Actually, it wasn't. The Puncheur Sportive 2012 was wet, rolling (aka hilly) and bloody freezing, but it's still the Rolls Royce of early season sportives: 69 miles around Sussex, ending atop Ditchling Beacon. A marker, if you will. And for the Trois V, it had a silver lining. Dr Matt begins our report:
We've been here before, of course. And that was last year: you can read all about our adventures on this blog post from the time. We managed to field a stronger team in terms of numbers in 2011; however, in 2012, the two participating members of the Trois V had returned with a goal in mind, and even a score to settle. Dr Matt still grates at the thought of missing a bronze time by seven minutes.
This year, we had a plan. This involved doing some training (an Epping Figure of Eight, some RP laps, turbo trainer for me and hills/cycling to work for Dr Doug), an estimated average speed to maintain to meet the time for bronze, not stopping for hours at the generously stocked feed station, and me to shout 'pacing' at Dr Doug for the first third, to rein in our resident rouleur (or possibly puncheur) until the final half of the course.
Initial signs were good. I won some sunglasses in the pre-ride raffle run by ibike. We got to the right train station after meeting at the RCS meeting point at 5:45 am. We were on the road by 8:09. However, there was one flaw, which the sunglasses cruelly underscored. It was cold, getting colder, windy, wet, and getting wetter. In truth, it was grim. Even worse than the Rye Ride. But we pressed on, making it to the half-way feed station in good time. Apart from the rain, the hills, the rain, the wind, the odd hello from other riders (some of whom seemed to be riding like demons down the hills, then wheezing up them), it was largely without incident, or scenery (except clouds). My chain came off. We dragged ourselves up Gallows-Hill-esque drags. We saw a fine looking adult fox trotting across a lane. We were hit by the wind at the final run into Ditchling, again. Doug dropped back a little, and I found that the shot blocks kicked in on the last mile before the climb. They stopped on the climb, which seemed harder than ever. I managed to stand for the welcome sight of the photographer at the top, and was then hit by the wind, barely able to turn to get my chip 'wanded'. But I'm glad I did: 4:18. Silver (in 56th in). And my once-white, now mud (well, cowshit) splattered white rain jacket attested to my wheelsucker ways, and the sacrifice Doug had made as the lead-in man. A few seconds, and he turned the corner, hands so cold, the steward had to unzip his key lime pie jacket to access the vital time chip.
Dr Doug continues our tale:
Yeah, so, well, at 5:12 last year, I too had a point to prove. Signs, generally speaking, have seemed good; our silver finish in the Ride of the Falling Leaves suggested we were capable, even this early in the season, of finishing under five hours. Matt had the average speed plan, and the will to shout at me for going too fast in the early stages. Curiously, both of us only have snapshots of memories of the course from last year's Puncheur (which might explain why we signed up again), but as we pedalled, more snapshots filled themselves in; I remember this climb, I recall that spot, etc. At any rate, I was keeping a relatively keen eye (once I removed my glasses, which were so splattered with rain I couldn't see out of them) on the computer, to see how our average speed was doing; for the first half, we were way above our goal.
In fact, we were so far ahead of our goal that I started dreaming of silver. Yes, we'll slow down in the second half. Yes, there's Ditchling Beacon, and yes, we've been promised an 18% climb at mile 36 or so, due to a slight rerouting of the course. But we're on track here. And look, there's the Scientology mansion (minus Scientologists with pamphlets--what, don't Kang and Kodos like the rain?), which we all know means the feed station is right there. Halfway! Two hours, pretty much exactly! I was feeling good.
"I was feeling good." Strictly speaking, this isn't true. I blame the cold, but I suspect it was a combination of that and the pace, but on the climbs--even the "only steepish" climbs--I could feel the lactic acid spreading across my quads. Usually I only get this in the second half of long rides, on the really sharp ascents. Even paying more attention than I usually do to regular food intake wasn't helping much. Whatever. Swiss roll, banana, refill the bottles, and we were back out on the course after a ten minute rest. I still had something just longer than four hours as my target.
When we hit the Garden Center/Centre, I knew we'd come in well under the five hour target. The question now was, Silver? I couldn't remember the Silver cut-off time, because it hadn't occurred to me it was in our reach, but I decided 4 hours 20 minutes was the time to shoot for. When we hit the huge sign warning cars about the cyclists who "like" to go up Ditchling Beacon, I started rooting around in my pocket for the last of my gels and shotblocks. Now here we come to my least favorite thing about riding in the cold and wet: to access the jersey pockets, I have to lift my jacket, then root around with soaked and large gloves; I'd thought that Matt and I would be able to help each other to the base of the Beacon, where I expected him to climb faster than me, but as I slowed down while mashing my hand again and again into my pocket--I think it took a full minute just to put away an empty energy bar package (I'm no litterbug), Matt was pulling away, while the wind was howling across. I watched him empty his bidon, and imagined Phil's commentary about the riders wanting to haul as few grams as possible up the climb. I finally managed to suck two energy gels down and get back to riding with two hands. I would've popped some blocks put was too fed up for another rear pocket fishing expedition. I turned right, into the base of the Beacon, and realized it was going to be a hellish climb: immediately my thighs and calves flooded with lactic acid.
I willed the gels to kick in and looked up to the summit. It looked far away. Somehow, Ditchling Beacon seems worse every time I climb it. I hit the base of the first kick. My legs screamed. Riders were rocketing down past me, some shouting encouragement. I realized there was only one strategy: stay in the saddle and keep the legs turning. There was no reason to do a hill climb, there was only the goal of finishing. Four riders passed me on the climb, though I ended up almost even with the fourth at the summit. Ten minutes--almost exactly ten minutes--of climbing, and I was turning into the parking lot, and being unzipped by a nice lady who gave me a piece of paper, and having that piece of paper tucked into my rear pocket by a nice man who told me my time. 4:20. Matt was ready to head back down the Beacon and get warm and fed. I pointed out I might just need two minutes to rest before we did that.
And, finally, we also have a report from the Club Mascot:
"Come On! Eat in Giraffe! The Windows are Clean!"