With last year's end-of-June event seeing scorching temperatures, this year's was a very different story. As Dave R's report says, the weather was far from perfect for this 100 mile endurance event that delivers 11,700ft of climbing - that's three Snowdons! Dave R and Mark R rode solo efforts about an hour apart, whilst Mark E and Julian rode as a team of two. Last (and least!), Jon L and JT rode as another two-man team, bringing up the rear but overtaking other riders from start to finish. If our experience was anything to go by, then there were a very large number of people out there until last light (considering how many riders were behind us).
The ride can be described as "three halves." The first half (about 30 miles) is on heavier soil, and this year was the wetter section. As Mark R says: "conditions were extremely tough in terms of sticky mud and loss of traction. At one point the bike must have almost doubled in weight with collected mud and I became extremely concerned about just how slow progress was becoming. in addition it was really necessary to descend hills at a much slower pace to avoid loss of control." Too true.
Once you move on past the Queen Elizabeth Country Park on the A3, the terrain opens out a bit, the hills get bigger but fortunately the drizzle was turned off and the large puddles helped to wash the sticky mud off the bikes. This second half, another 30-odd miles, rolls along and it's still possible to keep up a good average pace.
Mark noted the pleasant backing track provided by a cuckoo, some dairy cows and postulating WW2 planes! Then there's the third half - non-sensical, but it really is "the extra mile." In fact, an extra 30-odd miles! This section, from the other side of Devil's Dyke, sees some long, dragging hills and is where the real endurance test kicks in. Jon and I (JT) drew on all our reserves through this section, focused on the very personal motivations for completing this task. I took on the role of "official gate-opener" for Jon L, riding ahead and seeking out the way-markers which were disappearing in the mist. And by now the cross-wind had strengthened for the tail-end charlies, making an occasional cameo appearance as an unhelpful headwind. Luckily, I'd decided to pull on a fresh pair of "podium-ready" gloves, which was such a luxury - I was thinking "these gloves feel nice..." for at least ten miles!
Funny what motivates when you start hallucinating... Anyway, back to the gritty drama. Dave R and Mark R had similar visibility problems in this last section: " I was absolutely over the moon that I still had the endurance left to climb Itford and Windover hills without stopping and was really glad I knew the route well as sea mist and lowering light levels made navigation difficult" said Mark R. With the mist trying very hard to act all tough and pretend to be a thick fog, oh how I wished I'd ridden this last 10 mile section before... Jon and I got well and truly lost, just as we were running out of juice! A quick map-read (supported by a few expletives) and we were back on track, nearly home. Despite all of this, the finish line came into view fast enough and a very, very large dose of satisfaction (together with a well-earned beer and a shower) was handed out at the finish line for the plucky competitors.
Mark R also picked up the only puncture of the day in the last 100 metres - such luck! Someone asked me: "Which was harder... Tourmalet or South Downs Way?" You know what... I'd have to say South Downs Way. Tough as old boots. Mark R has 'fessed up as being addicted to this event - this being his third time. I hope I don't catch it! Well done everyone who competed and raised a couple of grand for BHF - and for the rest of you, there are no excuses as perfect weather conditions are predicted for the end-of-July event. Good luck! JT
Dave R's account here: http://www.redhillcc.co.uk/news/2011/06/solo-story#comment-5298