via Lavant towards Goodwood and the famous racecourse. I was hoping that the first climb up to Goodwood would do its job and warm me up but the cold air had other ideas as the tips of my fingers started to numb!

Kim and I were joined by a number of other riders just after the Goodwood approach and we all got into a good stride and chatted a little - on the Selhurst Park Road the view to the south across to Bognor is simply beautiful. 

The approach to Duncton from the South is not a difficult climb, but the elevation takes you up nice and high, the trees preventing what would be a good view across the Sussex Weald. The descent was a little scary and everyone took caution because the road was slightly damp under the shade of trees that line the road. 

I'd lost Kim somewhere so I stopped to take in the view on the bridge over a trickling river. Mists rising from nearby fields as I contemplated life's existence, which of course didn't lead me anywhere, I was just grateful to the eternal mum for the beauty all around me.


A short wait and Kim was with me...however as we kicked back on the pedals my back tyre felt spongy, which meant a puncture. I had picked up a flint, possibly at the bottom of Duncton. Faith in humanity is always restored at these times...EVERY rider that passed gave some comment of encouragement or offer of help; cyclists, it has to be said are a true and honest breed of men and women! Pats on the back for being so brilliant!


Puncture sorted, making use of Kim's new and very strange (but efficient) pink pump we were back on our way. The first feed station wasn't far off; feed stations were more or less evenly spaced at 25 miles between them, and as usual well stocked and handled in a friendly way by first class people! 

Just before the first feed station Kim and I had been discussing taking the easier option and heading for the split and the standard route. However in conversation at the feed stop we learnt that we had actually missed the split. I can't quite work out how that happened but it seemed as though the decision had been made for us and we were to do the Epic. 

Back on the road riders come and riders go, you pass some and others pass you, everyone is always friendly and happy to have a conversation and pass the time of day. The landscape flashes by and it is nice to wonder at the changes brought on by the autumn as the last of the colourful leaves cling to the trees. Things are gearing up to rest for the winter yet mad cyclists are still turning the cranks squeezing out the last efforts before winter comes. 


Bexley Hill was soon upon us, steep and threatening and slippery when wet! Just when you think you're done it kicks up again, steeper! It's a big challenge but so rewarding when you get to the top. The road is narrow and wooded either side, on reaching the top the trees open out to fern and high hedgerows. Our posse of riders regrouped at the top and started to tackle the descent.

On the descent we were cautioned to slow down, an accident had occurred minutes before and a couple of riders were down. Possible fractures, possibly just bruises, either way phone calls were being made! There was plenty of help around but I hope all was well.

Just after the long climb at Uppark, there was a quick stop at the second feed station and on again. My legs were starting to suffer a bit now, perhaps 60 miles covered and I knew Old Winchester Hill and Butser Hill were yet to be conquered.

The course navigated round Old Winchester Hill (which coincidentally is 20 miles from Winchester), and tackled it from the Northern side. I've not been up this way before so it was a novelty. It's not excessively steep but it does travel some distance. Near the top, a well dressed lady on her velo yelled to me..."It is harder coming this way..." as she disappeared past me. 

Back down into the valley and the 3rd and final feed stop manned by the good looking, Ben. Poor chap looked freezing. Spare a thought for these people, giving up their time to offer the dishevelled cyclist some much needed sustenance, encouragement and a friendly chat!  

Butser Hill next; there was a resignation just to get your head down and get it over with! The final 20 miles were fairly flat and the roads were fast so it wasn't long before we were back to base and free to grab a coffee with the complimentary token. 


Hats off to Kim, who is a very fit and capable rider (despite the teasing she received from her fellow South Downs Velo team mates en route).

The South Downs 100 wraps up a very successful year for the Wiggle Super Series and UK Cycling Events cyclosportives. As always the route was well mapped, well signed and everything was run with an efficiency that made it all look so easy to achieve. The team are helpful and friendly and riders of all abilities are given a warm welcome and an encouraging smile.  

The results for the sportive were published with lightening speed and can be found on the cyclosport.org results page, please visit and rate the event there or leave a comment here. A film of the event is available on line.


I hope you can spot yourself!

Cyclosport.org readers Allen and Maris answered a few questions from the rider's perspective:










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