King of the Downs

King of the Downer more like.  Or King of the Downpour.  Or King of the bad feed station.  Or King of the burger van at the end of the ride.  King of the no timing chips.  King of the no marshals.  King of the punctures. King of the worst sportive I’ve ever done.

In fairness to Evans I’m a little down on the ride today.  Not least as I abandoned for the first time ever and this was entirely due to the weather.


This picture tells the story. 

Registration opened at 5:00 apparently which is kind of crazy.  PaulS and I rocked up at about 7:15 or so with the weather just about holding out.  DaveM was already waiting.  The registration process was nice and quick and we got our race numbers.  Though this is not the first UK sportive I’ve done where the cable ties are not of sufficient length to wrap around handlebars – a bit of a dumb oversight. 

More depressing was the lack of timing chips.  Instead our numbers were  typed into a laptop at the start.  Budget.

Anyway, the we rolled on through the industrial estate behind Gatwick.  PaulS very wittily remarked “well, when you have all this on your doorstep”.  However, we were quickly out of Gatwick into the countryside.  And I was finally going to get my ride in the Surrey Hills!

At risk of sounding unduly bigheaded (I’m all too aware of my status as nothing more than a mediocre club rider) there were a lot of poor riders around.  Crap bikes.  Crap kit.  Some bloke wearing a coat with a hood for God’s sake.  Making a meal of small hills.  And riders off their bikes as soon as the gradient tipped 5%.  Still, it made me look better.  When I go to races I’m very much at the bottom of the food chain so I should probably be more sympathetic…. Nar :-) .

I was in the mood to push on a little and DaveM popped off the back. 

Due to the lack of a grouped start and despite the number of riders doing the course, the density of riders on the road was pretty low and it was possible to do long stretches without seeing other riders let alone finding someone of your own ability to ride with.

The weather didn’t hold out long and it started to chuck it down – I think we had hailstones for a while too.  Hoping it was just a shower we pressed on.  I teamed up with a couple of really cool guys from Addiscombe and we rode mostly together for an hour or so.  

I was pleased to be able to do some of the famous Surrey Hills, including Leith and Box.  Box Hill especially is lovely, with little switchbacks and great views.  Everything an alpine climb has apart from length and gradient!  But it’s a super hill to power up on the big ring.

On and on the rain went.  Getting worse rather than better.  Then I punctured.  I rode all last year on commuter tyres so escaped this cruellest of punishments.  I hate getting punctures.  I’m nay fatalist but it always feels like very bad karma indeed.  Soaked to the skin I quickly started to shiver and I couldn’t feel much as I clumsily changed the inner tube on my back wheel.  It seemed to take ages and it was depressing to think of all the effort that I’d put into the ride being thrown away.

Back on my way my heart wasn’t really in it.  I got into a bit of a group and sat in for a few minutes.  However, my thoughts turned to abandonment.  The course is a figure-of-eight around Gatwick and I knew that I probably only had another 10 or 15 miles to go.  I really went for it, left the group behind and pushed on – though the harder I went the more it rained.  Of course, correlation isn’t causation…

I turned up at Evan’s base at Gatwick and threw in the towel.  In fact I wished I had a towel to throw in.  I was very cold, shivering and completely soaked.  And with no change of clothes either I the heartened-o-meter was in the red.

Not only that but there was nothing to eat and drink at the end of the ride.  On a complimentary basis anyway.  This seemed a bit tight frankly.  There was a ‘burger van’ which, well, seemed to rather sum up the event.

The rain subsided and I cycled back to the car.  It took me an age to get the bike in the motor and pop my jeans on.  At some point I stopped shivering.  I decided to move the car closer to the start/finish and, to give you an idea of my confusion, started driving on the wrong side of the road. Admittedly I was in France last week, but I didn’t even drive!

I was relieved to see that DaveM and PaulS had the same view as me and had bravely quit and were queuing at the burger van for refreshments.  They were shivering like crazy – in fact the whole place looked like a Parkinson’s sufferers convention.  The only warmth was derived from the involuntary spilling of hot drinks.

Overall a bit of a disaster except that

  • My cool new Oakley shades performed brilliantly in the wet
  • Next time I’ll know to take a towel if there’s any danger of rain
  • And some spare clothes
  • I felt great on the bike – probably due to the fact that I’d forced myself to rest for a day or two

No Comments on “King of the Downs”

  1. 1 Hugh said at 4:11 pm on May 17th, 2009:

    Paul, I’m so glad I abandoned at 5:00 this morning when I got up and found it was raining. A fantastic sportive to miss – worth £20 not to do it.

  2. 2 Paul T said at 3:00 pm on May 18th, 2009:

    You seem to keep banging your head against the wall .You are much better than this sort of ride now ,you know this .Instead of dropping these C.T.C riders ,put yourself up against a better playing field. Test yourself on a hilly road race .You have missed Chilhum ,but Brenchly 2,3,4 on the 12th July should do it.The week after Le Marmotte .I see you have been doing some “crits” but give the road race a go.

