My First Sportive.
by Jon Carver age 60 3/4 class 2c
We got up Early. We had a long drive. It was in Surrey. Surrey is a long way away. In Surrey a man gave me a number and a sticky label and a bag of drink. I rode my bike for a very very very very long way. There were lots of men and ladies who were huffing and puffing and saying rude words. The rude words made me laugh, so I said some too and nobody told me off. We ate biskits and drank squash that made me go a bit faster and we ate bananas and I did a wee wee in the bushes. We went up some hills that were very very very very steep. So steep that one lady said the F word and the S word and she fell off her bike. Then a man rode into her and he fell off his bike and he said the F word and the S word. at the end a lady gave me a badge on a ribbon, but I cried cos I didnt get a balloon.
OK. I shall attempt the grown up version which will say a lot more but will amount to the same thing.
In the beginning was an idiot. The idiot sat reading a weekly journal called Cycling Weekly. It’s called Cycling weekly because it comes out every seven days and not as the idiot believed when taking out his subscription, because it is aimed at people who cycle weakly.
“Oh! they still have spaces left on The Dorking original Sportive” said the idiot to the poor woman he had duped into spending her life with him.
“How much?” asked she with a malevolent glint in her eye. He was too much of an idiot to read the thought bubble coming out of her head in which was written….” he could meet with a painful end. LMFAO”
So the idiot explained the pricing structure. The cheapest option would have taken him on the shortest route but would still have taken one ascent of the fabled Box Hill the OLYMPIC hill, he told her proudly, feeling certain that she’d go for that.
“Only 30 miles!” she taunted from across the room so wasn’t taunting from Taunton. ” your legs wont even have warmed up”
The idiot was by now beginning to realise that it may well have painted itself into a corner. He reasoned that although it was a distance that he would ordinarily laugh at in their own locality, in the North Downs of Surrey the same distance might reasonably be described as
” a bit of an arse!”
Her riposte was to suggest an element of cowardice on his part. Idiot or not he was no fool so in a last ditch attempt at sanity he went for the two pronged attack of “can we realistically afford the extra expense right now? and 120 miles is probably daft”
His ploy was fifty percent successful. She was persuaded that 120 miles was too far and proffered her debit card with which to seal his fate. No, I didn’t mean fete.
Thus at the appointed hour he presented his bike and himself at the starting house armed only with some drinks gels two legs and a panicking brain cell. In the interim he had of course very seriously stepped up the training (oops, forgot the S off the start of that word) furthermore he had gone to the expense of purchasing the ordnance survey map of the area and attempted vainly to plot the route thereupon for the 78 mile torture that he was to subject himself to. he looked at the contour lines and had convinced himself that although it would be hard, he could manage it. Yes, I know. He is an idiot.
First thing about a sportive to notice, is that its like a gigantic club run. There are the Mikes and Kevins in their 40s who have grown up round Shimano and know it all. There are the Harrys and Wills in their 20s who are as fit as racing snakes, go off like rockets, all with the latest gear and no guile. There are also the Wendys and the Jillys on their pink Giants (No you filthy minded swine). Ethel who prattle on about sports bras and coming out of said garment whilst rattling up Mow Cop just to loosen the legs up mid week. In amongst these are the keen, the evangelistic, and the plain moronic, this latter group embraced the idiot and off they set to a chorus of ” Good luck..love you.. see you at the end….and more than the odd wanker or two from the surrey scallywags”
About 4 minutes into the ride comes the first hill. The day was cold. Nay, there were cannonballs rolling off their brass monkeys aboard frigging frigates in the harbour it was so cold. It was one of those days when the chammy bulge at the front of ones shorts is protecting absolutely bugger all. The anatomical parts having ducked for cover unlike the rest of the body over which the brain was denying all responsibility for. The knees were creaking. The lungs were on fire. The idiot had selected the wrong gearing because although the signposting was brilliant in most respects, the signage which said “Absolute shitter of a hill after next right hairpin” had been omitted. A brief moment of jumping up and down on the spot and off the bike selection of a more sensible gear and it was off again. Up the hill that is, not the bike.
