Not A Sportive
It's the last weekend in March and I guess it's happened enough times now to be a diary-bookmark tradition - the "Happy 100". A time to celebrate the changing of the clocks and the hopeful start of Spring by cracking off a swift hundred with friends round the lanes of Sussex. That's miles not kilometres, we have no patience for fake centuries here.
A dozen riders and friends from just round the corner and from the other end of the country gather early on the Sunday morning suffering either one less hour in bed or travel weariness, or both, and catch up with gossip whilst working through waffles, brioche and nearly 500g of dark beans espressoed into kick-start coffee. We roll out a little later than planned but if we'd been on time we'd have missed the man taking his donkey for a walk to the park, so it's all okay.
It doesn't take long, just over three miles to be exact, for the first town sign to be sprinted for and the scene is set for the rest of the ride. The peloton rolls along at its happy clippy chatty pace while feisty riders attack off the front whenever the mood takes, no vindictiveness or malice just friends mucking about and embracing the needless amicable hurt, as wars of attrition go it's all done with good cheer and with the understanding that everyone will regroup for a while before it all goes mad at the head of the pack again, with someone always taking their turn patrolling the rear. There's a wonderful pleasure in riding with friends that know what they're doing, the confident bunch with little in the way of nervous twitching, the ability to follow a wheel fag-paper close, or even getting to the end of a long section of road dreaming you're waaaay off the front with stem-chewing lung-collapsing barradeur effort to turn round and see half-a-dozen mates with wheel-sucking grins.
This continues for the 50 miles that take us to the halfway tea-stop. The cash we don't need to give to a Sportive organiser to tell us where to go via a photocopied map is more wisely spent on piles of sandwiches and cake, and cauldrons of tea. And some more cake. With perfect, some would say intentional planning the hills are harder and come with alarming frequency in the second half of the ride, and for a while after the tea-stop things are calm and quiet as blood is desperately diverted from Victoria Sponge digestion to leg rotation and steady ascending without lunch repeats. With this more sedate pace set the ride continues steady away, attacks off the front decrease in frequency, there is the gentle saving of legs and increased chatting. At 75 miles a large plastic Bonk Box is hauled from its hiding place behind a hedge and muffins, bananas, trail mix and munch bars are washed down with cans of Coke to fuel the final push. This is what you have to do when you can't get hold of a team car and the village deli has been shut for two hours.
The weather has been a quiet worry all week as it's never looked good. OCD checking of each and every on-line forecast has seen it change from all-day proper rain, to rain just after 6pm, a brief heart-fluttering prediction of no rain at all, to finally settling down to a depressing quite some rain from lunchtime onwards. Whatever happens we were going to get wet at some point, so we count ourselves incredibly lucky that the clouds only start to spit with 20 miles to go as we approach the looming final challenge of the day, the iconic Ditchling Beacon. The weather has really shut down, the top of the hill is stuck in low cloud and it's looking suitably grim. And just to add to the atmosphere despite any quiet handshake on-the-road pacts and any lingering tiredness everyone knows it's going to kick off going up here, because it always does. Sure enough within 100 yards a rider makes his move and two riders spring to counter. It's raining, there's racing with rider's faces taught with anguish and it's gothically dark, where are the Rapha photographers now, eh? Eh?
Each rider's personal battle and petite rivalry complete with The Beacon we regroup at the top in flat dark grey cloud for the final dash home, all downhill now, apart from that slight rise just before town that always throbs the thigh, and as we were all quietly thinking but not actually daring to say that we'd got away with it, there is a puncture with a paltry 4 miles to go. So close. While it's being fixed a posse quietly heads off to the chip shop and we ride home with wrapped goodness stuffed under jerseys keeping tummies warmed and to the biggest plate of chips you've ever seen. With a side-order of hot-cross buns, chocolate mini-rolls, chat, tea and creeping tiredness.
That's how not to do a Sportive.