As with a lot of things, I pondered over this for quite some time. The final decision came when I noticed that the closing date for entering was coming up rather fast, I paid and signed up with just days remaining. Why all the pondering? If last year’s Brighton Rock was anything to go by, this would be another well organised event by Brighton & Hove CTC group. There was no real reason for the delay, just lack of forward planning on my part, the year is rushing by and not that many rides done this year (apart from the 20 miles to work and back most days).
The route this year would be mostly the same, although slightly shorter maybe due to not going out north up to Partridge Green but instead only going as far “up north” as Ditchling. There would be the odd loop out which you could quite easily cut the corner off to save yourself some miles, but what would be the fun in that? As it happened, required checkpoints were placed at the relevant strategic places!
An early morning start and one which included porridge and a milk based “power” drink. A pretty disgusting mixture when you take into account my hate for porridge, not only the taste but the look and smell. People at work eat this stuff for breakfast at their desks, I watch as they pour milk onto the oats and then into the microwave. It’s a power food, Scotland would not be so great without it I am sure, makes you warm inside and gives you the energy that you need. It’s as cheap as nothing else on earth… but an egg McMuffin from McDonalds tastes so much better! I survived breakfast and pondered the McMuffin as I rode past McDonalds on my way into Brighton…. something to remember next time!
I had left early to give me plenty of time to coast over to Brighton and the starting point at the University. My eagerness meant I arrived a good hour before the start, the first person to arrive. Never a problem getting to places early I think. It meant registration was pretty straight forward, and I was able to make use of cake, biscuits, and tea while I watched others slowly start to arrive. Most arrived on road bikes with the odd spluttering of tourers and general racers. A large collection of bright yellow clad Eastbourne Rovers bike club members arrived in a swarm. Little did I know at the time that it would be a familiar sight throughout the day.
After a quick briefing we were ready to leave, taking with us our brevet cards with room to note down the various check points along the way. I had learnt my lesson from last year and remembered to bring a pen! With no time to loose I left with the first stream of bikes and started to make my way up to Woodingdean. While the road bikes kept to the road, I took the slight detour to one side and the gravel cycle path that makes its way through the edge of the field and away from the road. I noticed the bright yellow Eastbourne swarm had run into problems at the start and they seemed to be regrouping as everyone was leaving.
I thought an early start would mean plenty of bikes overtaking me and opportunities for lots of bike related photos as I juggle camera and bike for a bit of “on the bike” photography action. There is no point starting last for such things! As it happened, everyone was very much spaced out meaning little interaction with others through Woodingdean and back down into Brighton city centre. It would not be until Shoreham that I would see much of the group again.
The first check point would not be until Shoreham and local to home, meaning I knew the answer before I got there. Always room to miss a corner of the course then…. but that’s not what it is all about, remembering there is no point in a Brighton Rock ride without the Palace and West Pier. The steep ride down into Brighton and the first sign of heavy traffic made up mostly of Minis as once again the ride was on the same day as the London to Brighton mini run. A mixture of “classic” (or normal depending on how you see things) and modern day Minis mixed in with the rest of Brighton’s traffic, along with of course bikes.
I left the Minis to turn left onto Madeira Drive while I ventured off right and onto Shoreham, not before I nearly joined the happy passengers in a Mini Moke that suddenly stopped in front of me. It was during this stretch that the yellow glow of Eastbourne Rovers caught me up and carried on in front. Traffic had built and I was able to tag along for a while, adding to the mix a small group of riders on mountain bikes as we passed through Southwick. Nothing to do with this ride, but gave a bit of a carnival feel for a couple of miles.
Over the old toll bridge and off up to Steyning. I thought it would be the last of the yellow Eastbourne glow as the small hills started, but too my surprise I was comfortably keeping up at the back and was able to chat to the other riders. Impressively they had actually biked from Eastbourne to Brighton in the morning in order to take part and were due to bike back again afterwards. An impressive post 100 mile trip for the day, no wonder they were not rushing about and I was able to ride with them. It was not on purpose, we frog jumped each other for most of the first part of the day.
Through familiar roads along the edge of the Downs took us over to Devil’s Dyke and the long uphill road to the top. The Eastbourne lot pushed ahead while I stayed back at my pace. While a long hill, it has never been a particular problem if you just get into a good rhythm and don’t rush things. Just keep peddling and think of England and you soon get to the top. At the top was a group of yellow… having a bit of a rest and regrouping maybe before the fast route back down into Brighton. We acknowledged greetings as I passed them and continued on downwards along the old Devils Dyke railway line, now a tarmac path away from the roads and putting you over the A27 and into Brighton.
It was at the next stop, the windmill, that the Eastbourne team caught me up and we all headed through the busy Brighton streets and back to the start for sandwiches, tea and cakes….
