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Event Review

The Ditchling Devil Audax REVIEW

by Caven O'Hara

Essentials:
Distances: 127 miles
Participants: 150
Start: Wimbeldon Tea Rooms, Wimbledon Common
Finish: Richmond Park Café, Roehampton Gate
Transport: Numerous stations close by and lots of parking
Feedstops: 3
Timed: Yes
Signs: A route sheet was provided in the essence of an audax ride
Road: An epic ride that cherry picked the best bits of the old and new London to Brighton routes and then added a whole lot more.

Summary:
One thing I haven't tried, amongst many in cycling terms is an Audax event. If it wasn't a sportive it generally hadn't hit my radar. The definition of audax is a long distance ride using checkpoints and validation checks to record a rider's details. 
One thing that drew me to organiser Paul Stewart's event, the Ditchling Devil was the distance. As masochistic as it sounds it was the thought of trying something a little more adventurous. Additionally it covered some familiar ground but the prospect of relying on my own navigational skills using the route sheet provided was outside of the box. Even when the route sheet is as comprehensive as the one provided.

the start
Start At The Windmill Tea Rooms

The website was informative and after a little consideration I signed up. I soon had a welcome email and all the detail I needed to find my way to the start and what would be required on the day. Unusually there were different start and finish points, not far apart but again different. So I set my alarm for a rude awakening for a Sunday and left just after six having packed the car the previous evening. 

The journey up was plain sailing and I arrived at the finish point to save me having to ride back to the start later to collect my car. This turned out to be a good bit of forward planning. It was colder than the forecast has predicted so I was glad I brought a couple of extra layers.

traffic
Early Traffic

The sign-up and start were on Wimbledon Common, at the Windmill Tea rooms. Aptly named with a rather large windmill in situ. The sign-on was very efficient, the route cards had already been updated with rider name and details. Before long the milling riders were summoned forward and Paul gave the word for a prompt start. At 08.00 on a Sunday morning even the roads on the outskirts of London are fairly quiet.

Despite numerous traffic lights, progress was brisk. Heading out through Wimbledon it didn't take long before roads and landmarks became familiar having done the London to Brighton route several times over the years. For anyone who has done this ride they will recognise How Lane in Chipstead which is the first proper climb on the route.

nice open road
A Bit More Like It

It's a reasonable effort and got the legs burning for the first time. Over the top the route flowed downhill and towards the M25 to give you a sense of heading south. It is easy to forget quite how close the south coast is to the capital. Before long the day's second climb, Turners Hill soon appeared on the horizon. The bonus this time was first feed station wasn't much beyond this point. Once you've left Turners Hill in your wake it is almost all downhill to the Ardingly showground where opposite was the welcome site of the refreshment team. So welcome in fact, they had a couple of barbies and gas fires on the go cooking up a storm of sausages, bacon, eggs and hot drinks. All very pleasant and judging by the queue it went down a treat.

sausage bap queue
Queue For A Sausage Bap

From Ardingly the current London to Brighton route heads straight down through Lindfield, Haywards Heath and onto Ditchling before tackling the infamous Beacon. We would be facing that later but before that treat we toured the lanes of Sussex on the old L2B route where we were deposited at the foot of the Beacon. 

The Beacon is a nice climb with a few pitches and rolls, even the traffic was relatively light. Over the top it's downhill to the top of Hollingbury which sits on the outskirts of Brighton. We passed the new Brighton football stadium on the left and then dived down into the city keeping to the outskirts then headed west towards Devils Dyke, another local climb passing the old Brighton football ground at Withdean en route. 

south downs view
View Onto The South Downs

view ditchling
View From The Top

The Beacon had been relatively easy going but climbing up Tongdean Lane to head out of the city, the road pitched up to over 20%, at least it was sheltered from the wind. The road out to Devils Dyke is long and exposed, you felt the full force of the wind here but the views just about made up for it even on such a grey morning. At the top we encountered the second manual checkpoint of the day, a laminated card with a single word on so you can verify you've passed that way.

sussex from the devils dyke
View Of Sussex From The Devils Dyke

It was with some relief to head down from the heights of Devils Dyke into sheltered countryside again. By now the small number of riders had been whittled down even further as riders got strung out. It was just our bad luck to encounter a road in the process of being resurfaced. It was a long old stretch of riding on loose gravel but we emerged on the other side to carry on to Upper Beeding and the next food stop. 
The intimate feel of the ride became evident as the second pit stop of the day was held in the organiser's house. How's that for taking care of the riders? Even with 150 riders it is still quite an under-taking but there was pasta, cakes and hot drinks. On a ride of this length, normal food was much appreciated. 

check point signage
Check Point Signage

After a proper re-fuel, it was time to head north-westerly towards Surrey. The gap between riders was growing bigger and the empty roads stretched on. My legs were feeling a little leaden at this point and progress seemed to be painfully slow. I stopped a couple of times to check I was on the right route and it was with a contented sigh when I arrived amidst the Summer Fete in Chiddingfold, looking for the final checkpoint and food stop. 

I was joined by a couple of other riders and directions were quickly established. This was the only stop were refreshments had to be bought but when there are rolls, cakes and more hot drinks on offer you can't quibble.

Feedstop
Feedstop

The only obstacle between the riders and the finish was the small matter of Combe Lane. It has a gradual build up but rears up towards and round the hairpin before allowing your heartbeat to drop. Even over this there was still 40Km to go which did dampen spirits slightly but working well in a small group, the distance was soon eaten up. 

leafy lanes
Leafy Lanes

In short time the outskirts of London appeared and more recognisable terrain as we rode on towards our final destination, Richmond Park. The finish had been setup at the café where Paul had negotiated a late closure to allow riders finishing late the chance to re-fuel before heading off. After what was the longest ride I've done this year and by far the longest time in the saddle it was a rather weary rider who handed over my brevet card for the final signature. 

The final stretch
Richmond Park Cafe

I managed to catch a few words with Paul afterwards. The event started out as an extension of one of his training routes with Willesden Cycling Club! This was the third instalment of the event that has seen rider numbers rise from 40 in year one to 150 this year. Perhaps a sign, riders are looking for something different and going back to basics? For AUK or CTC members it only costs £10 for anyone else it's £12, not a huge cost when compared to many other events out there. For many riders, including myself this was their first experience of an audax event. A cracking route definitely helps, as did the assistance provided by the volunteers. A long day out but worth trying - I'll be back for more.


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) n/a
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) 10 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?) 9 out of 10
Overall Rating 93.3%




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1 Comment

PpPete
11th June 2013 9:58pm PpPete wrote:

We've been audaxing for a couple of years, but thus was our first time helping at an event (stamping cards at Chiddingfold). Just like to say how much we enjoyed the event also. Without exception great good humour and unfailing courtesy from all the riders, even those who were flagging after 143 km. Would add our thanks to Paul for all his hard work in making our job so much easier and recruiting so many riders.