A punching by the Puncheur


Yesterday I finally rode my first Sportive – The Puncheur (http://www.puncheur.co.uk/). It has a reputation of being pretty tough as some may have seen in my previous post about it (http://girodilento.com/ive-entered-my-first-sportive-the-puncheur). I’d had a very busy week and my first challenge was simply getting out of bed at 6.15am on Sunday morning. I knew from Twitter that some of guys that I like to follow were aiming to be there about 8am – so I aimed for the same sort of time. I’d gotten most of my kit ready the night before and put it all on when I got up – so I didn’t have to change when I arrived. I then attempted some breakfast, which was a bit of a struggle as I was feeling surprisingly nervous. I put everything in the car and headed down to Ditchling. At about 7am on a Sunday morning there were very few cars on the road and when I got to Ditchling Village I headed for one of the recommended parking areas. 

I got my bike out, got my kit together and rode down to the HQ to sign on. There were plenty of riders milling around and groups were already leaving just after 8am. The Puncheur isn’t a massive sportive and was restricted to just 400 riders so it was busy but not heaving. Sign on took about a minute, I got my timing chip as a necklace and wandered back outside. I thought I’d seen some of the guys, I was hoping to meet when I went to sign on but when I got back out they’d already left. Not knowing anyone else, I decided I might as well start. 

I left in a group of about 10 riders who all went for it as soon as they rolled out on the road. I was deliberately going to take the first hour a little easier to not blow myself up too early – so I watched them ride away from me into the distance. Being a beginner at this, I’d managed to leave the route sheet in my car rather than taking it with me so as I spend the first 30 minutes riding on my own – I was watching very carefully for the route markings and I have to say they were excellent – I had no problems following the route at any point – so thanks to Morgan and his team for doing such a great job on this front.

After about 30 minutes I started to catch and overtake people – usually on the hills. I was feeling ok and trying not to ride too fast or push too hard on the hills. About when we passed through Barcombe I started to recognise the roads and then knew where I was until we got to the feed station at the half way point. 

The hill climbing up into Nutley was somewhere people started to struggle and I passed a few people going up there. The climb just before we turned left at Hartfield was also a tough one and some guys that had sailed past me on the flat stuff found me going past them again on the hills.

To be clear though – I was hardly flying. I was averaging about 26kmh on the first half and was feeling good. All of this was about to change though. As I rode past Weir Wood Reservoir my legs developed cramps and I had to stop and get off the bike. In all of the thousands of miles I’ve ridden – I’ve never had a cramp so it really took me by surprise. I had to kneel down on the side of the road and stretch the tops of my thighs (I don’t even know what the muscles are called). I wasn’t a nice feeling and it had got worse as soon as I stood up on the pedals. I stretched for a couple of minutes and then got back on to the bike. From there for the next mile or so to the feed stop – I could feel my thighs on the verge of cramping the whole way. At the feedstop, I went and talked to the paramedic about it as for a little while I was worrying about whether I might actually be able to finish. 


At the feedstop I met some of the guys I had been looking out for – Richard Mitchelson (@Rich_Mitch), Mark Tearle (@MarkTearle) and Martin Green (@greeny3103) – so that was great. Martin had had a puncture so they rolled in 5 minutes or so after I’d finished talking to the paramedic. As great as it was to meet them – it was cold with a bitter wind , so I was shivering a bit by the time we set off together. I was really cold until the first climb which warmed me up and staying seated seemed to enable me to keep my legs from cramping although they were still keen to. I rode with Rich, Mark and Martin for about 20 miles or so and thoroughly enjoyed their company. After a short feedstop with about 15 miles to go I suggested the press on as they were in better condition than I, so I then rode mostly on my own again. I rode for a bit with a guy on a Bianchi, who was struggling with his back and not long after he stopped some else I was looking forward to meeting – Simon Tyler (@SimonAlexTyler) caught me up and recognised my NeilPryde kit and bike – we had a bit of a chat and as Simon was looking good for a Silver time – I suggested he push on as I was pretty tired. Simon left me at about 6-7 miles to go when were mainly back on flat country but riding into a strong headwind. I was really looking forward to getting to the end now but nervous about how my still cramp-y legs would cope with riding up Ditchling Beacon. For the last 35 miles every time I stood up on the pedals, within 10 seconds my legs were starting to cramp – so I was hoping I could ride up the Beacon seated. Fat chance. My NeilPryde Diablo has a standard 53/39 chainset and although I’d put a 11/28 cassette on it – there was no way I could sit and spin my way up the last climb. I huffed and puffed my way up the last kilometer standing when I had no choice (about half of it) telling me legs not to even dare trying to cramp. Stunningly I even passed a couple of people on the way up – but I was hardly smashing it. Right at the top of the climb the photographers were waiting about 20 metres from the finish. I’m looking forward to seeing those photos!

At the finish a nice lady asked for the timing chip hanging around my neck and I couldn’t even begin to find it – fortunately she helped me out. I then collected my time and was relieved to hear I’d managed a Bronze time, which I felt was pretty good considering the ride. Even with the cramps, I’d been going well enough for a silver on the first half – but definitely was quite a bit slower on the second half and was glad to finish. I was very tired indeed. It was a great end to a very long and tiring week. My official time was 4 hrs 53 minutes and 30 seconds. My Cyclemeter app on my iPhone had said I’d actually been riding for 4 hours 20 – so the rest was various stops on the way – with the biggest break at the feed stop, where I probably took 15-20 minutes. None of that’s important for this time though, I’m just pleased to have done it, finished in an ok time and met some cool people along the way.

At the finish on the top of the beacon, I caught up with Rich, Mark, Martin and Simon – which was great – I had really enjoyed riding with them and they’d made my day much more enjoyable than it would have otherwise been. We had a bit of chat in the sunshine at the top and then rode down to the HQ for a well earned bowl of pasta and a cup of tea and some more of a chat where we were also joined by Rich’s Dad (@33PKM) and brother in law. After a little while, I said goodbye to everyone and headed home where I had an extremely long and hot shower and curled up on the couch with both of my kids on my lap – as I hadn’t seen them since Friday morning and I really needed to properly warm up. 

The Puncheur was tough – it certainly felt like it had landed a few punches on me – Simon who had ridden the Hell of Ashdown the week before said he thought the Puncheur route was “crueller”. I had never expected it to be easy and my congratulations to everyone who rode the event. I saw everyone from the very serious, super fast “racers”, a chap on a mountain bike with smiley faces on his helmet, through to families riding together and men and women of all ages and abilities. I’m sure that everyone who rode yesterday was feeling it last night. 
Morgan and his team put on a great event. I think it might have benefited from a second feedstop about 15 miles from the end – but other than that I thought it was a great event and I’ll definitely come back next year and try to improve. As for the weather – it had been a cold day ,with a bitter wind – but it wasn’t wet and there was even some sporadic sunshine in the last hour or so. 

My Diablo had been fantastic too – it’s a super stiff race bike, but with the right tyre pressures and a comfy saddle I’d been extremely comfortable and happy on it. It was a great ride.

The photos of me were taken by the official photographers @SportivePhoto

Thanks for reading