We failed. The target was 9 hours and we did 10, 10:02:44 to be precise. That was 36 minutes better than last year but not good enough. Instead of three weeks to think about this one I had twelve months so I should have got it right.
The training went alright despite the constant tyre/tube issues. We trained to ride fast and let the endurance sort itself out on the day. The bikes, at least my Whyte 29C Team and Simon’s Niner RDO got tuned to perfection. The schedule was worked out to show what time we would arrive at each marker: QECP, A286, A285, Amberley…. and so on. The stops were cut down to 3. What could go wrong?
Who organised the weather? We rose at 3:15am to thunder and drove to Winchester in heavy rain, warm but way too much of it. We had varying degrees of wet from spitting to deluge for most of the first 40 miles. The first section is not really a national trail more the sort of thing that you would do on a touring bike, lots of road and farm tracks and relatively flat so we made good speed arriving at Queen Elizabeth Country Park 20 minutes ahead of schedule. We had to stop because my wonderful, incredible and marvellous (more later) Schwalbe Racing Ralphs only fitted 11 hours earlier were losing air.
According to Strava which may not be the most precise gauge of speed we were third overall from QECP to Harting carpark so we must have been going well. Then the rain got really heaving and the ground got slippery. A tyre burst and a crash followed damaging bike and body. The bike was fixed with an emergency rear hanger (available to buy but no one does – except me of course). This stop was much longer than it should have been as I had ridden on so far thinking that the others had past me (happens when you are trying hard).
The team was now two and after arranging a pick up for Simon, we started the local bit. Cocking to the A27 near Lewes is the easy section and should be fast but we were suffering and our food stop had gone off to pick up the invalid. I had planned every gel and bar intake but, as I learnt from last year, normal food is the key to survival. With the change of plan it was hit and miss where we would meet up. Last year Garmin kept everyone informed tracking section we rode. This year Garmin have cocked up with their PR and firmware and admit that it just doesn’t work! Come on guys. Get it sorted!
I was in a really bad way as we past the half way mark with every part of my body aching. Jon was even worse and the temptation to turn south was overwhelming. Fortunately the van was at Truliegh Hill with malt loaf, salami sandwiches, muffins, jelly babies, bananas… We had a feast. I was fired up after that with the thought that there was only really one decent climb left: Firle. Jon was not so upbeat.
He picked up a gentler travelling companion than me, Grace Henderson from Worthing. She was riding to Stanmer and as he got to know her so she joined our team. The lovely lady kept us going almost as far as Southease. Thank you Chris for your company and encouragement, we owe you. The temperature rose (28C), the hills grew but we now had a new goal to spur us on. The nine hours was long gone but for Simon we owed him a 10 hour finish. It is amazing how watching the clock can spur you on. I think that we had 50 minutes to get from Alfriston to Eastbourne beach. We went through the finish in 10:02:44. After dragging Jon from Amberly to Beachy Head he saw the finish and left me trailing in the final dash. Apparently, according the Strava we are 7th from Devil’s Dyke to Eastbourne. We weren’t going so quick here as I was suffering too so maybe the quick guys don’t use Strava.
Thanks must go to Jon for staying with me, Simon for providing the motivation in the first place, Grace for being such a great gate closer (she did 58 miles Saturday and 70 Sunday!), Andy Monk for his enthusiastic support as we passed him several times, the boys at Quest Adventure (Gav, Paul, Ash & Ben) for making sure that my bike worked, Janet, Polly and Missy for the support, food and photos on the way, the British Heart Foundation for the event and signage, Schwalbe for their amazing Racing Ralphs (light, fast and incredibly grippy – saved me more than once!), Whyte for the 29C Team, Rotor for the Q-Rings and the South Downs (at least from QECP) for providing such an awesome and beautiful challenge.
I have to do it again for Simon. Hoping Jon will come too.
Here’s the ride. Did it defeat us? Did we fail? I’d like to think not as for both of us this year was really tough. We finished and still had a cold beer on the green in Eastbourne in glorius sunshine and I’m chuffed with the 8:44 riding time. For the record Grace has done it there and back!