Event Review


by Mark Tearle

Date: Sunday 10th March 2013
Where: Start and finish in Ditchling Recreation Ground. Parking available at the HQ or nearby streets
Distance: 65 miles
Feed stops: 1
Participants: 400
Start: Ditchling Recreation Ground, Ditchling, Sussex
Catering: Hot pasta (available at HQ as part of the entry fee), hot drinks and other beverages, Aprés Hot chocolate recovery drink. 
Cost: £25
Timed: SportiDent necklace chips
Signs: Black arrows on orange background, warning signs for potential risks and ribbon markings to keep you on route.
Roads and Route: Quiet back lanes, a few faster country lanes
Web: http://www.puncheur.co.uk/

The Ride:

The PUNCHEUR is an early season tradition for me now. I have entered for the last 3 years in a row, except last year I didn't make it because of the rain - you can read Caven's Cyclosport.org review of the 2012 event here - the brave fool.

I roped in a couple of friends, Marc and Dan this year, for some early season 'go hard or go home' larks - the incentive being to push as hard as possible to check early season form.  Nothing overly competitive but just an idea of completing the challenge as quickly as possible and have a laugh whilst doing it.

After a quick coffee at mine we set off for Ditchling to register at the recreation ground club house.  Registration was quick and smooth with an offer of a Nākd bar and a ZipVit gel.  Coffee was available but since we had already had espresso we thought we would press on straight away.

RPM90 To The Rescue

Annoyingly there was a mechanical issue with my back brake which needed seeing to, so I had to call on the services of James from RPM90 before we left.  RPM90 were offering mechanical support, a sweeper wagon and acting as soigneurs en route for the event. James did an excellent job fixing the sticky release of the braking mechanism on my bike and we were soon ready to ride - a final briefing from our starting marshals and we were off into the wind.

The route initially heads east - the weather dry but cold (after days of rain we were thankful of this) - and before Lewes heads up to Barcombe and the gently undulating unclassified country lanes towards Ashdown Forest.  We kept the pace high but I was happy to let Marc and Dan contest for the sign sprints as I sat up and plodded on.

Riding The Puncheur

From Nutley the route takes a right turn up into Ashdown Forest and a long dragging climb to the forest roof for the breathtaking panoramic views, the South Downs to the south and the Sussex Weald to the north and west, not that much of it was visible beyond the low level grey cloud cover, any other day trust me it is really very nice and well worth the climb - up into the forest we were met with an persistent head wind as we took turns at the front with a through and off, before that wonderful and fast descent down to Hartfield.

There's a steep little climb back up to Colemans Hatch and then the long drag back into the Forest to Wych Cross, taking a loop round the western end of Weir Wood reservoir, where you have the opportunity to stop and refresh at the feed station.   The catering at the feed station came from Infinity Foods and stocked with SIS, Doves Farm and Nākd Wholefoods products - the feed station were marshalled by very friendly volunteered with their Prendas caps on.  Toilet facilities are available at the nearby sports centre.

Did Someone Say Cake?

The PUNCHEUR route continues onto the roads of West Sussex for the punchy mid section of the course.  It is here that the course continues for a short time on some of the busier roads but soon joins the quieter country lanes swinging past Ardingly Reservoir down a steep technical ascent and up the other side through Balcombe and towards Handcross.  The route heads south via Warninglid and Wineham, slightly faster roads where we were able to stretch ourselves a little to make up for lost time lingering at the feed stop.

As the South Down begin to loom at you to the south, the route then takes a turn to the east to Hurstpierpoint back into the persistent headwind and the steady approach towards your final destination: Ditchling Beacon.

Atop The Iconic Beacon

It's a cruel thing to put one of the South's most notorious climbs at the end of a 65 ride, though being a champion of the utterly futile it is almost satisfying to know that it is there. Snow began to flutter as we reached the base of the hill, making it all the more of a challenge.  The PUNCHEUR is a summit finish at the top of the Beacon where your chip is swiped and an instant result is printed for you from the back of a van as you are congratulated on your efforts by the marshal volunteers.

As a reward for your efforts pasta is provided back at HQ (a half mile freewheel back down the hill into Ditchling) - coffee or other hot drinks were also available as well as Aprés recovery hot chocolate.

Better Every year

This event improves year on year as it matures.  Morgan and his friendly team of volunteers do a great job with Infinity Foods providing excellent catering as usual - additional support from RPM90 is also very well received. Early entry to this event is £23, however the price rises slightly to £25 for later entries (a couple of weeks prior) which, in my view, is just at the top end of the value for money spectrum but there are some lesser events that charge an awful lot more for a hell of a lot less, and because I really enjoy the ride and the ethos behind it and I can see where the money goes, I am more than happy to pay that amount - enter earlier if possible, it's usually cheaper and allows the organiser time to plan.

We certainly finished the ride feeling like we had put ourselves through a proper challenge and we entertained ourselves along the way.  I have no doubt that we will return again next year with the bar set for a sub 4 hour time for the 65 miles.

We had fun and felt looked after. Thank you.

Official Review

1. Feed Stops (correct foodstuffs and energy drinks, the right many, well spaced) 10 out of 10
2. Timing (correct and easy to use) 9 out of 10
3. Signage (Clear, concise, maps, profiles, route card) 10 out of 10
4. Facilities (HQ, Parking, Toilets) 10 out of 10
5. Support (Sag Wagon, Outriders) 10 out of 10
6. Friendliness / Professionalism (Sign-in, marshals, support) 10 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 96.7%