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

Burgess Hill Springtime Classic

Burgess Hill Classic 2013
Burgess Hill Classic 2013

My first sportive of the year, and the first 100km+ ride of the year. If repeats of Dark Hill in Richmond Park are discounted, also my first encounter of the year with hills.

Given the hectic week before (including the crash and bent wheel), and my lack of focus on cycling so far this year, this was setting up to be another embarrassing disaster. I’m glad, and proud, to announce that it wasn’t. Lesson learnt was that at my heavy size, it’s better for your cycling form to focus on losing weight than at climbing better.

The ride, in summary:

  • The trains, like last year, were delayed. By almost 35 mins this time, meaning I started at least 45 mins after planned departure.
  • Met @Gkam84, a forums legend, before the start. He was riding his recumbent up and down our southern roads. Rode with him for a few miles before he asked me to carry on.
  • Met @dizzymabil and @lulhandy at the first pit stop. Hadn’t planned on stopping here but saw Andy’s jersey from a distance so took a quick break. Glad I did, else might not have lasted till the Hever pit stop on long route.
  • The bike setup got a good shock through the ford at bottom of Pillow Mounds Hill. The hill itself was easy, but had to stop after ascending to ensure the wheels were still true and the brakes hadn’t fallen off.
  • Rode up Kidds Hill, also known as The Wall, without stopping. Even overtook half a dozen people, accelerated out of the saddle near the top, and got a compliment from a fit & mean old-timer. Achievement Unlocked.
  • My longest stop at a feed station this year, at the Hever feed station, was shorter than my shortest stop at any last year.
  • First time that I was carrying 2 spare tubes. Ended up loaning one to a lady who’d been suffering from frequent deflation in her rear tyre, without any punctures. Sadly, she later abandoned at the Hever  feed station. Saw another rider walking to the same stop after puncturing twice. Didn’t want to let go of my only remaining spare tube, but hope he got the one from that lady, if he met her at the stop.
  • Rode all the way up Cob Lane climb without even once coming close to stopping or stalling. I’d stopped thrice on this climb last year. And struggled to get started twice. For the uninformed, this short (320m) climb averages 16% with sections at 20%.
  • Hated Deak’s Lane. It was a longish descent followed by a small climb. Hated it because the road was a narrow one track in a condition more suitable for an MTB downhill race, rather than a road sportive. After the shock of crossing the ford earlier, this was a nervous time, specially so close to the finish.
  • Finally, loved the leg and back massage at the finish. Specially, the back massage. It was… ‘liberating’ :)

Lessons learnt:

  • Keep losing weight. At least till the BMI calculator places me back in the ‘normal’ category.
  • On Burgess Hill Classic route, always stop on the first pit stop even if it comes too early for a 100km+ ride. There are way too many hills between 1st and the 2nd pit stop to carry on.
  • If you’re aiming at climbing all the climbs, going a bit slow on the flats is pretty helpful.
  • Keep eating and drinking all the time. After/Before every climb is a good time to stock up more calories.

Now, onto the next one – 65 mile Puncheur Sportive starting in Ditchling village, and ending on top of the Beacon. Not too scared of rest of the ride, but climbing the Ditchling Beacon after 65 miles of rolling rides will be a challenge.

Burgess Hill Springtime Classic