Coastal Clog iced off - Road Cycling UK

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Coastal Clog iced off

Decision time

Neil’s food stash for 100 miles

The morning of the day chosen for the Coastal Clog, the annual leg-stretching season-opener of a century ride, dawned, as forecast, bright and sunny. Just as it did last year. This time around, however, the forecast had also been for mild air temperatures, promising those of us who had set our alarm clocks the prospect of the most enjoyable ride for several years.

Forecast notwithstanding, the air was decidedly chilly at 08:20hrs as I left home and I was more than a little concerned to find extensive patches of white frost coating the side roads. Of course, the white stuff is reasonably safe to ride on, giving up a satisfying, crisp sound and offering enough grip for going in a straight line.

Cornering on it is a nerve-wracking business but go slow enough having unclipped the inside shoe and it can be done. Slowly, then, I passed Banstead and Burgh Heath to find the A217 south of Tadworth closed, fire engines visible further down the road evidence of a serious car crash. Turning for Dorking, I was fine until the top of Pebblecombe hill, which was being taken very slowly by several cars. I turned right for Box Hill and almost lost both wheels on what looked like wet Tarmac.

Not for the first time, I inwardly blessed the file tread pattern of Vittoria’s Open Pave CG clincher and, not for the first time, I thought about turning around. Last year’s descent of the zig-zag left Clogger Lionel Birnie nursing a bruised hip and busted rear mech and with an early DNF. This year would surely be even more treacherous and so it was.

Oddly, the road under tree cover was merely damp or wet and, accordingly, reasonably grippy. Emerge into bright sunshine, however, and the white stuff covered the road surface. The only way to get down the hill was to unclip and creep down at 5mph using the back brake.

Arriving at Ryka’s cafe, I found a pensive trio of ride companions looking anxiously out of the window. Simon had already fallen off on the Betchworth roundabout and had a grazed hip but was willing to continue if I could fix his bent rear mech.

In the hope that the ice would melt, we waited until 10:00hrs to carry on. No real problems presented themselves as we dropped past Holmwood and through Newdigate and we formed into a nice two-by-two group for the run up to Rusper. Next thing, Simon’s back wheel slipped out and he fell in front of DA and Neil, bringing both down. On the inside at the front, I aimed for the soft, grassy and visibly grippy verge, unclipping and trying desperately to slow down using an absurd hopping foot motion rather than touch the brakes.

My companions lay in an untidy heap on the ground but quickly got up. We checked for damage and injury, which extended to grazed hips and knees and the ruin of several hundred quids’ worth of tights and shorts. Inspection of the road surface revealed a friction coefficient of roughly nil, what little there was courtesy of the sheer coarseness of the chippy surface. It was almost impossible to walk on and yet looked like ordinary wet Tarmac. Seems ice had formed during a sub-zero night and then started to melt, leaving a wet look but with all the danger of black ice.

Maybe another 10 minutes would have been enough to melt the ice right the way through; maybe we would have fallen off again in the next 100m. There was no way to have identified the icy patch on which we had fallen and, faced with probably the most hazardous riding conditions any of us had experienced, the easy decision was taken to turn around and abandon the Clog for only the second time in its long history.

Getting home was no picnic, not least because car traffic was getting heavier by the minute and drivers either did not understand the danger posed by ice to cyclists or, as in the case of one who repeatedly menaced me from behind as I negotiated a slick stretch, did not care. With the memory of the zig-zag still fresh, I took the unheard-of decision to ride up Pebblecombe, reaching home physically unharmed but mentally blown. Ah well, blowing away the festive flab will have to wait a while longer.


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