Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Mountain biking the South Downs Way - Brighton to Eastbourne

The 6am alarm went off on a wet and moody November morning. Our kit was laid out, waterproofs packed, bike lights and flapjacks at the ready. I was bouncing round the flat like a kid at Christmas.

Our instructions were clear:

- Meet at 7am at Brighton Pier
- Cycle to Ditchling Beacon via Stanmer Park
- Join the South Downs Way and continue as a peloton to Eastbourne
- Regroup at Eastbourne Pier for a finishers photo
- ABSOLUTELY NO SMILING (we already broke that rule at the start)

BTRS Mountain Bike Brighton to Eastbourne - South Downs Way


The planned Brighton Triathlon Race Series (BTRS) 100 mile South Downs relay from Winchester to Eastbourne had been postponed due to heavy rain all day in Winchester, so instead we set off as a peloton to complete the final 35ish mile leg of the course together as a group, starting from a less-rainy Brighton.

I was entrusted with what would've been the baton for the full relay - six raw eggs still in their box - our task was to get the eggs and all of us safely to the finish line at Eastbourne Pier.

We had aimed to make it in time for a pub lunch but five very leisurely aid station stops with a fair bit of regrouping en route along the slippery, chalky hills meant it took a while longer.

BTRS Mountain Bike Brighton to Eastbourne - South Downs Way
The Pier To Pier Peloton baton

No such thing as bad weather... 


It was what a lot of people would call a wet and miserable day. A perfect day, for some, to bury themselves under a blanket with the cat to watch a DVD. But not for us. That was Sunday's plan of action.

A thick and eerie mist shrouded the hills up on the Downs and wet, sticky mud (along with a fair amount of cow shit) sprayed up as we ploughed through on our bikes.

BTRS Mountain Bike Brighton to Eastbourne - South Downs Way



BTRS Mountain Bike Brighton to Eastbourne - South Downs Way
To the Pub!

BTRS Mountain Bike Brighton to Eastbourne - South Downs Way
I hope that's just mud... 

One of the highlights of the trip was seeing a dog poo ON TOP OF a cow pat - quite a work of art, I'm sure you can imagine. I'll save you the photo...

Cycling into Mordor


For most of the route we couldn't see the tops of the hills until we were there, and on some parts, we couldn't see more than five feet in front of us it was that foggy. It was like cycling into Mordor.

BTRS Mountain Bike Brighton to Eastbourne - South Downs Way


If Carlsberg did aid stations... 

At approximately 10k intervals we took full advantage of the excellently stocked aid stations and refuelled on tuna sandwiches, crisps, snacks and hot tea and coffee.

The BTRS SAG Wagon went ahead to each checkpoint and set up ready for us to arrive. I don't think there is anything better than a nice mug of hot tea after boshing some hardcore hills in the rain I can tell you!

BTRS Mountain Bike Brighton to Eastbourne - South Downs Way


BTRS Mountain Bike Brighton to Eastbourne - South Downs Way
BTRS Kurt and his excellently stocked aid station! 

Hills, hills, hills


And there were certainly more than enough hills for everyone to tackle... one of which is known as Cardiac Hill; the reasons for the name made clear as we started the never-ending climb. It was one of those hills that just kept on going - started really steep but then levelled out to a steady incline for about 100,000 miles. (True story).

About half way up, one of our team mates, Fabrice, gently got off his bike and declared 'I do not do suffering, I am French. I do pleasure' before walking up the next section of the hill. I don't blame him - it was a proper beast.

BTRS Mountain Bike Brighton to Eastbourne - South Downs Way
Some of us at the top of Cardiac Hill :) 

Another beasty hill was just after the fourth aid station (I really need to get good at remembering routes and locations - I can't tell you any more about where it was!). A loooong, chalky climb through fields of angry cows seemed to go on even longer than Cardiac Hill and was very much a head-down-get-it-done kind of hill.

Every time we turned a corner it Just. Kept. Going.

Had it not been such a cloudy and misty day I assume we would've been rewarded with spectacular views across the South Downs, but even without the views it was an amazing ride with some brilliant people, and honestly the most fun I've had on two wheels in a long time.

With a permanent grin plastered on my face, I tackled the hills, ploughed through puddles, let the brakes go on the not-so-chalky downs, tried to get some air on the forest 'jumps', destroyed the Nutella sandwiches and laughed with everyone for 35 miles.

My Garmin ran out of battery just after 22miles so I uploaded Chris' stats (which also ran out just before 29 miles and reckons we did 103mph at some point, which would've been interesting!

We made it to Eastbourne just as it was getting dark - so no time for a pub lunch, but the eggs were still in tact, smiles still on faces (sorry Kurt) and only two punctures and a tyre blow out to fix along the way (sorry Colin!) 


BTRS Mountain Bike - Brighton to Eastbourne - South Downs Way
The finish! 

BTRS Mountain Bike - Brighton to Eastbourne - South Downs Way
The P2P baton still in tact!

Sensible rehydration took place immediately:

BTRS Mountain Bike - Brighton to Eastbourne - South Downs Way


Massive thank you to Kurt at BTRS for organising and supporting such a fun ride - even though we didn't get to do the full relay we've now got a fully planned and supported event to enjoy when the weather's a bit better and I can't wait to do the full distance! 

Do you like mountain biking, or are you more of a roadie? Or are you just getting into cycling to mix up the running or other exercise? 

More importantly have you ever seen a dog poo on top of a cow pat?




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