Event Review

Wiggle South Downs 100 REVIEW

by Nick Gregory

The Wiggle South Downs 100 REVIEW

Date: Sunday 20th October 
Distances: 101, 73, 42 miles 
Entry fee: £28.00 
Participants: 2,000 
Start: Chichester College, West Gate Fields, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 1SB 
Feedstops: 3 on 'Epic' route 
Catering: Hot/cold drinks and food available (One free tea or coffee)
Timing: Electronic strip on helmet 
Signs: White on orange background + yellow 'Caution' signs
Roads: Great route on quiet lanes for the most part, a few short sections on main roads and some tough climbing
Photos: www.sportivephoto.com
Goody bag: Finishers medal, copy of Cycling Plus, sweets, Muc Off products.

Tentatively rolling through a flash-flood that had consumed the entire width of the road, my primary concern was for my ailing car, which was already showing signs - in the form of a leak, ironically from the sunroof - that it was struggling with the ferocity of the downpours. However, as the windscreen wipers bravely battled the rain in an increasingly manic fashion, I squinted into the 5.30am pitch darkness and resigned myself to the fact that this journey might be a wasted one. And then the thunder and lightening started. 

Somewhat remarkably, despite having worked for Cyclosport since August, this was due to be my first official event review for the website. I won't lie; at this point I was beginning to think I'd have been better advised to delay still further and hang-on for a January warm-weather training camp in Mallorca... Nevertheless, having been born less than a mile from the start line in Chichester, there was no way I was going to miss one of my 'home' sportives. The car, despite much consternation, successfully got me to the impressive event HQ at Chichester College in one piece - albeit a little soggy courtesy of the leaky roof. 

Upon arrival, it was still dark and the rain continued to teem down; however, the car park was filling up and everything looked to be going ahead as planned. A member of the cheerful event staff, who coincidentally turned out to be Jez, an old university friend, directed me to an empty space. He was there helping out with a couple friends, and the three of them were also planning on riding the 101 mile route, so we arranged to meet at the start and ride together. 

Event HQ at Chichester College

Pop-up stands from event partners

My father was also due to be riding the event, although he had opted for the 42 miler - a decision that was beginning to look more and more inspired with every downpour of rain. The older, the wiser and all that... However, there was at least now some sign of sunshine. As I waited for him to arrive I went to have a look at the extensive array of pop-up stands from event partners such as Muc-Off, Garmin and Wiggle, as well as the mandatory tea & coffee stall. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the weather, the latter was doing a roaring trade. I also went to register - which couldn't have been easier - and received my electronic timing strip to stick on the side of my helmet. 

Registration hall - shoes off

Having met up with both my father and Jez, we rolled round to the start and queued up for the rider safety briefing, before being released in waves to avoid congestion on the roads. The roll-out process was all very smooth - barring the speed bump at the exit (only 6,419ft of climbing to go now though) - and we were soon making our way out of the town centre towards Lavant. Here the first of the route splits took place, and we waved goodbye to my father as he headed off on the shorter route. 

Preparing for the off

Roll out

On the road

For those on the Standard and Epic routes however, the flat opening was about to come to an abrupt end in the form of Goodwood Hill - famous for playing host to the finale of the 1982 UCI Men's World Championship Road Race, won by Giuseppe Saronni, with Greg LeMond and Sean Kelly rounding out the podium.

There wasn't much danger of yours truly putting in a performance like that though, and coming less than 10km into the event, the climb proved a testing opener. A great view over Goodwood horse racing course awaited though, and soon we were back into our rhythm. 

The three HIGH5 feed stations were placed at roughly the 25, 50 and 75 mile marks, splitting the ride into four fairly equal sections. Worryingly though, the final two sections contained the worst of the climbing. 

About half way to the first feed, just 12 or so miles into the route, came the standard/ epic course split. Here would be my only criticism of the entire event: coming so early - and particularly on a day with such atrocious weather - the placing of the course split may well have caught many people out. As all cyclists know, you have good days and bad days, and 12 miles into a 101 mile event might be a little early to judge which one of those you are on. 

I'm sure there were a number of participants who had intended to do the 100miler, and went sailing past the route split feeling great, but a little further down the road, after the weather and hills had taken their toll, might have wished they'd gone for the standard route. Had it not been for the chance encounter with Jez in the car park, and the subsequent advantage I was gaining by riding in a group rather than alone, I certainly think I would have fallen into that category. 

Topping up at the first feed

Anyway, soon enough we reached the first feed in Northchaple without too much drama. We stopped briefly to use the facilities and raid the bountiful supplies on offer, which included jelly beans, flapjacks and bananas, as well as the customary energy gels and drinks. However, aware of the scale of the task that was still ahead of us, we didn't hang around long and were soon on the road again.

