Tour of Britain Stage 7 - The Real Thing
To paraphrase the iconic former Tottenham manager, Bill Nicholson: “it is better to fail aiming high than to succeed aiming low. And we of bikebritain have set our sights very high, so high in fact that even failure will have in it an echo of glory.”
Yes, from that you may infer that the full reconnaissance of Stage 7 of the 2014 Tour of Britain didn’t quite go as we may have hinted in our previews. I mean, we finished it, and in the right place too, but not before having necessarily severed the easternmost bulge of the route out to Eastbourne. This was down to a number of complex factors, and when I say “number”, I mean two and, when I say “complex”, I mean not complex at all. Factor one, it was a bit hot. Factor two, I wouldn’t have made it.
My previous highest mileage day was a shade over 90, largely comprised of a charity ride from Bristol to Oxford last summer, which was punctuated by luxurious breaks and, to include all of the mileage, a two-hour train journey. It turns out that jumping straight to 140 miles (nearly a year later) was slightly ambitious, and did I mention it was a bit hot?
Anyway, such a jump was the Tour of Britain’s fault. By scheduling the longest stage of the modern form of the race on our relative doorstep, they had basically forced us to undertake a challenge that was beyond me. The distance I did manage was enough for many of the other stages and, well, who wants to go to Eastbourne anyway? I apologise if you are from, or have any affinity with Eastbourne. I’ve been there, it’s very nice. I saw an old couple asleep on each other on a bench on the seafront, and it was one of the loveliest things I’ve ever seen. Granted, it doesn’t scream BRING A CYCLE RACE HERE IMMEDIATELY but it was still nice.
I cannot stress enough that the reason for curtailing the ride was entirely me-shaped. Mr bikebritain himself could have done it with his eyes closed, the only harm that might have come to him was a serious neck injury from looking round to see where I was all day, or that he was riding so far within himself that he might actually turn inside out.
Still, it started well. 8am in Camberley, we set off through some nice countryside and only struggled for navigation on a couple of occasions. We wound down to Haslemere and then worked our way across to Horsham before tracking north to Pease Pottage and then down to Haywards Heath for lunch. Ah, lunch. I was relying on lunch to reinvigorate me, as I was starting to feel it, and reinvigorate me it did. For about five miles. I considered what was left of the route, and as we continued to pilot our way towards Uckfield, began to wonder if I had enough. The parcourse was not difficult in and of itself, but it was relentlessly undulating, and each short, sharp climb or long, steady drag was sapping what was left of my reserves. We’d joked earlier in the day about getting a mechanical in Eastbourne and how that would be by far the most inconvenient place for it to happen and, whilst a fat man falling off his bike is not technically a mechanical issue, it’s still bloody inconvenient, especially if he falls straight off again when you put him back on.
With a little, tiny voice I squeaked my concerns at Jonathan and, soon enough, his local knowledge had devised a diverted route, heading south at Uckfield and heading toward Lewes, where we would pick up the route as it headed back into Brighton via Ditchling Beacon.
Because, friends, I was doing the Beacon. Or, at least, I was going to attempt the Beacon. I was a bit worried that something tough enough to make it into Simon Warren’s original “100 Greatest Cycling Climbs” was a poor idea when I had just bailed on a few mild undulations, but quitting isn’t in my vocabulary. Ok, it is definitely in my ‘vocabulary’, but I try and limit how often I use it, especially when I’d used it within the last hour and would probably use it several more time that week. And, so it was that I hauled myself up that hill (Jonathan twirling his way up effortlessly ahead of me) in spite of myself, with breathing so ragged that, when a chap cycling the other way told me “not long now”, I wasn’t entirely sure whether he meant to the summit or an early grave.
All that remained was to cruise down into central Brighton and the inevitable comedic driving, which would be more comedic if it wasn’t liberally laced with the very real danger of serious injury. Plus ca change. The sprint finish on Madeira Drive, inappropriate though it may have been after lopping off a significant chunk of the route, was actually impossible due to an assortment of largely new Minis at the conclusion of their annual London to Brighton jaunt, most honking their horns in apparent celebration of having driven a car less than three years old about fifty miles.
And there you have it. I have sent my report to the Tour organisers. A single side of A4 with “TOO LONG” traced on it in my own sweat. I’m confident of a response. And what have I learned? 220km (yes, I know I’m switching between imperial and metric, deal with it) is an awful long way and is not to be taken lightly. For now, I’ll have to be satisfied with my longest ever day in the saddle, and keep trying to improve. Obviously, as is the bikebritain way, if at first you don’t succeed, get really annoyed at yourself and don’t screw it up a second time.
Distance : 173 km
Meters climbed : circa 1800
Words – Lukey
Thumbnail – Lukey in action