Take time to enjoy the countryside was the advice given on the last email. Its hard not to. The scenery of The Surrey North Downs way is quite simply England at its finest. Leafy lanes and rolling hills atop of each there is a spirit lifting view that is beyond compare. That’s actually the British Isles all over. It’s as though someone initially took an aerial snapshot after which the counties were divvied up, so unique is the character of each one. As we rolled along I remarked to a fellow idiot (had you guessed that it was me?…..Oh! really? When? right away? Oh well) that it was as though we were riding along a tarmac carpet and when you least expected it some bugger grabbed the end and gave it a flick causing some of the most lung busting gradients to challenge the unsuspecting rider round the next bend. So it was that after that initial horror I found myself now warmed up pleased with my hill climbing thus far and munching on a piece of Swiss roll at the first feed stop.
*”Excuse me mate” asked a chap whom I was certain had not been formally introduced to me by my valet “have we done Box Hill yet?” I replied that indeed we had not and had the best part of 40 or so miles before we encountered that pleasure.
“Are there any other big hills then? ” he was probably called Dennis or Malcolm.
Hoots of derision came from a group of middle aged men in Cleckheaton Clarion skin suits.
“Tha’s got the legendary Lethal Leith and the OMFG make it stop White Down before Box Tha’ knows. Box is for girls” The remaining Cleckheaton clarion acolytes brayed at the humour of their leader (who must’ve been a Mick or a Dave) though more than one of them looked a shade of green that clashed ever so slightly with the three vats of Gatorpiss (sorry? Oh Gatorade apparently). Just my little jape. Actually I really liked it. refreshing and restorative…..no, seriously I am not trying to avoid a libel action.
“So which one of those is The legendary Leith?” I asked (knowing full well)
“That one” Said MickDave pointing.
” That’s not legendary” quoth I
” hows that then?”
” Well it cant be a LEGEND cos I can see the B**tard”
Gales of comradely laughter met my little joke cast for the benefit of the crestfallen Malcolm. Away went the Cleckheaton bike shop support group accompanied by one of the Wendys in Lampre kit whom I would have followed all day if I could have kept up with her.
And so to that freak of nature Lethal Leith hill. Yes it is an A grade cow. It is steep. A good 19% here and there. But although it is the kind of hill that makes you plead for a lung transplant it is the sheer length of it that gets to you. it’s one of those ” Yes there’s the top COME ON!” out of the seat mash the pedals kind of hills. We all know what they are and yes sometimes even when we’ve ridden them once they still catch us out don’t they?
“The banking is my friend” is the trackies mantra. Well the 20% banking on the inside of the left hand hairpin at what you thought was the summit is nobody’s friend and more than one of us misjudged it and shamefacedly had to walk round it and remount. It is at this point that one remonstrated with oneself. “Why oh why?” I asked myself “did I not put the compact chain set on?” 39/28 is not the ideal lowest gear to ride these walls on. Yep you read right…WALLS. Because Leith keeps on getting lethaler….yes I know and I don’t care. Not one, but a total of 6 false summits are littered along its slopes. So many in fact that I refused to be cajoled by them, especially when at about half way up, the organisers had installed a cheeky placard reading “Smile the worst is yet to come” Thus when a veteran told me we’d hit the summit (I knew he was a veteran because he was wearing British army 1942 issue battledress) he reached across and patted my heaving shoulders and congratulated me. I felt great. He turned his bike round
” What are you doing?” I asked.
“Im going back down to find my girlfriend” he cheerfully replied..” Keep going Just two more to go and Box is a piece of piss after the next one” my elation at cresting Leith was short lived then.
The minus side of a 53/39 chain set is when the gradient is in a straight up direction. The beauty of it is of course running out of gears on the way back down. The roads were moist that day and the recent rain had washed a rut of crud down the middle of the road and deposited soggy autumnal leaves hither and thither too. However the joy of being a big lad with big gearing and the heart of a lion and the combined brain power of 1 and a half goldfish means that those who passed me on the way up as I was praying to the God in whom I have no faith were hitting their brakes and calling out the C word prefixed by “Mad” as I hurtled past on my restorative “I’ve spun out of my 53/12 and Im lurvvin it!” descent.
Euphoria is a fickle friend though, for whilst the drop down from Leith’s summit (highest point in the South I’m told) is manna to a speed merchant like me, it has the sting of hubris in its tail, for the next big challenge….THE big Challenge, greets one at the bottom. There is a little teaser then a full stop. Probably the only silly crossings on the entire route are the two over the A31. There is no option but to come to a grinding halt and wait for a chance to cross. It’s a long stretch with good visibility on the plus side. On the negative side is a little piece of road furniture. A street sign upon which is stencilled..WHITE DOWN LANE…at this point dear reader insert a blood curdling zombie sound track from Resident Evil or the anxious violin chord from the shower scene at The Bates Motel.
