Have the legs recovered? Well I am about to find out as I put them to the test around the Puncheur 2021 Cyclosportive. This 100km loop around West Sussex is advertised as neither a mega-endurance event, nor a long list of nasty climbs, but a test of your ability to maintain momentum, and keep the rhythm over a series of short climbs and drags - with a summit finish at Ditchling Beacon. With 100km and a little over 1300m of ascent, it isn't a walk in the park, and with some pretty serious clubs, riders and bikes floating around, it will be a little pacey.
My goal isn't to be the quickest, there is no chance of that anyway, but there are some guides to aim for and they are as follows:
Sub 4h 30min
I set myself the goal of a "silver" finish, there is no medal or award for this, just the satisfaction that you are a "silver" finisher - this is total time, not just riding time, so once the stopwatch starts, it doesn't stop until you are over the line. Looking historically back at my previous 100km rides, my usual total time is between 4h30m and 5h, taking into considerations rest stops, so sub 4h 30m will be a challenge - especially considering the terrain and how my legs have recovered since LEJOG. How did I get on? well, you will just have to read on (no spoilers here).
But first, lets go back to the invitation to join the Puncheur - which until a couple of days beforehand, I didn't really even know of its existence. Looking at the Pearson instagram page, as a sponsor of the event they had a couple of tickets they were giving away, so I entered and last Thursday received an email to say that I had won a spot - amazing. I never win anything, so was very happy and said yes, would love to. However, in all my enthusiasm i hadn't even looked where the event would take place (I did know it was on Sunday), how I would get there, the weather, etc...you know, all the important stuff. So I looked online, Ditchling - cool, been there before and there is a train line that runs close by. Southern Rail are not the best rail company in the land, in fact they are one of the worst and have engineering work almost every weekend. Not surprisingly, I could go as far as Three Bridges...umm...then a bus maybe? In fact logistically it was impossible without a 4am start to get down for my start time, so I quickly sorted out some accommodation, booked return to Three Bridges, and sorted a route to ride the 30km from the station to the B&B on Saturday.
Saturday came, rode up to Victoria to see cancellations across the board for trains to Three Bridges as there was a signalling issue in East Croyden - as previously mentioned, Southern Rail are shite. Eventually got on a random Southampton train that went through Three Bridges, then rode down to the lovely picturesque village of Poynings and the South Downs Way B&B - it was 12km from the start line, but the closest I could get with 24h notice. A very comfortable nights sleep and great breakfast in the morning - and a host that also lovely his cycling adventures. The B&B was in an amazing spot at the foot of the South Downs near Devils Dyke (and a pub literally across the road!)
Sunday morning arrived, breakfast of champions laid out - large bowl of porridge with banana and honey, toast, with orange juice and coffee, followed by a short 12km ride/warm-up to the start line. T'was a misty morn, well misty/foggy, and by the forecast that was going to hang around for some time, so had better get used to it. There wasn't an official start time/send off, just needed to register, get my number and timing chip, then head to the start line to get scanned and head off. Easy.
The ride in total was 100km, with one feed station situated at roughly (55km) the half way point. In order to get my sub 4h 30m time, I needed to get off to a strong start, and continue to push at slightly more than my normal rate. I am not a sprinter, more built physically and mentally for endurance, so I didn't know how hard to go out so as not to blow up half way, or leave myself short. By the end my legs were done, so I don't think I could have done any more, but always good to test ones boundaries - I do enjoy that. So the first half went by in a misty haze, there wasn't a lot of scenery to take phots off, but as I was concentrating on my time, I really wasn't going to stop and enjoy the scenery (if I could even see it). So the plan going into the feed station was a quick use of the facilities, grab some food, and head off - 5 minutes at the most...well, that at least was the plan. I was sort of on track, except at the last moment all the volunteers and organisers at the stand noticed my bike and wanted to talk about it and get some photos - the gift/curse of having the most desirable bike in field (biased view of course).
Legs were definitely starting to feel it as I closed in on the finish line, and not a normal finish, this one was a summit finish on top of Ditchling Beacon - a 1km 10% climb. Normally heading up the hill is a challenge, but with 99km already in the legs, it made it that much more so. As stated in previous blogs, not going to let anything stop me, even though my legs were crying a little, and I nearly barfed at the top, I finished the Sportive in as quick a time as I could have managed on the day (minus of course the half way point conversations).
So my time I hear you ask? Did I get the silver? With a time of 4h 6min, I was well within my target time...although the way my brain works, I was slightly annoyed I missed out on a sub-4h Gold finish, so next time - no stopping at the half way point. Looking through the finishers, I came 95th out of 425, more than respectable considering there were a lot of club riders in the field, and I was a happy but tired cyclist. It was a full weekend, wasn't a lot of time left for anything else, but an amazing way to spend it.
Sleep now, for tomorrow I ride
Oh, and how did I get home? Well, if you remember there were no trains running, so back on the bike for another 30km ride to Three Bridges - I can say that hurt. Luckily, the first train back went to Blackfriars not Victoria, so that saved me 5km ride at the other end.