  3. 3 Paul Nixon said at 3:07 pm on May 18th, 2009:

    Paul. Thanks for the comments. Funnily enough I’ve just signed up to a SERRL event in June so looking forward to that. Would be doing more but they’re all fully boooooked.

    And I’m trying to regularly cycle Crystal Palace every Tuesday if the weather would just give it a rest :-) .

    What series in ‘Brenchly’?



  4. 4 Mark R said at 8:46 pm on May 18th, 2009:

    Actually I think you’re dead wrong…

    /Rant On

    I looked at the weather forecast the night before and saw “a heavy band of rain” moving through at approx 10am.
    Just what didn’t you and almost everyone else understand about the words “heavy band of rain”?

    I’ve been riding my summer bike for 8 weeks but brought my winter bike off the rack – complete with mudguards and 28mm rear tire (with lots of puncture protection) just for the occasion.

    Not a seperate winter bike? Then no worries – do the other thing I did and pack a camelbak with full foulies (top & bottom).

    I started at 7:15 – rode steady for a couple of hours – stopped to put the foulies on when the weather turned nasty – and 20 minutes later promptly passed approx 70 people hanging around in the cafe at the top of Box Hill – and another 20 or so fixing punctures in 20km.
    I rode into Crawley at the end of the first loop in full wet weather kit with a group on deep section wheels – shivering to a man – most of whom packed and went to join you in the queue for the Burger van.

    /Rant OFF

    15 minutes into loop 2 the sun came out and I was rewarded with a great 2nd half to the ride, plus a timed TT up hill 9. (I swear snails overtook me on that one) as I’d been slowly worn down by the hills, rain and wind.

    FInishing took me 9 hours 10 mins (including stops at the aid stations).

    A very tough sportive – made harder because of the conditions – then
    again, I’m originally from Yorkshire so perhaps you southerners just aren’t hard enough?

    Cheers and thanks for an amusing report :)


    P.S. Ignore the racing bunnies, just exercises in who can sit at the back and draft the most – get yourself a TT bike and do some real riding – you vs. the clock.

  5. 5 Paul Nixon said at 8:11 am on May 19th, 2009:


    Thank you for your comments and I’m glad you made a better fist of the ride than I did.

    In fairness to me and everyone else there is the possibility that we did not see the same forecast as you did the previous night – a simple explanation for our behaviour that you have oddly discounted. MetCheck was forecasting light showers.

    Had I not have punctured (along with just about everyone else!) and got really cold and had it not have absolutely chucked it down (I started the same time as you but I estimate I got back to the start/finish about 1hr30 before you did given your ride time) just as I arrived at Gatwick then I might have been convinced to ride on. But after a couple of hours in the rain with all of my kit totally soaked I had no desire to ride for another 3 hours – blue skies or nay.

    The route is great though – industrial estates aside – so I’ll be giving the whole thing a go again soon, with an extra 15 miles each way to join the course from where I live.

    On the subject of being hard enough – knock 3 hours of your time and then we’ll talk :-) .



  6. 6 Will said at 9:25 am on May 19th, 2009:

    I definately side with Mark on this one. (Maybe its because I’m also orginally from Yorkshire). There is no excuses, anyone who has lived in the country for any length of times knows that you need to be prepared for all weather types.

    I set of at just after six, and spent 7 long and lonely hours in the saddle and had a visit from the puncture fairy at the top of Titsey!

    Paul – Bit baffled about your comment that only when Mark knocks 3 hours off his time then he can talk. From my maths I make it that you did the first loop in three hours and expected to do the whole course in 6h 15.

    I think I read somewhere that the quickest time was around 6h 30, so if you could have done it quicker then I would have been impressed. But you didn’t, so we will never know and as such I have much more respect for Mark who stuck it out and finished the course.

  7. 7 Davem said at 6:55 pm on May 19th, 2009:

    I saw the band of heavy rain and was wearing my summer rain jacket. However I have yet to discover waterproof gloves that will stop my hands from freezing to the bone in conditions like that. Clearly not a day for winter sealskinz, in the absence of a support car to drive along and provide me with dry/new clothing for moments like that I’m not entirely sure how I could have improved that?

  8. 8 Paul Nixon said at 9:43 pm on June 2nd, 2009:

    Will, apologies for the delayed response… your comment ended up being spam filtered.

    Can you really ever be prepared for the torrential downpour that we had to endure? If you could let me know a set of overshoes that will keep my feet dry in those conditions that would be great.

    Don’t be baffled by the time. I did the first loop in 3hrs 1 minute and I had a puncture and I cruised sulking for 15 minutes. Therefore I’m reasonably confident that I could have completed the course in around 6 hours all things being equal. Therefore I stand by the 3 hours, in fact in retrospect it’s looking a little conservative.

    Of course we’ll never know so you can go on having more respect for Mark if you wish.