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PREVIEW: THE Puncheur 2013

by Mark Tearle

Morgan Lewis is a man that surrounds himself with cycling folklore and culture; an intelligent, sensitive, charming, family man, Morgan organised the Puncheur sportive out of a passion and drive to bring road cycling to the masses, to share the roads of Sussex and, perhaps ambitiously, as a confidence boost for riders to take that step towards joining a local club and taking part in road racing if their aspiration leans in that direction.

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Forest Views

'Puncheur' - in road cycling, these riders have explosive speed and use it on short, but steep gradients with sudden attacks. They can trouble the sprinters but have the staying power to keep up with the top climbers for a considerable distance - according to the Urban Dictionary anyway.

The above offers a succinct analogy of the puncheur route - some short, sharp, punchy climbs and a fair few long dragging ascents to tax the glutes and thighs, but a good proportion of the route is on favourable flattish surfaces for you to open the throttle and push on as hard as you like - provided there is not a head wind.  Not excessively testing at only 65 miles but sufficient enough for a rider to appraise their early season form and gives you an opportunity to push yourself.

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Weir Wood Reservoir View

The event HQ is based at Ditchling recreation ground, nestled snugly at the foot of the South Downs.  The club house will be open for you to grab a coffee and some Infinity Foods breakfast and meet your friends to chat over your plans for the day before climbing on to your bike.

Members of RPM90, a locally based cycling touring company, will be available to offer any mechanical support you may urgently need at the start and as soigneurs en route, with the possibility of a sports massage as a reward at the finish line.  Catering from Infinity Foods and feedstations stocked with SIS, Doves Farm and Nākd Wholefoods products.

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Approach To The Beacon

Morgan Lewis said "we are really pleased to have rpm90 with us for 2013. They are multi-talented guys and will help take rider care up to a new level."

I had met with Morgan, and James from RPM90 on the previous Friday to discuss a preview of the route and we loosely agreed to meet the following Sunday from Lewes (a decent central spot for us all to meet, 10 miles east of Ditchling) to ride some of the Puncheur route.

A grim and rainy Saturday gave way to beautiful crisp blue skies for the Sunday ride and after an initial faff with a split tyre we were on our way.  Our friend Lois had been persuaded to join us and we set off from Lewes, meeting the Puncheur route from Barcombe and heading towards Piltdown, Fletching and Nutley, on largely unclassified, quiet country lanes.

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, before that wonderful and fast descent down to Hartfield.

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A Rider Cresting Ditchling Beacon

Lois, who was feeling a bit peaky, decided to head south and crash in on her parents in Uckfield for some TLC and some lunch, whilst me, Morgan and James continued on, heading through Colemans Hatch and Wych Cross and taking a loop round the western end of Weir Wood reservoir, where you have the opportunity to stop and refresh at the feed station, before heading back onto the roads for the punchy mid section of the course.

After the mid section come the long rolling roads and sharp climbs around the Ardingly Reservoir just north of Haywards Heath - we stopped, just off route, in Balcombe for some tea and cake at the delightful Balcombe tea rooms before taking a more direct route down to Ditchling as the afternoon had begun to draw in to early evening and dusk was soon upon us.

The Puncheurs route continues from Balcombe towards Handcross where it crosses over the busy A23 (via a bridge) and you begin the fast southern loop via Warninglid and Wineham, the South Downs beginning to loom at you to the south, then turning east to Hurstpierpoint and the steady approach towards your final destination: Ditchling Beacon.

The Beacon sits proud; a steep ascent of the north face of the South Downs, it is a true test after 60+ miles for all but the most accomplished of riders - think 1994 when the 81st Tour de France took its route over the Beacon and Marco Pantani was said to have ridden up it no-handed.

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Long Forest Descent

The surface of the road has been re-surfaced recently, and slightly widened, and the faded lettering, as a tribute to Pantani, is now just a memory.  The Puncheur is a summit finish at the top of the Beacon and as a reward for your efforts pasta will be provided back at HQ.

Let's hope the weather for you on the 10th March is as glorious as it was for us on the day of the preview.

The Puncheur 2013 is the 5th year this sportive has been run - for more information please visit http://www.puncheur.co.uk/topline_details.htm

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
Catering: Hot pasta (available at HQ as part of the entry fee), hot drinks and other beverages. 
Cost: £23