Monday, 7 March 2011

Puncheur: Been there, done that, neglected to purchase the t-shirt.

After months of non-training, the Puncheur was finally upon us Sunday. We rose early, took a bad route to London Bridge Station (Jon blamed this), met the Club Mascot's Mum's Brother (who got a ride from his wife at 5:45am; chapeau) and took the train out to Hassocks. Leaving the station for Ditchling and the rugby club that served as Puncheur HQ, the Club Mascot's Mum's Brother's chain jumped off, which set a certain trend for the rest of the day.

The HQ was stocked with coffee, tea, dried mangoes (delicious!), various types of bars and sign-in sheets and the tags for the checkpoints. We didn't dally for too long, and were on the road at about 8:40 am, rolling gently up and down in good spirits, though Doug seemed to have problems understanding the "let's all ride together" part of things.

Doug then suggested that we regroup at the crest or on the descent of the hills. A fine plan in principle, especially as the Puncheur was billed as a gently rolling route at most (Ditchling Beacon excepted). However, it roiled rather than rolled, and regroups were rare. It looked like Jon began to feel the pace a little, and Dr Matt's chain started to jump off, like the hind of a deer, with alarming regularity: he began to regret leaving the reliable Croissant in the stable.

Nonetheless, we passed as much as we were passed, notably by a few well-disciplined chain gangs. And the route was good. Cold, but scenic.

After about an hour Doug and Matt realised that they had pulled away. The Club Mascot's Mum's Brother and Jon were the first stage of the three part Ditchling rocket that was team Trois V. We thought about regrouping at the feed station, but after avoiding being recruited to planet Thetan, we wolfed down a Swiss Roll, Brownie and banana (more a patisserie than a feed station: take note, Tour of Wessex - only a Lemon Drizzle Cake can save you now), and headed off.

A sugar rush set in, and although we had given up any idea of a bronze placing, we began to wonder. Could we? Might we? Should we? We picked up the pace a little, and snuck in with a couple of clearly stronger riders.

Then we began to notice the waifs and strays. Riders sat on benches staring into space. Holding bits of their bikes. Eating gels mournfully. Calling help on mobile phones.

We had entered the zone that every long ride has. The non-comfort zone.

Still, we pressed on, and nudged 65kph on a descent, followed by 8kph on yet another steep ascent. Slowly, slowly, the Beacon crept near. Was it 30 minutes away, or forty? We took a call of nature to ponder. Doug concluded it was out of grasp. Matt began to wonder. Could it be done for the Trois V? He dug deep. He went from group to group, into the wind. Could he do it? Two sets of traffic lights suggested not. But he was still pushing on. Finally, the hill was in sight. 20 minutes according to his odometer. Then, at the base, the realisation: the odometer stopped during stops. Swiss rolls, jumped chains, and a call of nature had stolen the vital seconds. A psychological nadir was reached at the foot of the first turn. All that was left was to work my way up, and swipe my timer medallion, knowing I was 7 minutes outside the time. I had failed the Trois V.

There was nothing for it, but to buy a Mr Whippy.

Meanwhile, Dr. Doug was heeding the advice of Jens a few minutes back, and garbage-trucking all my remaining gels, energy bars and powershots. Riding into the wind with nothing left is no fun, but then I saw the sign: Beacon 1 Mile, and thought, well, at least I'm going to make it.

Let us now understand Ditchling Beacon: there are basically four stages; it rises up steeply around a bend into the woods, flattens out, steepens again and curves out for a great view of the downs, then flattens out, then steepens and curves back into the woods, then flattens and then steepens and bends back outward for a great view to the summit.

On the second of these steepening sections, my hamstring cramped. I did not leave it at "Shut up, legs," but rather, unleashed a torrent of abuse on my hamstring, sucked down the last drops of energy drink, and kept climbing, massaging my hamstring, hurling abuse, and trying to enjoy the view. I'd be damned if I was going to walk my bike up the hill at this point. Especially because I knew there were pro photographers taking pictures up there. Anyway, I made it. I tried to look straight at the camera. I tried to close my mouth so I looked calm and steely, but my nose was so clogged with snot I ended up holding my breath as I hit the peak. But I look good in the photos, damnit.

And right after I swiped my timing medallion, I heard my name, looked over, and saw Dr. Matt clutching two Mr Whippy cones.


1 comment:

  1. An important feat that should not be neglected is that of Dr Matt and Doug, post-Mr Whippy, cycling down the Beacon and coming upon a sweating, exhausted and struggling Club Mascot's Mum's Brother. Whereupon, as I understand it, Dr Matt let out an anguished cry and both he and Doug successfully turned around on one of the steepest parts of the Beacon and bravely - some might say foolhardily - cycled back up to the top for the second time. Quite an achievement.

    Another thing that should not be forgotten is eating bowls of pasta afterwards and that there were also dates there that were bigger than any I have ever seen.

    Also, we had the strange fortune to see a train shoot by in the station just as it hit a pillow sending feathers flying. On closer inspection, much closer inspection if you are Doug, it turned out that the pillow was actually a pigeon. Doug's phone can prove it. Quite a scene.