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South Downs 100 Sportive REVIEW

by Caven O'Hara

Despite the time of year the sun shone on the Wiggle South Downs 100 Sportive providing a great end of season ride. UK Cycling Events manager, Martin and his team have put on another great Sportive. The Wiggle sponsored series has continued to raise the bar this year and their 2012 calendar promises a few changes to keep things fresh.

Distances: 45, 70, 100 miles
Participants: 710
Start: Chichester College
Transport: 0.6 miles Chichester Station
Feedstops: 1, 2, 3
Timed: Yes
Signs: White arrows on orange backgrounds
Road: A well thought out route offering plenty of downs and a few leg tremblers going up!

When I selected my events at the start of the year I looked at this event as it offered a different route in an area I hadn't ridden much. The clue to this ride was definitely on the map. Passing through several parishes with 'Up' at the start of the name should offer several clues!

My alarm went off at a very unreasonable hour and my journey started in the dark. It was only as I arrived at the event centre that the day started to brighten. The start was located at the college in the centre of Chichester. Plenty of parking was on offer and even though the registration was a good walk from the car park it provided a stretch of legs before and after the ride.

Sign on was done with the minimum of fuss and it was back to the car to get the bike ready. With the timing chip already stuck on the side of my helmet, adding the race number was a doddle. A quick roll round to the start mat and a safety briefing from Martin and out onto the ring road. 

Leaving the city was, swift and well sign posted. All too quickly we hit the first climb of the day, Kennel Hill that takes you up to Goodwood racecourse. The 10 per cent climb was a bit of a shock but got the legs turning despite loud protests. Before long we soon arrived at the day's opening split, those feeling good and taking on the epic headed north for an extra loop whilst the rest of us headed past Cowdray Park, home of British Polo and through Midhurst. 

Before long the next climb was upon us, Uppark Hill on the edge of the similarly named estate. This was a bit more brutal, the gradient hitting 12 and 13 per cent as it rose in two distinctive sections. To make matters worse, the roads are now getting the autumnal covering of leaves and debris, which made wheel spin a constant companion as I tried to get out of the saddle. Forced to sit and grind it out isn't my style but was the only way I could keep forward momentum. 

After cresting the top, a descent was a welcome respite although it made stopping for the first feed station, unless you were riding the epic as those riders had a stop on their loop, a little tricky. A sign on the downhill approach could have been added to ensure riders didn't go shooting past. The fare on offer though soon removed negative thoughts. Jam or peanut butter sandwiches, flapjack, cakes and jellybeans soon revived flagging spirits. The added bonus was the halfway point had been passed. 

The route took us round the Uppark Estate and on towards the final killer climb, Butser Hill. I must stress at this point that although the standard route featured three tough climbs this factor was heavily out-weighed by the number of decent descents. I think the speedo passed 50+ kph on several occasions meaning the balance of the route felt like you were rewarded for all that effort. For those doing the epic, 100 miles, they had to split from the route for another loop before they rejoined the rest of us to tackle Butser. 

The early slopes are reasonably comfortable but then off to the right you can see the height gained by the riders ahead of you - Psychologically making the climb just a little bit harder. The final insult was heaped on us by the wind, turning into a dogleg right the road ramps straight up and the wind hit us face on. There was nothing left but to grin and bear it or try and compose yourself for the strategically placed photographers at the top! Once more the food station was placed at the top to provide weary riders with sustenance. 

Another long descent off the top was a nice way to begin the push home. The wind was making some of the open sections a touch hairy but having left the South Downs behind we were now into flatter terrain. At one point signs were coming up for Portsmouth and there was a 'Welcome to Hampshire' sign, which shows how far west Chichester sits in Sussex. Even though you knew you were on the final stretch it did indeed seem a long stint. Sharing the load with a RedhillCC rider and group picked up the pace and before long the signs appeared welcoming us back to city.

Having left through the city centre I was curious to know how Martin would deliver us back to the event centre. Appearing on a parallel road we came at it from the northwest and therefore avoided the busier parts. Not having put in the miles recently I was happy to cross the line, weary but once more pleasantly surprised by the route.

Liked: The route - varied but offering plenty of descending rewards for your climbing efforts. 
Disliked: If I'm going to be picky - the lack of warning sign for the first feed station on the fun/standard route.