bikebritain Says March 23, 2013

The Burgess Hill Springtime Classic 3rd March 2013

So far, 2013 has been slow start as far as me, bikebritain and cycling is concerned. The combination of work and work travel, winter weather (read ‘snow’) at the weekends and spending some quality time with the family left me wondering where the weeks have gone. What better way to kick-start my cycling year ‘proper’ than a Sportive? So I entered the Springtime Classic, start/finish, Burgess Hill, West Sussex, about 15 miles away from home. 

It didn’t bode particularly well. Of the 800 people that had turned up, only 2, as far as I could tell, were wearing shorts. I was one of them. Either we had both made a good choice, or together had completely miscalculated. Shear weight of numbers indicated the latter. Combine this, plus my seemingly unshakeable talent of not finishing properly and peeing down my shorts, this particular Sunday shaping up to sub-optimal. I’m standing in a car park in the middle of Burgess Hill, I’ve just needlessly spent £3 on parking (which, note, is free on a Sunday) and I have 72 hilly miles ahead of me. Where to from here?

I’d already signed in, so other than some obligatory dithering about, I was ready to ride. I queued up with everyone else and looked about. Black was definitely the colour to be seen in. It felt a bit like school; I was standing in my fluro jacket and shorts and all the cool kids here were wearing their Assos winter bibs and riding their £5K bikes. Tell the truth, I felt a bit out of place. Might be different, I considered, when we began riding.

8:30 start, prompt. We were released onto the local roads in waves of 6, and my turn came soon enough. It looked like rain, but it was holding off for the time being and that was all I cared about. I needed the loo again though. I decided to ignore it for a bit which was a fool’s strategy but there you are. Let’s get a few miles under my belt to start with, I thought. So I did. I quickly caught up a group of riders that were buzzing along at a good lick so I stayed with them for a while until I saw the perfect hedgerow for a pit stop. Business done, I chased the cyclists that I had just overtaken. We were heading north, ultimately towards Crowborough and then Sevenoaks. There were at least 5 major hills to deal with, including the infamous ‘Wall’ and CobLlane. My neighbour, an accomplished cyclist warned me about Cob Lane. Apparently it was the only hill he’d ever had to walk up. He was lean and mean. I’m not. It was clearly going to be a task for brute force and belligerence. Fortunately, these are two of my finest qualities. Anyway that was some way off for now…….

We had about 20 miles to the first major hill which was ‘The Wall’ and it came round quite quickly. I wasn’t feeling that great. So far I was convinced that most people had overtaken me, though to be fair, most were riding in groups, thus sharing the load. Me? I was just ploughing on, on my own. It makes me fitter I told myself. I’ve ridden up ‘The Wall’ or Kidd’s Hill a few times now and I thought this was the hardest it felt to date. Legs were lacking in power which was disappointing given I was on the ‘Spesh’. Maybe I was warming up? Unlikely, I was 1/3rd of the way through. No matter, a brief piece to video later and a bloke saying it was “Bloody hard”, we were heading towards Groombridge through Ashdown Forest. The road directly out of Groombridge is nuts. It’s really quite steep and you could see a snake of cyclists toil their way up it as far as the eye could see. These were, of course, all people that had overtaken me. I got chatting to another solitary cyclists who was riding a Genesis, and after asking him whether it was a steel frame (it wasn’t), we continued chatting for the next 5-6 miles or so, all the way to one of the mandatory check points. After 41 miles I had reached Hever Castle and I was still dry. Almost 3 hours had elapsed. Not bad, steady you would say.

It would be churlish to say the (warm) sausage rolls served at the food stop where the highlight of the morning, but they were very welcome and just what the doctor probably didn’t order. I limited myself to two, more out of the fear of nausea than a desire to only eat two deliciously tasty pastries! A swift water-bottle refill later I was ready to get going again. No point hanging around and getting cold. I lead a pack of cyclists off and before long we were climbing again. This was an SRS-Events organised ride and they had done a very competent job of signing the route. No time lost by being lost and you were rarely out of sight from other cyclists.

I would classify this as a ride of two halves. If I was being overtaken for the first 41 miles, then the boot was on the other foot for the last 31. The field had really strung out by now so most people were riding on their own. This, however, was usual for me. I just ground out the miles, accompanied by the Garmin telling me what my mile splits were. I felt stronger as the ride went on, and after a slow start, this was pleasing. Cob Lane ahead. Of course, I didn’t know Cob Lane was ahead because I was more interested in hanging onto the bike for dear life on the down-hill approach. A road of poor quality and some tasty bends, it was a good test of your riding skills to stay off the gravel in the middle, away from the numerous potholes and off the water where possible. Tricky stuff. At the bottom we were greeted with a couple of signs saying ‘Cob Lane’ ahead. Here we go.

It is a steep hill. I’d ridden about 59 miles by now and the legs had taken a bit of a pounding. Basically, the road just went up. There was little opportunity to take a run-up, it was more of a case of ditching the bike into the lowest gear and grinding it out. Not sophisticated, but effective. I could see at least three folks pushing their bikes up. I was making progress, albeit slow. Others were overtaking me, but they were clearly not human. They were the cyclists that had ignored the sausage rolls earlier. Fair-play. I was out of the saddle now, weaving around, avoiding the cyclists who were amazingly going slower than me. I could see the top – I was going to do it. A few, brief snorts later I was inching my way over the summit and catching a few well deserved breathes. That was tough. I even said so to the camera. About 12 miles to go.

There were still some more hills to conquer. Not as savage as Cob Lane, but leg sapping nevertheless. They came in quick succession so it was a job to get your mind back in the right place and grind these out. I passed one chap on a trike and it transpired it was @GKam84, friend of @dizzymabil and @LulhAndy all of whom were riding the course. He was going very slowly up these final hills. It looked painful. I shouted some useless words of encouragement to him. I also noticed he had a terrific beard. Surely we’d be in Burgess Hill soon?

I need not have worried. After riding with a chap that clearly had an urban death wish (cutting across the traffic at any random time he could) I reached the limits of the town. My legs had had enough now, but I was pleased with my efforts. The shorts had been a good call, at no time had I felt cold. It was one of the most challenging rides I could remember – certainly a good early season test. I had averaged 14 miles per hour and my finish time had just about earned a ‘Silver’ classification – albeit about 56 minutes slower than the fastest man on the Classic course. Impressive.

This had been my first Sportive for nearly 18 months! I had enjoyed it – as usual in a weird way. I have set myself a target of 12 Sportives this year and I’m already plotting my next couple. Organisation wise, SRS-Events did a sterling job and I would participate in another one of their rides again without hesitation.

You can follow SRS-Events on twitter @srsevents along with @bikebritain

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