Three weeks after abandoning the annual Coastal Clog, a select group assembled once again for the event. This time around, the weather, while arguably as cold as on the previous attempt, was looking more kindly on the ride. Several dry, breezy days immediately prior meant that the roads were, for the most part, dry rather than slick with half-melted black ice.
The breeze, however, was coming steadily from the north-west, and was very cold. Not that we noticed while heading south on the traditional route via Newdigate, Rusper and Mannings Heath. Bright sunshine created enough warmth to hint at the imminent arrival of spring and, propelled by that chuff wind, we reached Steyning in just over 1hr40′.
There are plenty of small rises on the way there, enough to keep things interesting, but veterans of the Clog know that the real action starts with Stomping Hill, better known as Steyning Bostal. This savage climb acquired its more apt soubriquet on the first running of the ride way back in the late ’80s when Rob Jefferies and I, fresh from winning prizes in a criterium on Worthing sea front, rode down to the town to redeem the vouchers awarded. For inner tubes, if I remember correctly.
That year, before reaching Worthing we climbed the Bostal and descended to the village of Sompting, its name hinting at the only practicable way of getting over the hill. Rob hadn’t ridden the Clog since but had decided to turn up for this one. His groan of recognition as we left Steyning with the awful sight of Stomping Hill ahead was worth the ride down…
Regrouping at the top, we were surprised to see rugby player Danny Hutton make the summit. A Clog alumnus but short this time around of road miles, Danny had intimated that he would wait for us at the cafe in Steyning while we did the loop around Coombes and Botolphs. Seems he “overshot” the cafe and had to ride the hill. Sensibly, he rode back down and headed for the lunch stop near Billingshurst while we rode the loop.
It is lumpy in an innocent kind of way and is very popular with cyclists, who passed going the opposite way in considerable numbers. Following on from the Bostal and the subsequent climb to Sompting Abbots, however, this little leg always does a lot of damage. The first to look a little sluggish was DA, who hasn’t had the best January ever. Leaving Steyning we found ourselves presented with a surprisingly stiff headwind; finding himself on the front for the first time, triathlete Tristram Bishop put in a generous turn and immediately had DA in trouble.
Shiny Boy, however, knows how to dig deep and did so, hanging on despite finding himself at the back of what he described as a four-up TTT to Billingshurst and lunch, where we found Danny about to order his usual Olympic Breakfast. Just the one this year.
From here on, distance and the biting headwind began to take their toll. The pace gradually slowed with no one particularly keen to push on the front. Tootling up Weare Street, we got to the northern end to find a police cordon with several patrol cars just beyond and a policeman marking the road. Here was the aftermath of some sort of unpleasant RTA, no doubt. I ducked the cordon tape and got a yell from the copper, wanting to know if I had seen it. I had, and told him so, adding that we had just ridden five miles along a road with no turn-offs and that, had there been a warning at the other end, we would not have set off down it.
Faced with this kind of logic he had little choice but to let us through. As we waited for Danny, a member of the Norwood Paragon rode straight through from the other direction, on receipt of the yell simply stating that he had been told by another copper to go through. The look on the face of “ours” as Paragon man blithely ignored his instructions was beautiful to see.
The final scenes of the day were written by Shiny Boy, who now found new strength from nowhere. Noticing that Rob was suddenly nailed to the road, he attacked hard out of Newdigate, shelling Tristram and regaining a lot of confidence if his happy demeanour back at Ryka’s cafe could be believed. It had been a fine edition. Leaving our companions to drive home, DA and I set off for south London and our first 100 of the year, DA managing a total of 198km by the time he got home. Not bad for someone who has had to go back to basics this winter.