Waiting in an underground car park early in the morning as rain falls outside. So starts my first 200km audax of the year, the second ride of this year’s Grimpeurs du Sud campaign (this ride has over 3000m of climbing). Technically the fourth, but I didn’t make the start of the first, or finish the second one. Also possibly, if I have the resolve, the start of a Super Randonneur series – 300 and 400 already in the diary, just need to find a suitable 600.
Anyway, before we get carried away with that nonsense, lets get this 200 out of the way, by a long chalk the longest ride I’ve done for a while. In fact, the last ride longer than this started in the same car park, the Greenwich Mean Climb. Both rides organised by the good folks at Audax Club Hackney, fast becoming my favourite audax organisers and definitely the best arrivées. I’m riding this one on the Tri-Cross which has been altered from it’s winter cyclocross mode to light touring mode ready for a trip to Asturias in a couple of weeks – 28mm road tyres and an 11-32 cassette combined with the 46-36 CX crankset.*
As well as the same organiser & départ venue The Shark has a fair amount in common with the Greenwich Mean Climb, it heads for Seaford on the south coast and back again with parts of it covering the same route as the Mean Climb, some in reverse, plus I was riding with George again. We head out of London in a large bunch via Blackheath and Bromley, before the group starts to split as the climbs start around Keston. There a nasty little 25% ramp on our way to the north downs ridge before the descent of Brasted Hill and the climb over Toys & Ide Hills. From here it was down to Crowborough through Penshurst and Groombridge, which was part of the GMC but backwards. Last time we rode these lanes it was pitch black so it was nice to experience them in daylight.
What wasn’t so nice was that ever since leaving Greenwich it had rained harder and harder, we were wet and cold to our bones. Whizzing down the hill after the Ide Hill control we pass our friend Andy, who has stopped with a group of riders in a pub carpark, I shout hello and in return I hear “This is f*cking horrible” through the wind and rain. I’ve lost the feeling in my fingers and toes (I really should buy some proper gloves and overshoes) which made it particularly unpleasant when I have to stop for a puncture near Beech Bough reservoir, as Andy overtakes us again. At this point I was starting to think this might be my third Grimpeurs fail of the year, I am starting to look for reasons to pack. However I get the thing fixed and crack on as the rain slowly starts to ease.
We catch up with Andy again on a lane on the way towards Groombridge and ride to the first control with him. After some up and downing skirting the edge of the Ashdown Forest and across the high weald we slowly descend towards Chiddingly for the control, via local(ish) lanes new to me. I do love an audax for finding routes in your back yard you don’t know. Once brevets are stamped in Chiddingly Village Hall a hot cup of tea is incredibly welcome.
We set of from Chiddingly in a small peleton – me, George, Andy plus a group of his friends – across the flatlands around Ripe to Alfriston before it splintered on the steep side of High and Over and down into Seaford for the next info control. Regrouped on the seafront, we turn around and retrace our wheel tracks almost all the way back to Chiddingly in the bunch at a fair old whack. Here the return route veers off for the long climb through Horam and Heathfield, where the group stretch out again, before the inevitable rollercoaster lanes into Mayfield for the next control. This time it’s an open control (i.e., it’s up to us what we do but we need a receipt or something with the time and location on it to prove we were here) and there’s a queue in the tea rooms most people have stopped at. I know there’s another cafe up the street as it’s used on the Hills & Mills audax, but unfortunately it’s shut, so we opt for snacks from the local shop and sit on the pavement chatting with one of the ACH riders.
Once refueled it’s back onto part of the GMC for the final 60 odd kilometres back into London, first through Rotherfield and Crowborough before diverting off the GMC route towards Edenbridge and Hever Castle, all the time knowing we are getting closer to Toys Hill. This is my first time up the sharp side of Toys Hill and with over 160km in the legs the gradient bites, particularly as it slowly steepens until I’m forced out of the saddle. Stopping at the top for the final info control I eat the last of the snacks bought in Mayfield, ready for the 30km push back to Greenwich.
As we head towards the final ascent of the North Downs and I’m thinking “at least we’re not going back up Brasted Hill” I see the lane ahead go straight up the side of the ridge. What? It’s like a Sussex bostal but without bothering with any corners. It’s a vile climb, worse than Brasted, and instantly enters the list of climbs to never do again. I may have walked some of it. At least once up on the North Downs we can see the view this afternoon, this morning it was shrouded in mist and rain. I hadn’t noticed the abundance of bluebells in the woods along the ridge, which we get a closer look at when it’s George’s turn to suffer a flat.
Tyre inflated again we push on for the final stretch into London, back through Keston Village, then Hayes and Bromley. There’s a lot more traffic weaving compared to this morning and for the last few kilometres I’m feeling decidedly bonky, the distance, the climbing, and this morning’s weather all having taken their toll. We pass where we left the car on Blackheath this morning and freewheel down onto the one way system in Greenwich to find our way to the arrivée in a pub garden in the sunshine. Unfortunately, we have to turn straight around and ride back up the hill to drive back to Brighton.
Thanks to George for driving to and from London (and for being stupid enough to want to get up at 4 in the morning to drive to London just to ride pretty much home and then turn around and ride back to London again). Thanks also to Ivan and other members at Audax Club Hackney for yet another cracking ride.
*The 36×32 combo, forever more to be referred to as “The Spanish Gear”, did get called into action on a few hills today just because it was there. I also found that it is very easy to spin out 46×11 on the descents.