Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Chichester Challenge 2008

After a night spent at Meadow Barn Farm Ed, Ad, Jules and Charlie-man turned up at Oaklands Park dead on 9pm ready for the day ahead. Making their way over with Billy-Bob and Stef they met the rest of the group – Jerry, Jon, John and Gill - who were queuing to confirm registration. Al had spent the night shivering under the duvet, suffering as he was from a mystery illness which confined him to bed. He issued a sicknote at the last minute and was gutted to withdraw from what would have been his fifth Chichester Challenge.

The next problem of the day was the two queues - one to register and one to confirm registration. We obviously queued at the latter. The organisers had however failed to calculate the number of riders who would just turn up and register on the day due to the great weather. As a result, the start was delayed to just after 10am, a depature from the published start of 9.30 am. However this enabled the usual showing of bikes and gear (or lack of it in the case of Billy-Bob) to each other. In the case of John and Jerry they both found that they had the same tastes in kit in that they both had chosen matching white Commencal bikes - they looked like two embarrassed ladies with matching dresses at a wedding!

Left to right: Charlie, Jon, Stef (!), Billy-Bob,
Ad, Ju, Ed, John, Jerry

So after a late start due to a record number of participants the crew soon spread out along Broyle Road – Ed taking the lead, followed by Ad, Jerry and Charlie-man, the two Jo(h)ns then Jules, Gill and Billy-Bob bringing up the rear. The first hill proved to be a bad boy, a killer with Charlie-man being forced to stop part way up for a ‘moment’ before wisely deciding to complete the 30km route instead. Gill had ‘cold shivers’ in the 29 degree heat after two nights out on the trot but ploughed on regardless. Jon rode up in one go losing John, who was later found to pushing his bike up in a "walk of Shame" pose (above). However down the other side of this all riders negotiated a steep rutted flinty track down towards the second hill known as ‘Charcoal Burner’ on account of large wood burning stoves and at this point the leaders headed up in top form, AD and Jerry catching the man in the yellow jersey – Ed – to power on toward the first check point. It was at this point John was struggling with the heat but despite this kept up with Jon, with Julie and Gill leap-frogging them every so often.

The Female contingent: Ju & Gill

Jon rode up to the first check point first amongst this group seeing Ad and Jerry just leave here. It was from here along the South Downs Way stretch from Cocking to Harting that Jerry and Ed left Ad for dust at several points as they sped along with scant regard for personal safety! Meanwhile at this first check point Jon waited for John and whilst waiting saw Julie and Gill arrive chattering away as normal. John arrived and the two Jo(h)n set off after Julie and Gill with the leaders, amongst them, Ade, Jerry and Ed, well ahead by now. At this point I think we had forgotten about Billy-Bob - what friends are we!

Julie reaches Checkpoint 1

Following on behind Julie and Gill and the leaders along the South Downs Way stretch from Cocking to Harting, along Cocking Down, and the Devils Jumps, the Jo(h)ns made good progress especially down "Boneshaker Alley" towards Hooksway, mind you the pub was closed as usual ! It was particularly pleasing to see many cyclists hauled up at the sides of this "alley" with punctures and equipment failures of some sort or another - surely not something that would befall TCA riders! Jules and Gill had thoroughly enjoyed the number of fast down hill sections on it, one of which Jules almost had an ‘off’ when confronted with a particularly deep water gauge but just managed to recover in time... she was probably chattering to Gill thought Jon. The two girls made it to the top of South Harting Down in time to meet Keith (trusty father-in-law with the video camera) to be clocked a mere 15 mins behind the lead riders Ad and Jerry.

John - pre-puncture - tearing up the trail

Further uphill ascents ensured up Beacon Hill saw Jon overtake Julie and Gill but he waited with the two girls for his fellow rider John at check point 2. Jules, Gill, and the two Johns met up again and decided to track down the missing members of the crew: It was quickly established that Charlie-man was on his way round the shorter course and would meet us at the end. It was also discovered that Billy-Bob had completed a superman manoeuvre (most commonly seen in MBUK mags) and had flown over the handle bars down Bone Shaker alley, twisted his handle bars and injured both knees. With superhuman effort he was part way up South Harting Down when contacted - battered and bruised but otherwise fine. John discovered he had problems with his spindle and after a fight over who got to wait for Paul it was decided that as John had to fix his bike then he and Jonny P would gallantly cycle with their wounded comrade.

