By James T
The alarm went at 5.15. The missed opportunity to wake Franca with coffee in bed at 8, and tell her that the Sportive plan had all been an elaborate April Fool, evaporated into the parallel universe in which common sense and appetite for challenge do not battle for supremacy. Instead we dutifully boiled eggs, ate porridge and drank strong coffee before deserting the house (and the children within) to head out into the dawn for the road to Plumpton Racecourse.
This was Franca’s first sportive, but I had done the Hampshire Hilly 100 twice before and so really should have known better than to sign up to this one. Although a longer ride than the 80 miles “Epic” route of the South Downs Sportive, the Hilly 100 is at least only about 15 minutes down the road in Sparsholt, not 90 minutes’ drive away in West Sussex.
The Shannons had gone ahead, in the Tardis that is their campervan, so that they would arrive in good time, well rested and without having had to get up before the dawn chorus. As it was, though, we arrived about 40 minutes before them (the toast had taken ages to brown in the sun, apparently) and with Franca entering the second stage of hypothermia in the chilling breeze, started without them.
Somewhat to our delight, it took them half the course to catch us up – despite our wise (and vital) decision to stop at the first of the two feed stations. The feed stations on Sportives are a great chance to stretch the legs and eat something that isn’t a gel or a PowerBar®. The Shannons were having none of such luxuries, however, which is at least part of the reason why – having started at least half an hour after us – they finished at least half an hour before us.
The highlight of their ride came when George was powering up a hill, to be asked by another cyclist who drew up alongside her whether her bike was electrically powered. Most of us would have taken the compliment, but for “Cheating George Shannon”, as she is now known, this was grave insult. She was still fuming when we crawled in at the end of the ride, but a glass of wine and some nibbles in the Tardis drawing room soon restored her humour.
On the semi-serious side, the Sportive was a good staging post on the road to Biarritz: going further than we had before, without caning either the speed or the climbing. A long ride like this rewards discipline in pacing not just the cycling, but also the eating and drinking – and catches you out if you over- or underdo it!
All in all a good day out, which came to an early end when we were asked to leave by the racecourse caretaker, just as we were about to open the second bottle…
¹ Chasing The Dragon is a wonderful book by Jackie Pullinger, which takes its name from a means of smoking heroin. No metaphor intended.