Monday, 11 April 2011

Springtime in Sussex

Valley parade: Cuckmere Haven offers stunning views and
breathtaking cycling.
The lot of a fair-weather cyclist is not a happy one over the winter months. Hours spent cleaning bikes, tinkering with sprockets and looking gloomily out at the even gloomier weather.

But the second weekend in April sees positively Mediterranean temperatures soak the south coast and I finally decide it's time to get out on the bike again. It's been a long lay-off. The best bike is still in bits in its bag under the bed, but the trainer has been used sporadically on commuting detail, so I hitch it up on the roof-rack and head down to my parents' new place in Seaford.

Sunday morning is a great time to cycle - precious little traffic around and what little there is tends to give you a wide enough berth. So I'm out at the crack of dawn (OK, 9am) and off to test out the atrophied legs along the country road to Lewes and back. It's only 24 miles, but you've got to start somewhere, I tell myself.

Good job it was only a short distance. The first mile seems like several as I battle a pretty fierce headwind along the A259 towards Newhaven. But once on the Lewes Road, there's a bit more shelter afforded and I get up to cruising speed. It's only mild undulating territory, but each uphill feels like a mountain to these rusty thighs. And what was once only a brief tester up Winterbourne Hollow seems like the upper slopes of the Galibier.

Fortunately, the wind's behind me on the return leg and I blast along in the big ring, only switching to the smaller one up Blatchington Hill, which is really only a slight incline. But it's miles in the legs, which is all that matters to me at this stage.

This morning I decide to tackle a tougher route - the A259 from Seaford to Eastbourne; a much hillier proposition. There's a 14% climb out of the Cuckmere Valley that sees me in my lowest gearing and a gentler but longer rise out of Eastdean to the top of Beachy Head. But as there's an up, so there's a down - 40mph+  into Eastbourne's Old Town if you're wondering.

The return leg is not so simple. The wind is up and the ascent from Meads to Beachy Head is conducted in the smallest gearing possible against a strong, blustery wind that's whipping off the tops. It drags onwards, draining the last vestiges of energy gel out of me and I'm gasping for air as I get to the A259 again.

A new lease of life helps combat the wind as I plummet down into Eastdean again, only to be faced with the 17% sting of Friston Hill. It's here where my hill legs seem to have returned. I grind up the steeper section at the bottom and am practically sprinting by the top. I can do this. The muscles remember how.

If you've been 'following' the blog, you might be asking how this is ever going to prepare me for the Marmotte. Well it's not. I've decided against it this year as there's just been way too much going on. The expense was difficult to justify as well.

But I'll be taking the bike to Sussex again after this weekend. Exhilarating stuff and some truly breathtaking views.