Sunday, 8 January 2012

A sunny Saturday in January

Now let's be honest - Global Warming hasn't had a particularly good time of it in the mainstream media. Yes, I'll admit that the idea of a few Polynesian islands (and Norfolk) being swallowed up by rising sea levels isn't great, but maybe the GW guys just didn't stump up enough cash on PR people. I mean, who doesn't like a warm summer's day, right? You'd have thought they'd have an easier sell really, and with the sun shining on a 10°C January morning it's hard not to see some of the benefits for the UK. Indeed I suspect that if the weather this weekend is an omen of things to come then there will be a fair few cyclist converts who start agreeing with those right-wing nutjobs they seem to breed in the Republican party.

But enough on the world's environmental problems and more on cycling up hills...

After a fair amount of toing and froing of emails between friends (it turns out that the offer to go on a 100 mile ride in January leaving at 8am isn't all that popular), I managed to persuade a few hardy souls to brave the elements and inclines with me. These heros included Andy 'Tony' Martin, Chris 'The Silent Assassin' Huey, and Simon 'The Halfway Man' Lee - more on those names later. You'll note that the above list lacks the name of a certain Mr Cox - having perhaps unsurprisingly counted himself out from the ride by text at 11pm on Friday evening, he can consider this a public dissing! Having seen the forecast earlier in the week, I decided that this was a perfectly suitable occasion for my 'nice bike', plus a great time to give my new Campag Shamal Ultras (thanks Wiggle!) and new white Sidi shoes (thanks Selene!) a spin. I know, white Sidis in January. What a queen.

With my kit prepped the night before, I woke up at the relatively late time of 6.30 to scoff down some food before heading out into the breaking dawn. Unfortunately I was still full from the previous evening's (delicious, if I do say so myself) home-made pie, and couldn't face my usual pre-long-ride porridge and instead opted for finishing off a loaf of week-old bread that had been lingering in the store cupboard. About half way into my third slice I noticed an unusual odour coming from my breakfast - one that definitely wasn't the butter or honey - and with my early morning blur-vision noticed that I had been munching down on some lovely blue-mould. Leaving that last half aside, I opted to finish off breakfast with a banana instead and hope for the best - Penicillin is medicinal after all, and what doesn't kill you...

Making my way down through Peckham and the (surprisingly hilly) Forest Hill, I met the guys outside the main entrance to the Horniman Museum (great name, great Walrus: Having paid our respects to the totem pole on display (not a euphemism for anyone in particular in lycra before your filthy minds kick into action) we set off South through London suburbs towards our first target: White Lane in Surrey (number 16 of the 100).
Spot the pole
During the idle chatter that followed, I foolishly ignored the Harry-Potter-esque 'He-who-must-not-be-named' rule of cycling and remarked to Simon that as we weren't doing a circular route then we weren't expecting any headwinds at all en route. Fortunately the conversation didn't stray onto the topic of punctures (or lack thereof), lest we anger the cycling gods any further. Needless to say, we did encounter a fair bit of the blowy stuff.

Making good time, we emerged out into the quieter lanes around Biggin Hill and only when hurtling down Titsey Hill at 30mph did I notice the small lane heading back up to the left. Too late to make it with feeble calliper brakes, I resolved to having to climb back up - and extra bit of climbing for the 100 I suppose...The hill itself wasn't too bad (only a 5/10 according to the book). Fairly short, with a crumbling road surface, it kicked straight up a very narrow lane, before flattening and kicking again at somewhere around 20-25%. Nothing too strenuous, but enough to get the heart racing (to about 170bpm, apparently) and a nice little ramp to start the list on.

At the top (flat) bit of White Lane (#16)
After a lovely rolling section along Pilgrim's Way, the next hill up was the iconic York's Hill (#15). As featured in the annual Catford CC Hill Climb, which claims to be the 'oldest continuing cycle race in the world', this is a beast of a climb with two 25% sections and an average gradient of 12.5%. Not only that, but the surface is covered in mud, stones, twigs and all the usual winter detritus - probably not ideal conditions for those slick 23c tyres and 25-12 'race' gearing. The few minutes it takes to climb feel like an age when you're on the road and at points it's an effort to keep both your front wheel on the ground and your back wheel from sliding around on the muck. Great fun. By this point, Chris was clearly feeling strong and set off on a stormer, taking the lead at the top of the climb and then smugly waiting at the top as we arrived (he'd get his just deserts later).
Simon reaching the top

