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South Downs Way in a day, a tale of two halves

Mike Anton writes…

South Downs Way in a day, a tale of two halves

After a little bit of persuasion Messrs Hardisty & Seltzer agreed to join me in riding the South Downs Way in a day.  The cancellation of the Bedgebury Insomnia night race probably contributed to this decision but more on this later.

With baking hot temperatures in the run up to Saturday, the weather went a little pear shaped right at the end with thunderstorms on the Thursday and Friday nights.  Cue some very last minute “do we don’t we?” conversations and logistics changes.

Having finally committed to ride we meet up bright and early at Three Bridges station for the first train to Winchester. 

Departing from the King Alfred statue in Winchester at 7:45 we set off under darkening skies.  With the first climb up Cheesefoot Head (no idea) completed after 20 mins, the rain made its appearance but it was quite light and stopped after 45 mins or so.

The informal plan was to tag onto the back of the BHF ride which had started 2.5 hours earlier and follow in their tracks.  This resulted in a minor bit of head scratching at the Sailor’s lane / Beacon Hill interchange as their route went off down the ‘old’ route towards Warnford.

Sticking with my plan (and pre loaded GPS route) we continued to Old Winchester Hill which got the legs nicely warmed up for what I class as the first proper climb of the route up to the old HMS Mercury site.  It’s not overly steep but is one of those sketchy gully climbs through trees and needs a bit of concentration.

From there it’s a mix of road and gravel tracks to the top of Butser hill above the A3.  I went ahead to the mid way gate to let Andy and Ben have the pleasure of hooning it down the fast grass slope to the bottom.

We continued on through Queen Elizabeth Country Park and the various ups and downs before encountering our first BHFers at South Harting.  One of them had had a chain issue and was struggling so hopefully they did manage to get to Devils Dyke.

The weather had perked up to pretty much perfect conditions (warm, slightly overcast and a tail wind) as we continued east to Cocking where we had a water stop at the BHF checkpoint.  Remounting for the climb out of the farm, I’m slightly surprised to see that this has been resurfaced and is much faster going than previous trips.

Bignor is next and I do my local tour guide thing by pointing out that we we’d just crossed the old Roman road of Stane St.  A short and fast chalky descent is next before a shortish drag to get us up above the A29.

Meeting some more BHFers we all bomb down the fast descent to the river Arun at Amberley and another stop at the half way mark.  At this point Mr Hardisty ruefully calls it a day.  It was a wise choice as the second half features all the big hills and starts with the utter git of a climb up Amberley Mount.

With Ben sensibly heading towards the station, Andy and I continue on eastwards.  Andy had already been setting a good example up the hills and he continued this by flying up to the top.

Next up is Washington Bostal up from the A24.  This is another git of a climb and with the sun now out, my handlebars get yet another chewing.  At the top it’s past Chanctonbury Ring (yet another ancient hill fort site; – common as muck on this route!), down across the Adur and back up again to the YHA at Truleigh Hill for another water top up.

The 65 mile point at Devils Dyke is next and mentally checking back on previous ride times confirms that I’m not having a good one.  With Andy flying up the steep Saddlescombe climb I do at least have the pleasure of taking the lead on the fast descent down to Pyecombe.

Onwards to Ditchling Beacon and Blackcap and then down to the cheeky little climb through the copse above Housedean farm.  Some shared swearing with more BHFers slogging up this deceptive little hill and then we’re at the water stop on the A27.

The sun is beating down nicely now and even dousing my Buff under the tap doesn’t make the headache go away.  We’re then up the big U shaped climb above Kingston, swapping gate openings en route with a handful of other guys.

Bombing back down to sea level again it’s across the River Ouse and onto Southease.  Fortunately the northbound train at the station pulled out just as we got there as I was very seriously tempted to get on it.  Another quick stop for some more fuel and then it’s Itfold hill and its magnetic grass.

This doesn’t seem to affect Andy who flies away again whilst I plug on in my new favourite gear (bottom;  – 28 X 36).  From the top of Firle Beacon it’s broadly flat for a few miles before the very fast descent in to Alfriston and back down to sea level (again).

Some more gels for me and we’re off up the wooded climb to the start of Windover hill.  According to Strava I managed my 2nd fastest time up this which really surprised me when I checked.

Another fast if not slightly gloomy ride down through the woods to Jevington and then it’s the final mile long climb back to the top.  Strangely I did this in my 2nd fastest time though it certainly didn’t feel like it.  Perhaps the knowledge that the end was almost in sight helped?

Summoning up a final burst for the fast clip along through the golf course we have just under 2 miles to go for the speedy descent to Dukes Drive and the end.

This was my 8th SDWiaD but unfortunately one of my slowest.  It was practically two hours slower than 2013 and I can only put this down to not doing enough riding.  Last year the three of us had done the Bedgebury Insomnia night race prior which was good prep.

Still, mission accomplished though I do need to get Ben through to the end.  Roll on 2015?

Strava tracks
The full Monty – http://www.strava.com/activities/168234341
The first half – http://www.strava.com/activities/167981253