Event Review

Etape du Sussex REVIEW

by Caven O'Hara


Distances: 47, 60 & 87 miles
Participants: 540Start: Cyprus Hall, Burgess Hill, West Sussex
Transport: Burgess Hill Station less than 0.2 miles
Feedstops: 3
Timed: Yes
Signs: red arrows on a yellow background
Road: Reaching the lanes of Sussex other Sportives can't.

The Ride:

This was a great route through the Sussex lanes with most of the climbing squeezed into the first half of the course. A fast start followed by some testing climbs before finishing with a fast finish back to Burgess Hill.

sign on
Sign On

There is something quite satisfying supporting a local event. So when the opportunity arose to take part in a new event, the Etape du Sussex I jumped at the chance. Organised by Rupert Rivet and his team who also put on several other events in the area, this one had a slight tweak. Sign on was more central as was the start, both in the centre of Burgess Hill. This gave it more of an inclusive feel with greater plans in the pipeline for next year's event. The other advantage of being a local ride is the option of riding to the start. Even with a dodgy forecast it was still pleasantly warm and only required the use of arm warmers as an additional layer.

The change of location meant a slightly smaller hall than previous events in the SRS series but not that it had any detrimental effect on sign-on. You found the rider number against your name and then went to the appropriate desk to claim your timing chip, map, rider number and free inner tube. Thankfully this wasn't used later but the gels that were on offer, were. If you fancied one there were hot drinks on offer too.

timing chips
Timing Chips

After attaching the number and making use of the facilities it was time to freewheel down to the start and join the queue for the big departure. The only trouble was the start was scheduled for 08:40 so we waited patiently. There was a slight delay for which there was no explanation but we were soon ushered forward and set off in groups of 20 or so.

Getting out of Burgess Hill was straight-forward and very soon were flying down Folders Lane and heading for open countryside. Riding out with the Downs in close proximity but we wouldn't be scaling those heights today. So it was up onto Chailey Common and a break for freedom through Fletching up onto Ashdown Forest for the first visit of the day. It was here that I witnessed the first accident of the day, when a group came unstuck on a stretch of loose gravel with one rider going down and three others unable to avoid the unfortunate rider. Everyone was up without serious injury.

The climb up through Duddleswell is both picturesque and fairly long but this being the first serious climb of the day it was negotiated comfortably. As with all cycling what goes up must come down! The down was considerably faster as we were taken down Kidd's Hill. This in-famous climb is popular going the other way in sportives given its length and average gradient. Thankfully not today as my riding companion Bob and I flew down. Up the other side were soon heading for Forest Row and the day's first pit stop.

Race HQ
Race HQ

Waiting on the start
On The Start Line

It has to be said nothing makes a rider's stomach sing like a decent spread of food. There were cakes, tarts, warm, yes warm sausage rolls and plenty more. Drinks wise you had the obligatory energy drink, fizzy drink or tea and coffee. It seemed a shame to have to move on.

The weather should get a mention because despite the forecast it had been largely warm, windy but warm enough to ride comfortably. After climbing back into Ashdown Forest we dropped to Weir Wood reservoir before grinding up the other side towards East Grinstead. The route took us up the day's second long climb, Vowels Lane before depositing us on the Ardingly road. This is another fast track and before very long we had passed the show ground in Ardingly and were climbing up and round the reservoir of the same name. The two climbs are short but sharp and coming straight after the second food stop a little hard to digest.

climb up
Climb Up From Duddleswell

With that behind us we headed through Balcombe and the halfway point of the route. It was here that we witnessed a second incident, this time the rider was sprawled on the tarmac. He appeared to be ok but talking to Rupert back at Ride HQ a rider had tried to adjust his computer magnet on the move. The upshot was he ended up going over the bars, suffering a fractured skull.

feed stop
Feed Stop

As an organiser you can ask for sensible behaviour, re-iterate the rules of the road but you are reliant on the riders following that. Unfortunately a more serious incident occurred involving riders, at this point it has yet to be confirmed they were riders taking part in the Etape. Some riders passed too near a horse and rider at speed, spooked the horse who came down heavily breaking a leg. Consequently the horse had to be put down which is tragic for the owner who was distraught but something that could have possibly been avoided. To make matters worse, the riders didn't stop - unforgiveable. The roads are at times congested but they can be shared responsibly but this needs all users to play their part. We still have a minority making it difficult for the rest.

More food
More Food

Heading west from Staplefield we battled winds and the odd shower to roll through to Southwater before turning south skirting round Billingshurst. From here it was onto West Chiltington. The legs were feeling a little tired by this time and the final pit stop was a welcome sight. The food was as plentiful as before and as before shortly after leaving the feed station there was another short, sharp climb. Is it some sort of torture?

Weir Wood
Weir Wood

The remaining 30 Km was directed down some quiet lanes and roads with good surfaces. This allowed for a decent pace through Partridge Green, home of Dark Star beers, worth trying, before we turned east towards Henfield. The final stretch into Burgess Hill was really the busiest roads we had encountered all day, a sure sign of a good route if you can manage almost 140 Km before saying that.

Sussex Lanes Around Ardingley

The finish was back in the pedestrian area of the Town Centre, cordoned off to avoid any issues with shoppers. It also allowed spectators to welcome home weary riders. From here it was a very short ride to the HQ to hand in timing chips and collect a goody bag complete with a roll and tea or coffee voucher. Some riders took advantage of the massage service but most were grateful to sit down on the comfy chairs and recover.

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) 8 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) 8 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 87.8%

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