Spirits were high at the top, although I appear to have
lost the index finger of my right hand
A second descent out of Ide Hill was our reward for slogging up the climb, and 40+mph on the way down was a great way to refresh the legs. After this, we faced rolling roads and a steady headwind as we progressed South-West towards the coast. Forming a pace line, we took turns sheltering from the wind as Simon decided that enough was enough with this sub-20mph pace, and increased the speed every time he got the opportunity. As we approached the East Grinstead though, it became clear that we weren't all towing the same line as Mr Half Way Man announced that he would be getting a train back from Gatwick - no wonder he'd had a sudden spurt of energy! With our legs feeling the strain of a quick 30 miles, Andy's ironman pedigree started to shine through as he began to resemble his name-sake, the metronomic world time trial champion. Still, at 60 miles through, we were making reasonable time, albeit with worrying signs when Chris realised that going into the red up York's had filled his legs so far up with lactic that the power was not coming back. A coffee stop was needed, and we pulled over at a Spar in Handcross to refuel. We seemed to have chosen the only shop en route that was running down it's stock for refurbishment, so after cheap instant coffee (decanted into a bidon to give extra 'energy drink' flavour), a toxic-waste coloured unknown-brand energy drink and never-seen-before large chocolate stars, we were ready to roll again.
Everything must go -
even things you've never heard of before
Approaching the South Downs, Chris felt some energy return and we persuaded him that he shouldn't bail at this stage. At Fulking we turned away from our final destination in Brighton and started on the Westward loop into Steyning and the 5/10 climb of Steyning Bostal. This was the longest climb of the day so far, but with gentler slopes we all got up ok (albeit with some moaning, groaning and a bit of cursing). A quick respite to take pictures was followed by an atrocious descent on gravel-covered farm tracks - during which Chris checked the durability of his iPhone for a second time by bouncing it on the floor again.
Top of Steyning Bostal

Happy to have found his legs again
The next 20 miles was a drag back to Ditchling (including a short, and technically illegal, stint along the A23 in full motorway mode) during which I found that I had quite a lot of energy left (that gel probably had something to do with it too) so I did a fair bit of work on the front - it did help that this was the first section for some time when we had a headwind. Unfortunately we had all been up the last climb, Ditchling Beacon, many times before and so knew exactly what lay in store. Though it turns out that my memory of the climb isn't exactly photographic: I put in a sprint finish around the last bend in the climb, only to see the road kick up and round again and subsequently died on my arse...
A broken man

Typical hill-climb success poses: Chris does a 'brap'(he's
so street) while Andy demonstrates his 'out and
proud' pose...
Making to Brighton at 2.58, I managed to jump on the 3.04 to London Bridge and also grab a pasty on the way, which was consumed in world-record time as I headed home. The ride had taken 99 and a bit miles, and so to get the overall century I switched the Garmin back on for the ride home from the station. Technically cheating, I suppose, but I think five and a half thousand feet of climbing makes up for that...It does seem to have messed up the timing a bit though, as we had at least half an hour worth of stops during the ride and we definitely didn't trundle around at 13mph (or at least my legs don't feel like we did!)
The train pasty: up there with the train beer in the
pantheon of ultimate travelling food

And finally having got home, Selene and I went out for the mother of all recovery dinners at Hix (she had been cycling too...) - boy was it worth it!
Recovery food of champions


  1. Excellent and accurate (of the first 50 miles at least) write up. Only thing not mentioned was the 15 minute into the wind turn you did on the way to East Grinstead whilst the rest of us cowered in your sadly diminutive shadow.

    You'll be pleased to know that I was home in time for lunch prior to a great session disassembling my new ladies on my bedroom floor. I look forward to introducing you to them in due course.

    Apologies for the pace pushing, my computer was broken and I have notoriously bad rhythm without it.

  2. Great write-up. Me "finding my legs" again was thanks to some delicious chocolate stars and some 35p fizzy radioactive waste - worked a treat. Looking forward to the next one (blog post I mean, I ain't doing 100 climbs)

  3. " ... a great session disassembling my new ladies on my bedroom floor ..." - so that's what they call it these days? And more than one at the same time - impressive. Cyclists are more superhuman than even I had ever imagined!

  4. Simon - I will do my best to increase the size of my arse and thus provide more shelter for my erstwhile cycling pals. I do worry slightly that this might reduce my ability to provide a meaningful speed to tow at though...

    Clive - I thought exactly the same. Apparantly he got them from eBay, so I can only imagine they are of the Thai or Russian variety. But to have two seems greedy, he must be being paid too much!

    Oh and Chris, you're not doing 100 climbs? Let's tot up at the end of the year how many trips you end up coming on and then review that comment