Being local to us here at i-ride.co.uk and hearing high-praise for the 2010 event meant the Puncheur 2011 was a must, so we got our entries in and stuffed loads of energy gels in our jersey pockets in preparation for the Sussex sportive season opener.
One thing everyone mentioned from last year were the skating rinks, which apparently sent a few riders across the road pulling some sweet breakdance legs-in-the-air slides. Luckily this year temperatures at the HQ in Ditchling Village were hitting a balmy 4degC above, but the BBC promised sunshine for late morning so we were all happy.
Sign-on was from around 7am and it was very efficient and simple; into the cricket clubhouse, sign next to your name, grab a timing chip pendant, free energy bars and you’re ready to go. Of course all the other cyclist’s necessities were on hand such as food, coffees and toilets.
Ditchling is located just north of the South Downs and in the shadow of Ditchling Beacon. ‘The Beacon’, as it’s known locally, is a relatively small but punishingly steep climb with a height gain of around 500ft and maximum 17% gradient, which is a treat saved for the last of the 69miles in the Puncheur. The rest of the route is an anti-clockwise loop that heads approximately north-east from the event HQ.
We set out from Ditchling at just after 8.15am and, thanks to i-ride team rider Matt Bottrill being on a training mission for his upcoming TT season, he and Scott Povey (also on the i-ride team) were on the front driving the pace. The flat roads and fast pacers made it pretty attractive to jump on so as we passed other riders the group started to swell.
This provided a great opportunity for us to have a few friendly words with everyone between breathes as we swiftly clocked up the first 15 or so miles. This first section of the course was a great warm-up with small lanes, welcoming countryside and only the odd little lump to roll over.
However, the inspiration for the event name soon became apparent. We found ourselves heading up a series of punchy climbs, the kind where you sprint up the first two feeling fresh as a daisy, but when they come every 1/4 of mile or so for most of the remainder of the course, the fatigue quickly builds and the quads really start to burn.
The surroundings continued to be typically Sussex with rolling fields giving way to the Ashdown Forest. As we reached the foot of another short-but-steep climb I looked to my left to see the Barcombe Railway Bridge. Railway bridges don’t normally excite me, but the huge red-brick arched construction looked pretty impressive and was well worth a glance. Apparently it has over 3 million bricks.
At 33 miles was the location of the well-stocked feed-station with bananas, cakes and barrels of energy drink. By this time Matt and Scott were well away. Myself and a couple of other guys who dropped off together from the original group crammed some gels and cake down and headed off again, eager to get past the halfway point.
The gels kicked in and the miles started clocking up. A few more ups, downs and fast lanes past Ardingley reservoir and with the sun now on our backs we were on our return leg to Ditchling. The last few miles into the village are pretty flat but a head wind made any ideas of resting before ‘The Beacon’ climb went out the window.
It can be nasty shock to the system hitting the bottom of Ditchling Beacon, and I was prepared as we often ride up it when feeling sadistic on a Sunday morning, but after 67 miles it was something else. Having spectators and finished riders cheering made it a little easier, I also tried to ignore what was left of the climb and just kept pushing toward each of the numerous false brows.
Thankfully though, I reached the last corner and rise, the trees ended and a spectacular view of the South Downs bathed in sunshine materialised. 50 metres more and I rolled very wearily into the car park entrance to a warm welcome and a print-out telling me I had managed a Gold standard leading to an even bigger smile. Oh, I forgot to mention the all-important ice cream van at the finish, very welcome!
A big “well done” is deserved by everyone who completed this testing course at a time of year when the legs aren’t really used to these kinds of efforts. We had a great time and of course were pretty chuffed by our 1,2,3 for the team. Considering how impressed I was by the organisation and the route, and the locality of the event, it looks like the Puncheur will become an annual fixture for us in the i-ride crew.
More details www.puncheur.co.uk
The i-ride team is open for all to join and details can be found at www.i-ride.co.uk