Billy-Bob demonstrates some
international sign language

Thus we were split it three groups – the Namibian dust-badgers (Ad & Ed) and Jerry (legs of steel) Anstey in the lead, Gill and Jules in the middle followed by the core TCA members. Spurred on by the sight of his father and sporting a huge home-advantage, Ad used the slip stream of some crazy Tandem riders to push on up the hill on the new section of steep Forestry Commission tracks. Jules and Gill, after almost getting lost at this point, proved their prowess (must be the practise in Afan) by beating 4 guys up the hill! The best moment being when the phrase ‘that’s not fair – being beaten by girls!’ was heard as they sped on past on a steep up hill track. With head down and bum up Ad continued through to Checkpoint 3 (Stoughton) where he hopped off the bike to plough through some cereal/fruit bars and Lucozade drink! He then got beaten on a short but steep uphill section out of Walderton having to take to two feet, through the gate (Gill and Jules also getting caught out here some time later). Through the long, fast, sweeping downhill section that followed, Ad picked up a rear blow-out (scaring the 4 picnic’ers in the adjacent field) and fully expected his team buddies to fly past!

Meanwhile, somewhere behind, Jules, who had ridden the course the year before, was offering Gill false hope by mistakenly referring to the third-to-last hill as the final one. After much effort, hot, uphill climbing and overtaking they reached the top of the final hill they took a breather to take in the sights. They were not to be disappointed as the Isle of Wight was clearly visible along the coastline and even the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth could be made out, surreal in the distant haze.

Three Dustbadgers: Charlie, Ad, Ed
enjoy a cuddle at the finish

The riders all pushed through to the balloon clad finish line to nurse sore muscles and replenish lost liquids and nutrients (with coke & burgers) and were greeted by their support crew - Al, T and baby Jimmy! They had had their own fun and games: Ill, but not wishing to miss out, Al had filled his cool box with ice-cold drinks, chocolate bars and energy gel and had driven to the Buriton check-point for 11.30am. In all previous years this had been the furthest check point before the turn for home, when energy levels were at a low ebb. This year however a last-minute route change left the car-park desserted except for a few dog-walkers. Not a fluorescent jacket in sight! Therefore, after driving round the fringes of West Sussex for almost an hour without seeing hide nor hair of a mountain biker, the three decided to cut their losses and head for the finish. Jimmy seemed to enjoy it most - the musicians, balloons and other infants provided ample entertainment until the TCA riders arrived to give a little of their attention.

The support crew were amazed when Charlie crossed the line first. No offence to the guy but he had the likes of Jerry and Ad to contend with, whose cyling prowess is legendary on this event! Charlie explained that he had overdone the start and, exacerbated by the heat, had decided to follow the 30km route rather than hack round the longer 55km route feeling grim. Ad was some 60mins later, looking as if he had been out for a Sunday afternoon stroll (only the moaning and rolling around on the floor gave away the real story), Jerry next, then the girls at about 15.00.

Al, Jimmy & Tee
enjoying their day out as spectators

A selection of refreshments were available from the Scout's tent (the WI cake stand and beer tent again conspicuous by the absence) but, much to Ad's dismay the ice-cream had run out - [Note to the organisers - you need more that 28L of ice cream when the temperature's over 30 degrees C! Ed.]. Information slowly dribbled in regarding the fate of the other three missing riders but the accuracy of the reports that they were "15 minutes behind" could not be relied on. Besides which, Al, Tee and Jimmy had eaten their fill of burgers, cups of tea, cans of coke and pureed vegetables and, Jimmy in particular, was getting restless. They could wait no longer - they packed up at 3.30 bound for home.

Bikes are discarded after the race
at the hospitality tent

Meanwhile…. somewhere way back in the forests on route to Checkpoint 3 which seemed to take forever to reach were the dogged TCA contingent, the Jo(h)ns regularly stopping to wait for their injured colleague in true Band of Brothers fashion. Billy-Bob, hoping to shake off his earlier injury, was forever cursing every bump and rutt as he bounced down the new route on Forestry Commission tracks (damn those event organisers!), and blaming his first generation coil sprung forks and dodgy knee joint. Grimacing every time he caught back up with the TCA advance party only to find yet again John had upended his bike and was yet again replacing another supposedly puncture-less inner tube.

For what seem to be turning into a true TCA epic on one of the hottest days of the year, the pain continued with yet more punctures and dwindling water supply leading John to complain about heat exhaustion. Billybob even considered an abort after checkpoint 3, knowing full well to continue up the final few hills may well see a premature end to his cycling career. In the spirit of the TCA he circumnavigated the last hilly section before the final check point by taking a cheeky unofficial road route which allowed him to rendezvous, for once ahead of the Jo(h)ns, who had announced they had used up the last spare on Jon’s fourth puncture of the day!

As the sun was setting and the event organisers were packing up their tents and event cards the intrepid trio were greeted on the final run in and escorted to the finish line by Ade and Jules who had patiently hung around to see them finish, fair play to them. Were we last? Possibly, who cares - we finished. Close, but no cigar this year and, more importantly, no coke and burgers!

Another eventful Chichester Challenge in the blistering conditions which seem to inevitably accompany the occasion. Thrills, spills, laughs and burgers (for some) - roll on 2009!

(Posted by: Ad, Paul, Al & Jon)

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