By this point I had teamed up with Mark. A 19 year old lad, really pleasant who had just got back into riding following a broken ankle and a lady called Marie who was wearing the kit of (sic) Cleckheaton Clarion
“Is this one Box?” she asked
“‘Fraid not” I replied as we each selected our lowest gear, which in my case would have got me a tolerable time in the over 60s 4k on the track!
I’d read up on White down in the wonderful little pocket guide 100 Greatest cycling climbs. thus, when it plateaued out after about half a steep mile later, I was able to caution my companions as some people changed up and zipped past us over the railway bridge. Ahead, a man with a battery of cameras sat snapping away at the strange creatures migrating their way across Surrey on Bicycles. He cupped his hands to his mouth and called up.
“The next batch are on their way Mike”
“Cheers” came Mike’s reply some 100 feet above us and parralel to us as well.
We were not in the slightest bit encouraged at the prospect of going from flat to 15% straight off a left hand hairpin I can tell you. That little run is about 500 yards to a right hander at which sat Mike digitally recording our torture and offering words of encouragement. It was the most agonising 500 yards of the entire ride, mainly because I knew what was coming. I rounded the corner…JUST, before unclipping and giving in. My lungs felt fine. So too did my legs actually, but they simply did not have the horse power to turn that far too big gear over another inch.
So Mark, Marie and I attached crampons and attempted to scale White Down on foot. its about 600 metres to the top. A top that was littered with several terminally ill bicycles and riders who were at best only marginally better off. There was blood on the road. More than one as I said came off. You quite simply cannot hold a track stand on a gradient of between 22%-25%. Joy of joys though. Hubris again. Remember Dave from Cleckheaton Clarion? There he sat, a forlorn figure at the side of thee road a red leaking chunk of road rash on his calf and his front wheel in hand.
“Two effin tub’s blown out now” he called out to Marie “You carry on love don’t wait for me I’ll see if I can cadge one”
When we were out of ear shot Marie revealed two things the first of which was that she wasn’t going to wait for the obnoxious bully (well thats not quite what she said) the second was that it seems she used to work for the now defunct Trans World Airlines for she called back and offered him some T.W.A. tea..How nice of her.
And so back to Dorking for the assault on Box Hill. Now don’t get me wrong. It ain’t easy. By Christ it ain’t easy. However, after Leith and White down it is relatively a pussy cat. I didn’t need to get out of the seat all the way up. That bit with the squiggly art work that you’ll remember from the Olympics? That’s half way and the steepest bit comes after. The sheer joy of reaching the top is incredible. Not only have you conquered the last hill, but you’ve the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve also ticked off three of those hundred greatest climbs in one day. And another that really ought to be in there, who’s name escapes me right now. Your reward? The reason why Box Hill is owned by The National Trust. The entire county of Surrey spread beneath a frame of trees and bathed in autumn sun. It would have been breathtaking but I had none left.
Sadly Mark and I lost Marie half way up Box she punctured and insisted we carried on, another of her club had joined us at this stage I point out before you think me unchivalrous. So Mark and I rolled off Box and through the last feed stop oddly 6 miles from home for us but twenty if one had ridden the short fun route. There was one last cheeky short hill before the roll in to Dorking and a little sprint to the line which I won and despite his age, I should have too. Racing someone recovering from a broken ankle is not cricket. No its bike racing and I loved it.
Lessons? from my point of view. Long fingered gloves next year and overshoes. Also light coloured lenses. You need your glasses, I had an infected eye from something that hit me at speed, but most of the route is through an arcade of trees and dark glasses aren’t clever. From the organisers point of view. I know its difficult but Marshalls at the second crossing of the A32 (or whatever it was) would be a help. You’re tired, Dog tired at thise point. You’ve still got a long way to go and a bit of assistance crossing that Leatherhead road would be good. Bit of advance warning about the uphill gradients would be good too, to help plan gear selection. There were plenty of cautionary notices on the descents. Lastly, they completely screwed up the nutrition packs (which were promised at the start) and the so called Goody bag was a choice of two magazines. I did feel fit to whinge and in fairness received a lovely apology and a bag of very useful stuff in the post 3 days later.
Will I do it next year? You bet. I reckon I could knock at least an hour and a half of that time with the compact on. As it was I was pleased at 7 hours for one hell of a ride and my first Sportive of 78 hilly miles.