The Puncheur

Puncheur Sportive 2013
Puncheur Sportive 2013

When I signed up to ride the Ronde van Vlaanderen sportive last year, I prepared for it by doing a ride-everywhere all of last March and riding two sportives for testing myself – Burgess Hill Challenge (which almost killed me), and the 100 miler Evans Cycles Woking Ride It (which actually killed my saddle). The Ronde was a relative success.

This year, the Evans ride had been pushed out to weekend after the Ronde, and Burgess Hill sportive pushed to beginning of March. Looking for more rides to fill in between, I settled for the Puncheur, the Spring Onion and the SportivePhoto Southern Spring Classic.

After surviving the classic route on Burgess Hill sportive, last Sunday was the turn of the Puncheur.

Wikipedia defines a Puncheur as:

Puncheur is a type of road bicycle racer that specializes in rolling terrain with short but steep climbs.

I’m not a racer, but I do specialize in rolling terrain (spin up, freewheel down) and short (but not steep) climbs. The rolling terrain and short, steep climbs weren’t the reasons I’d been dreading this Sunday for the whole week though. The real fears were the snow predicted for ride morning, and prospect of climbing the Ditchling Beacon at end of the ride.

The first fear resulted in a hurried rush to nearest Evans Cycles store to buy a full sleeve jacket. The second resulted in downing a beer with dinner to calm my nerves. For added effect, stopped over at London Cycle Workshop on the way back to buy some energy bars and gels, and meet the cute Cheddar.

I’m happy to announce that the above combination worked. Successfully finished the sportive, including merrily spinning up the Beacon.

Here are some things about the sportive I liked:

  • Frequent updates on weather and road conditions by @PUNCHEURsportif on Twitter on days leading up to the ride.
  • Long stretches of roads without many turns. It’s difficult to understand this till you’ve ridden something like the Puncheur, but it’s great to not have to look for a turn sign every couple of miles.
  • Almost no heavy (or even medium) traffic sections, yet better road surfaces all around than the previous weekend.
  • Ashdown Forest. Rode through the forest second weekend in a row and still in love with it. The weather this time was a bit worse and was riding into the wind, and up a gradual climb for the first long bit, but still loved riding in there. It definitely is one of my favourite places to ride, in the South East.
  • Loved setting a cadence and pushing into the wind on the long drag up into Ashdown forest. Overtook most of the cyclists who’d gone past me in last 2-3 kms over this steady stretch. It was fun.
  • The view down towards, and across, Weir Wood reservoir while climbing out away from it.
  • The long, fast section after Turners Hill, specially with the wind on my back. Helped me make up all the time I’d wasted at the feed stop. Sadly, wasn’t enough to finish within Bronze :/
  • Enthusiastic, cheerful ‘Hellos’ from @gill_rae both times I passed her. Given the morose bunch that road cyclists usually are, it was pleasant to find someone greeting so cheerfully to brighten a bleak day. Usually, my ‘Hi’s and ‘Good Mornings’ are responded to with a grumpy nod of the head, a meek Hello, or a snooty stare. We need to get more like her out on the road.
  • Food
    • CAKES, at the feed stop. I may have gorged down 3 or 4 :>
    • Apres recovery drink at the finish. Didn’t realise it immediately, but it was good.
    • Hot pasta at the finish.
    • Chili Almonds from Infinity Foods.
    • Lesson here for other sportive organisers: leave out the goodie bags, instead provide better, warm food. We treasure food lot more.
  • Catching @lulhandy on the final climb up to Ditchling Beacon just a few hundred meters from the finish.
  • Snow flurries to welcome us atop the Beacon :)


Other interesting bits:

  • Getting interesting  stares from all other sportivers after I put on my ‘commuter’ Altura jacket. Looking at the photos from sportive photographers, turns out there were 2 other people in the same jacket.
  • Rode the Colemans Hatch again this weekend. From the other end. While it was the first, long descent in Burgess Hill Classic, it was an ascent up to the ridge this time around. Good to get a different perspective of the road from other end.
  • Met @ClaudAndI and @gill_rae at the finish. That’s 5 twitter folk I’ve met at two sportives, after meeting none across 5 rides last year. All thanks to @lulhandy. The man’s a super social-networker ;)


The few things I didn’t like:

  • Cold and wind.
  • The lure of a massage table, but no masseur in operation. Would’ve loved to pay £10 to iron out some kinks in my legs and/or back.
  • The ride from left turn onto B2117 to Hurstpierpoint. Tiring legs, into strong head wind, fast traffic alongside (compared to prev country lanes), deceptively uphill, and the Beacon looming in the distance. I slowed down to a crawl in this section, pouring down a couple of gels and lots of water in preparation for the Beacon.
  • Missing Bronze medal time by a mere 2 min 41 secs! If only I hadn’t stopped at Hurstpierpoint to open all those gel packs. If only I had sprinted up the Beacon a little earlier in stead of putting in a measured effort and keeping spare in the legs. If only … till next year.
  • Not getting any pictures to show for my presence. The closest I got was this picture almost near the top of Beacon – I’m the one in black helmet and red Altura commuter jacket behind the rider in pain.
Ascending Ditchling Beacon, Puncheur Sportive
Ascending Ditchling Beacon, Puncheur Sportive
The Puncheur