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Le Puncheur REVIEW

by Caven O'Hara

Le Puncheur is a local ride for me but for some reason this was my first attempt. I know several guys who have taken part and it came highly recommended. I can see why and apart from getting lashed by the rain for the entire ride, it was worth the effort.

Distances: 65 miles
Participants: 400 max
Start: Ditchling Transport: Hassocks train station 2.1 miles
Feedstops: 1 (Pasta available at the end of the ride in the clubhouse)
Timed: Yes
Signs: Black arrows on an orange background - additional orange ribbons in trees to confirm you were on the right route
Road: A proper mix with plenty of variation and finishing at the top of the infamous Ditchling Beacon

This is a great route winding round the Sussex countryside with plenty of varied terrain. There are no huge hills but a few draggy climbs to punch your way over whilst all the time the thought of finishing on top of Ditchling Beacon meant something had to be kept in reserve for the final assault. 

Sign On

The short trip down to Race HQ looked fairly ominous as the rain had already begun and despite the early hour there was a fair amount of surface water pooling on the roadside. It was light so there was perhaps every chance that it would abate before we headed out. Managing to squeeze into the car park at the recreation ground was a good start and signing on was well organised. With plenty of riders already milling around it wasn't long before there was a steady stream of cyclists heading out onto the course. 

A quick faff about what to wear, would a rain cape suffice? In the end the heavier raincoat won and there was nothing left to delay the off. Turning east you continue to Hamsey, past the agricultural college in Plumpton before swinging ninety degrees north to start the trek up towards Ashdown Forest. Passing through Barcombe and Barcombe Cross you soon find yourself crossing the main arterial road in the county, the A272. It runs across Sussex and divided the route neatly into north and south sections. Through Fletching and onto Nutley you soon encounter the first proper rise of the day as you find yourself deposited in the village. A quick spin along the A22 before veering off and the reward is our first glimpse of Ashdown Forest.

Plenty of riders turned up for an early start

Normally this offers a scenic view across the forest, a vast open space interspersed with copses and thickets. I'm sure they're still there, however the weather had closed in sufficiently to block any panoramic views today! So it was head down to begin the punt along the spine of the Forest passing the turn off for another famous climb in these parts, Kidds Hill - alas this will have to be done another day. As with all cycling what goes up must come down and this was no different. We soon arrived in Upper Hartfield, although after a longish descent it was telling to note how quickly your extremities felt the chill. With cold hands, feet and lips it was almost a relief to start climbing again. First up to Coleman's Hatch and then the longer ascent to Wych Cross. 

We were now heading west but also towards the feed station. Before that, we dropped down to the reservoir at Weir Wood which only meant we had to climb up the steep road that leads to East Grinstead. Over the top it wasn't far to the sports ground and the feed station. Time for a call of nature and then top up before heading back out. To make matters worse, the legs felt cold and stiff but the rain had got heavier. 

At Turner's Hill we sped on heading for Worth Abbey. For anyone who has taken part in the London to Brighton bike ride, this is one of the steeper climbs on that route up to crossroads. For the purpose of Le Puncheur we had the easier southern approach. Before reaching the 78-year-old Abbey we hung a left to head south onto another reservoir, this time at Ardingly. The route chosen brings you out at the southern most point of the reservoir and therefore missing out on two serious climbs that take you from the northern tip. 

Ardingly reservoir has featured in the news for the depletion of the water level. One would have to think, many more days like this and Southern Water will have to start siphoning off the water!

The road from here takes you into the village and from there it's a quick flit across the B2036 before reaching Handcross and the western most point of the ride. This is the fast section of Le Puncheur and given a drier day you could have saved some time. 

Wet and windswept

Passing through Warninglid, the smells emanating from the well renowned Half Moon pub were very inviting but with a serious chunk of the ride still remaining it was foot down. 

Back across the A272 once more there were pockets of riders strung out, everyone lost in their own thoughts as the Beacon loomed large. A few more miles and we at the foot of the day's final bit of riding, it just so happened that it was all up hill. It is a kilometre at an average of 10% not to mention the streams running down the side of the road! A series of switchbacks and you're there. In total there were just over 1400m of climbing according to the computer, not bad for a route that didn't feature any significant climbs until the end.

A good early season ride that fills up in short time and you can see why. The weather may have put off a fair number today but there's always next year. 

Afterwards I managed to catch a few words with another chilly finisher Robert Gerber: "I did it this year as I missed out on silver by a few minutes last year and was very pleased to have achieved silver today. I have to admit I was surprised as the conditions were awful compared to last year. The bit I loved was climbing the Lady Beacon at the end as half way up I realised that I was warm again, and only had a few more turns to finish. The worst bit was the weather but that's the UK."

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