Lurgashall, Lodsworth, Graffham, Bepton; the quaint, picturesque villages shot by with reassuring frequency as we made hay in the sunshine (actual sunshine, briefly!) on the flattest section of the route. Even here however, it was a case of rolling terrain rather than anything that could be described as truly flat. Usual order was resumed in the final few miles before the second feed at Redford, as the road gradually went up, and up, and up... 

Nevertheless, we had now broken the magic half way barrier and spirits were still high as yet more flapjack was devoured at an alarming rate. A quick stretch, and a top up of the bottles and we were on our way again.

High spirits at halfway 

There were two main climbs between the second and third feeds, and one of the nice chaps from sportivephoto.com was situated on a hairpin bend half way up the first. Despite my best efforts to look cool and collected, the evidence reveals a climbing style more akin to the Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell, of 'Plebgate' infamy, than Garmin Sharp's Andrew Talansky.

There was a merciful reprieve as the course dropped down into Rogate and the legs were momentarily relieved or their duties. What came next however, can only be described as truly brutal. Despite some preemptive gear-related tinkering in advance of the event, Harting Hill proved leg breaking. Having been reduced to crawling pace, dodging those who had been forced to accept the inevitable and get off and push became equally as difficult as the climb itself. I made it to the top without succumbing. Just. 

The horror of Harting Hill

The reward should have been a reasonably flat (by comparison) 30km run into the third feed. The weather gods however, had other ideas. Having seemingly waited until we were almost exactly equidistant between the two feeds, Mother Nature unleashed a 15-minute downpour the like of which I have never experienced. As it happened, I didn't have a proper waterproof. The only consolation: one of the others did, and it made not the blindest bit of difference. 

When the bedraggled pack of drowned rats limped into the final feed at East Meon, morale had plummeted to rock bottom, and not even a seventeenth slice of flapjack seemed to do the trick. However, as someone was quick to point out - there were only 25 miles to go, and it was pretty much down hill all the way from here. Other than the two highest climbs on the entire route that is.

Cold. Dark. Wet. The third feed.

To be honest, the combination of the cold and wet made the idea of some climbing quite appealing - anything to warm up a bit. The final sting in the tail of the South Downs 100 was the beautiful but vicious Butser Hill. Notorious amongst those local to the area, the kind folk at sportivephoto.com must have caught wind of its reputation too, as they had once again placed themselves in prime location to capture the full extent of the torment. This time around I'd have happily settled for the Andrew Mitchell doppelganger. 

The vista that greeted you from the 'summit' however, was quite something. From the top of the stunning South Downs you could look out all the way to the sea in once direction, and back across the undulating terrain already conquered in the other. 

Butser Hill - the end of the climb

The view from the top

From here it really was downhill all the way, and not even another barrage of showers, or the group's first (and remarkably only) puncture could dampen spirits. Smiling tired smiles, we rolled over the finish line as the sun decided to make a late afternoon cameo. Never has a hot shower been so appreciated. 

Flat roads and sunshine for the final run in


The South Downs 100 was an absolutely fantastic event. The route was balanced, both in terms of terrain and the type of roads used, and faultlessly sign posted. I deliberately rode without a Garmin in order to test the latter, and it came through with flying colours. The event staff were friendly, and the facilities brilliant. The feeds were well stocked, and equally well spaced, and the finishers' goody bag contained a wide array of useful bits and bobs. 

Aside from the aforementioned route split gripe, the only thing I would have changed was the weather, so hats off to UK Cycling Events for another job extremely well done. No Strava 'segments' were claimed, no gold awards received, but we got round. And that was all that mattered.

Entries are now open for next year's South Downs 100, and more information can be found at the UK Cycling Events website

Official Review

1. Feed Stops (correct foodstuffs and energy drinks, the right many, well spaced) 9 out of 10
2. Timing (correct and easy to use) 10 out of 10
3. Signage (Clear, concise, maps, profiles, route card) 10 out of 10
4. Facilities (HQ, Parking, Toilets) 9 out of 10
5. Support (Sag Wagon, Outriders) 8 out of 10
6. Friendliness / Professionalism (Sign-in, marshals, support) 9 out of 10
7. Website - ease of use (Online and postal entry, clear concise) 9 out of 10
8. The Course (Area of outstanding beauty/scenic, quiet roads, cleverly designed?) 9 out of 10
9. Would you recommend it. (Would you ride again?) 10 out of 10
Overall Rating 92.2%

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