An Imperial Cherry Popping

With my application to take part in the inaugural Vélo South (a 100 mile ride across West Sussex on closed roads) this September being successful it took my mind back to when I popped my 100 mile cherry.

It was a Friday.  I had booked the day off work to do some decorating in the fixer-upper my wife and I had bought recently.  However, as is so often the case when it comes to doing these kind of chores around the house, I simply couldn’t be arsed.  I knew what I was going to do instead, but decided to keep that nugget to myself.  I carried on around the house doing what I do best around breakfast time, namely get in the way and forget to make my wife a cup of tea.  After my wife had left for work I began my prep; I fetched my bidons from the cupboard, laid my kit out, lined my helmet, glasses, cap, spare tube, gels etc out on the kitchen table and began to make the porridge.  Today would be no DIY day, today I was going to ride my first imperial century.

It being the 1st March the weather wasn’t exactly balmy.  I fetched my wind and showerproof, roubaix-lined jersey to make sure I didn’t get too cold, donned my new pair of windproof gloves and wrestled some overshoes on.  Then it was time to apply the same fastidious (ok, maybe a little anal) verification to my steed; I checked my tyre pressure, made sure the brakes were working and lining up nicely with the rims, filled my pockets and off I went.

I was immediately struck by two things.  Firstly, the sky looked very dark for this time of day.  And secondly, this headwind was clearly looking not to make it to my Christmas card list (they never do though, do they!).  If only these two things were all I had to concern myself with.  I’d got 10 miles when the heavens opened and my showerproof jersey underlined its showerproof…err…ness by the fact that within 30 seconds I may have well as jumped into the sea that was alongside me.  Not the kind of person to give in when things get a bad (aka a fool) I pressed on along the coast to the climb at Exceat.

The parcours of the A259 between Brighton and Exceat is very up and down, not the ideal profile you want for the start of a century ride in the wind and rain, especially as this was being done more or less on a whim, but this is what was in front of me and this therefore, is what I had to conquer.

The Exceat climb is one I remember well from my youth, at school we would come here to study LSD – not that, Long Shore Drift, erosion, meandering rivers, and the like so I could vaguely recall  from days on a bus that transported 50 or so noisy kids from the confinement of a classroom to the freedom of the great outdoors that this was a climb.  Oh, my.  This was going to hurt.

It certainly was a climb, and back when I did this ride it seemed like it would take me right up to the moon whilst my thighs exploded, propelling my space-bound.  Once at the top there’s a bit of a false flat before it kicks again.  I remember the feeling of elation as I crested the top and started the fast descent before taking the turn to Birling Gap and Beachy Head.

Exceat View

This turn off the main coast road saw the headwind attack without mercy, with little in the way of trees or man-made structures to break it up the wind swirled right at me and pulled my “pace” down by some margin.  My progress wasn’t helped by the burning in my lungs from the effort I was having to invest, I may as well be puffing on 20 Lambert & Butler.  When I finally got to the top I needed a break.  “Is it frowned upon to have a lie down?” I thought.

After the climb comes the descent, and the one from Beachy Head into Eastbourne is a fantastic one; switchback after switchback takes you down and then along the straight coast road all the way past the pier and on to Prince’s Park before taking the appropriate exits at the roundabouts towards Pevensey.

Once through Pevensey the route took me into the Pevensey marshes, a flat lane that winds its way towards the coast; I recall ducking down into my drops as I pushed on through the marshland grasses to try and hide from the wind, this provided only limited success.  Thankfully the rain had abated so I was now just damp and cold rather than soaked and cold.  An improvement, albeit a marginal one.  Perhaps now would be a good time to consider launching my invention of a centrally heated cycling jacket?  Or at least think of one.

The road comes right up against the pebbled beach between Normans Bay and Cooden before turning north towards Hooe where I join a main road for a while; one of those main roads that is just wide enough on each side for a car so people drive past on the meandering road a bit too close for my liking.  I’m naturally pleased therefore to turn off onto another lane, this one, called Horsewalk, is quiet, narrow, littered with broken surface and runs alongside a stream that lulls you into a serenity of peace and quiet.  And then the short climb comes.  I was enjoying that moment of ease, still all things must pass I guess.

After this out-of-the-saddle climb it’s back onto a main road to Herstmonceux and Hellingly.  By the time I get to Chiddingly I’m in desperate need of sustenance.  I come across a quaint village store which also doubles as a tea room/café.  Time for some cake and coffee, not to mention the warmth of indoors.

Well fed and ready for the off I pedal on through the delightful East Sussex lanes to Blackboys and up the High Street in Uckfield, a climb which in itself isn’t too bad, but the traffic lights right at the crest of the climb are poorly placed for anyone on a bike and I mutter insulting language at the inanimate object.  How adult of me.

The lanes that lead from Piltdown to Chailey are quiet and just as I’m enjoying this peace the heavy, slate grey cloud that has been hovering overhead for the last ten miles or so decides it can take it no more and relinquishes to the weight it has been taking.  Within one minute I am soaked, again.

Do I duck for cover in the forthcoming Ditchling Tea Rooms or press on and try to evade the inclement weather, or at least get out of it as soon as possible?  I opt for the latter and before too long I’m in Poynings heading south towards home.  The force of the rain lessens and once more I am ensconced in the damp camp.

The lactic acid in my legs has really built up now and they’re both screaming at me to stop this madness.  Not far from home I try to reason with them, have my last gel and just dig in.  Mmm, this handlebar tastes yummy.

As I come along the road to my home  I’m exhausted but elated, I have achieved my goal.  I am wet through, but despite this my mood is far from dampened.  One thing I did learn from this was to pick better weather next time I venture out on a century.  I did just that, and since then have done many imperial centuries, each one a challenge and a pleasure.  Perhaps it’s type 2 pleasure, but I think not, I enjoy the riding/suffering and the feeling of accomplishment when I get home and fall from my bike into a mess on the floor, clambering for a protein gel.

Here’s hoping that Vélo South will deliver all the fun that a century holds, and then some on the closed roads. Be nice to me weather…and legs.

Velo South


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