The Pearson 150 introduced me to my first Sportif. A world of pain.
I turned up at the Royal Marsden at 0630, shortly after the biggest downpour of rain we had seen this year. The air was fresh and there were plenty of people preparing to do the sportif, even at the crack of dawn. I was envious as I was only marshalling the event in Smallfield, where the 150km and 75km divided. Shannon - my manager at Pearson Cycles - mentioned to me the day before that we should follow the route to Brighton and catch the train home depending on the weather. This was stuck in the back of my mind as we followed the route to Smallfield.
As we began our ride, the weight of what I had taken on began to dawn upon me… The sun was out in full force but the wind, which was fairly moderate to begin with, was now seriously strong! The longest ride I had ever done was Sutton to Boxhill and back; I had passed the point of safe return 20km ago and the only way home was catching the train from Brighton. “Oh it’s gonna be so sweet riding home the other way!” Shannon wailed with childlike excitement. I smiled nervously, not even giving the slightest hint that I bought a one way ticket.
Everything from then on was “just around the corner' or ‘just over that hill!” Turns out this ‘hill’ was Turners Hill - what a stonking hill! I did enjoy the downhill after it however, my heavy legs hung flaccid as I coasted whilst my wind beaten ears revelled to the sound of my hope freewheel. My joys were soon cut short; “NO”’ Shannon cried, “POWER, POWER, POWER! Keep pushing, you’ve got to get up the other hill!” I didn’t understand what on earth that Zimbabwean bush man was talking about, with that funny accent and a southern wind blowing in my face I just carried on coasting until being slapped in the face by another evil ascent! In hindsight, I now understand the term 'pedalling squares', a term Shannon explained to me at the top; the route was great for laying down the hammer on the downhill in order to fly up the ascent. This tortuous cycle went on for a while and my back was really aching - the fact that I had a backpack on with a lunch box and my rock climbing gear probably didn’t help either.
Time went on and I could only imagine jumping into the cool sea and having some fish and chips or a pie, when I spotted another cruel, cruel mountain in the distance. ‘Yeah, that Ditchling... We are going through it, not over it.’ my tormentor reassured me. I knew that punk was lying, but some part of me really wanted to believe that crazy bushman as his ass danced in front of me.
We reached Ditchling and she was massive; I wanted more gears, I wanted a GoCycle, I wanted to DIE. Ditching is so steep, every corner looked like the top but there was always another corner. However, with Shannon’s hand firmly pressed on my lower back, I found myself effortlessly gliding up this unfriendly gradient. I was slowly catching the back end of the 150 sportive. Shannon sprinted up the hill to take a picture of my pain at the summit (summit? It’s a hill not a mountain). All I could think of was dismounting but I was told just to spin it out, it was down hill from there.
Brighton, the land of milk, honey and all things flamboyant. I walked the famous beachfront cycle lane; my ass had never felt as good off the saddle in more than one way as I had some a few double takes from the locals... We set anchor at the Regency just opposite the old burnt down West Pier where we were sheltered from the gale force winds; for a moment I could have been on a desert island with Shannon feeding me fruit of the gods and massaging my feet. All this excitement upset my tummy and I found myself visiting the gentlemen’s more than once before and after my fabulous spag bol.
We were well rested and I was assured the ride back would be amazing and as flat as Shannon’s stomach - the ride out of Brighton was a bitch and I felt hideously fatigued. Dyke road just dragged on and on until we went over the motor way and were exposed to a horrendous cross-wind, I found myself actually leaning to the left to compensate and keep my balance, but as soon as we turned down into the country lanes the promise of a tail wind was fulfilled. The lanes were beautiful but if only that beauty could have offered some respite from the pain I was in. My back was splitting in two, the wafer thin chamois was allowing the saddle cut deep into my perineum. and I found myself standing up and wiggling into the saddle to find the perfect fit. We cycled on pushing through the lanes until we hit the A24 and I was confronted by the North Downs, Box Hill and the Zig Zag – a private road that winds slowly up the downs. I had only previously gone up her two weeks before which was part of the longest ride I had completed to date. I was not in the correct frame of mind and I was beaten before the climb had even begun; I was quite literally ‘pedalling squares’. Shannon gave me a push and shouted ‘find a rhythm!’ the pain in my face would have made any small girl cry and given a small boy nightmares. I cried out in agony as cramp was only a crank away, but I managed to keep it at bay by spinning as fast as my heavy legs would carry me. I came out from under the cover of trees and was greeted by the fresh smell of coffee and cake. I had made it! I knew the ride down the A217 back into Sutton wasn’t that long, so we sat down and ate some cake; it was almost a whole cake but even at that price, I refused to buy any more.
My legs felt annihilated when we set off again and it was now 18:00 and Shannon left me to finish the last leg at my own pace; I watched him as he danced on his bike into the horizon.
Sutton. Descending down Brighton Road into Sutton I told myself, I am Luke Conibear and I own you London-Brighton-London
Lessons I learned the hard way:
- Wear sunglasses, unless you enjoy dirt and sun in your eyes.
- Wear cycling shorts with a decent chamois in them (old school bib shorts are a definite NO)
- Don't bring a huge rucksack with rock climbing equipment in it
- If it's hot, take the fleece off
- Alter hand position regularly to increase enjoyment
- It's probably best to train at least once without fainting before trying a 100 mile ride.
- Leave the road bike at home and ride the GoCycle