Trail Break and USE teamed up to challenge riders to possibly one of the hardest rides in the UK this year. The goal: 80 miles across the South Downs. Doesn’t sound too hard? There was a twist – the a start was at dusk and your challenge was to reach the finish before dawn about 14 hours later.
The ride began at Beachy Head near Eastbourne and ended at the Queen Elizabeth Country Park down the road from Petersfield. Riders and bikes were transported from QECP campsite to Beachy Head via a coach and lorry, and once ready about 50 riders set off.
This was a ride you had to be prepared for and have faith in your fitness, as 80 miles anytime of the day is going to hurt. And as this was a point to point, there weren’t many bailout options like you get at most marathons/enduros. There were well-manned and stocked checkpoints at 20 mile intervals which provided plenty of sustenance or bailout opportunity. But it was testament to the calibre of the riders that only two dropped out, and it took a nasty high-speed crash to take out one of those.
To be honest I was terrified in the week leading up to this ride. The plentiful rain in central London didn’t help, but the weather on the day turned out good. Was this the toughest ride I’ve ever done? Well it’s right up there with the 32hr Cheddar Everest Challenge we attempted last year. The course was a toughie, with many long draggy climbs on grass – these were hard going on our 33lb Giant Reign long-termer. The course was not the most technically challenging ever but in a way was ideally suited to this type of ride. At 2am the last thing you need is some steep rocky descents when you’re tired and cold through.
The best way to get through the distance would have been to ride in a small group, which we did for the first 20miles until a puncture on a ragged descent. With no sight of any lights in the distance behind, the next seven hours or so would turn out out to be one of my biggest challenges on a bike. There are plenty of good places to be at midnight, but in the middle of nowhere, alone, cold and 30 miles from the campsite isn’t one of them.
I eventually rolled into the campsite at 3.20am after 9hrs 40mins in the saddle, and have never been so happy to get off a bike. I didn’t think that was a bad time, but Mike Cotty and James D’Arcy flew around and were the only riders to finish under nine hours. Much of the field came in after 12 to 15 hours of riding, and amazingly the tandem duo finished. Respect due.
So, fancy it next year then? If you do, and everyone should, make sure you come prepared and are confident about your fitness, take extra clothing and stuff as much food into your camelback as you can manage. See you there…
All the times are up on Trail Break’s site – look there for more info on upcoming events.