It was clear by now that the forecast of cloud and rain was a bit wrong. Instead we had sun and clear skies for most of the way. It was starting to turn as I set off (on my own) for the second half, clouds were in and it was getting windy. No rain though… glad I packed a small waterproof top!
I remember last year that the second half had been a bit of a killer, starting off with a long uphill stretch to Ditchling Beacon. I slow speed and quiet roads through Stanmer Park allowed chatting to some of the other riders (not from Eastbourne), the merits of different types of bike lights and mineral supplements…. The constant uphill was followed by a fast and quick descent where you hang onto the handle bars with as much grip as you can while you switch left and right, up and down to the bottom. It tests your brakes, the tight bends meaning you cannot (or maybe shouldn’t) make the most of the downwards trend.
It deposits you into Ditchling and a check point. While writing down the answer I saw the familiar glow of yellow as the Eastbourne team had caught me up once again. While they were busy sorting out the check point, I left ahead, expecting for them to pass me down the road any time soon. With the wind in my favour and a road of slight ups and downs, I was able to keep at a good pace past Plumpton college and onwards to Lewes. A top speed of the day of 31mph was achieved, which seeing as there were no massive climbs or drops, I was quite surprised about. The Eastbourne group had the same advantage and made good use of it, passing me and flying off ahead. I was sure not to see them again.
The ride south, into Lewes and on to Newhaven was the stretch I never liked. With a consistent uphill to Lewes, and some rather steep hills in Lewes, followed by 4 miles of nastyness along the B road into Newhaven. The road itself is not bad, not amazingly busy with traffic and no real hills. For some reason though it goes on for ever (even in a car it goes on and on), you see Newhaven in the distance but it never gets nearer. It is only around 4 miles, but it saps your energy and will to live. When you finally do reach Newhaven, the will to live just diminishes even more. As suggested previously in other posts, it is neither ‘new’, or much of a ‘haven’. It did however hold a checkpoint, but not before a 5 minute rest and snack by the river side as I pondered about the next stretch that had the potential of being worse.
Once Newhaven has got you, it is hard to get out. Not because the lure of boarded up old pubs and shops grabs you attention, but because of the massive climb out torwards Brighton. To help you mentally get up this hill (remembering you had just survived the road of boredom from Lewes) it is useful to think ahead to not only the cliff top ups and downs along the coast towards Brighton, but the final hill back up to Falmer via Woodingdean that is waiting for you, not going anywhere. It worked, a slow ride upwards permitted me to escape Newhaven and hit the windy road through Peacehaven and onwards towards Brighton. The weather had changed, still not rain, but plenty of wind, not helped by being on top of a cliff.
I had long lost any of the other riders by this point, although surprised that no-one had overtaken me over the last miles. I remember from last year how I felt I was the only one on this leg of the route and how maybe I had picked up a different map from everyone else! One other thing I remembered from last year was to leave the road at Saltdean and join the undercliff path and miss out a large hill, rejoining at Rottingdean. It was only a short diversion but got me out of the wind for a couple of miles and gave me time to think about the last part of the route and the road upwards to the sky and Falmer.
It starts off pretty straight forward and gets slightly steeper as you go. You never know when the top is coming or if you have got to the worst bit. A couple of times I thought all was going quite well and it was not as bad as I remembered, but then I also remember when I used to drive a classic car around Brighton it would struggle to get up the hill to Woodingdean. I kept in my mind that if I did not feel as if I was about to die and could not go any further then I had surely not got to the steep bit.
I was reassured that it was not a cruel joke as another rider slowly passed me, we shared comments on the hill and I watched him slowly progress upwards. I soon turned the corner and was able to spot the Downs Hotel lettering on the roof of the Downs Hotel (as it should be). It looked very high up and there was nothing but a straight road going up and up and up. Not the steepest of hills in the world when it comes to it, but it does go on, that plus the miles of the day, it is a number of miles of various degrees of steepness.
I did get to the top, the lowest gear employed for what seemed like hours but was probably only 30 minutes at the most, but all that time fighting gravity. I remembered all the time that once at the top I had finished. In theory no more pedalling left as I would be able to freewheel all the way back down to Falmer and the end.
I got to the finish just as the yellow team from Eastbourne were pulling off for their ride back home, we shared greetings as they set off. A welcome cup of tea and piece of cake while I shared notes with some of the other riders. It was interesting to hear that the first person back had arrived just over an hour earlier, but also reassuring that they expected to hang on until 6 for the last lot to get through. I had arrived with just over an hour remaining for the cut off to qualify for the Audax points. With it not being a race, I wasn’t worried either way. When I looked back at routes on the computer afterwards I noticed I took the same sort of time as I did last year, which just shows everything is consistent and well with the world.
Another well organised event by Brighton & Hove CTC. Plus, with the Brooks saddle, no sore backside.
Number of miles: 87
Number of riders in yellow: millions
Number of Minis: lots