EAST Sussex Cycling Association had the great honour and responsibility of being this year’s host to the RTTC National 24 Hour Championship, which attracted some of the premier cyclists in the country.
The 24-hour event is undoubtedly the most demanding of the time trial disciplines. The major challenge is the mental one, but that is not to underestimate the extreme physical demands that the riders are subjected to over the extended period.
The basic premise of a 24 event is simple. The riders, set off at minute intervals, and have to cover as much distance as they can in their prescribed 24 Hour slot.
The logistical acumen required to prepare for the event cannot be overstated.
Promoter Esther Carpenter, along with a skilled back up team, spent over two years meticulously preparing for the day in painstaking detail. The extensive route required more than a hundred marshals to guide the riders around over the 24-hour period plus a myriad of directional signs, not to mention the selfless band of helpers who acted as back-up support for the riders.
Out of the 96 starters, nine Lewes stalwarts lined up to start the journey into unexplored areas of physical and mental torment. Starting at midday on Saturday the first circuit traced a route from Arlington through Barcombe and Newick.
The conditions were largely favourable and some of the riders pushed on at incredible speeds.
Provisional winner Andy Wilkinson covered his first 100 miles in a jaw dropping time of 3h57m, a time which would have won many a hundred-mile time trial in its own right. The Lewes squad were all going well at this point, with most of them flirting around the five-hour mark.
The next loop was around Pevensey, which incorporated a testing climb through the rutted roads of Wartling. In the ethereal mist of the early evening, the rider faced the terrors of the night around the loop centred at Henfield.
For many riders this was both metaphorically and literally their darkest hours. Riding at night produces states of detachment where time and distance have no meaning. Most of the riders had switched to autopilot, remorselessly grinding out the miles and fighting to ignore the pleading messages from tortured body and souls to relent.
Emerging from the gloom, the riders headed back up to the Boship Roundabout to return to the Pevensey circuit. Psychologically, this is an important moment in the race. When riders reach this point they could, if they so wished, finish riding and would be awarded a distance. However, with around four hours to go, most riders steeled themselves to fight on with the finishing line so close.
The increasingly muggy conditions, coupled with the finishing loop’s contrasting topography, challenged the rider’s resolve to their absolute limits. Your correspondent positioned himself at the crest of the rise at Wartling, where I was privileged to witness some of the bravest and most determined riding I have ever seen.
The tortured lines etched on to every gasping face, regardless of ability, brought home the immense efforts that had been invested over the 24-hour period. Caroline Nye, of Ashford Wheelers, encapsulated the spirit of the race as she stretched twisted sinews to fight every unforgiving inch of to conquer the rise on her Trike.
Over the course of the day riders had climbed an incredible 20,000 metres, more climbing than on the most arduous of the Tour De France days of racing.
Eventually, the cycling odyssey ended and at the HQ the battered and twisted bodies gave testament to the superhuman efforts that every finishing rider had invested.
At the time of going to press final distances had not been officially confirmed, but the provisional winner was Andy Wilkinson of Port Sunlight Wheelers, whose distance has been estimated at a minimum of 541 miles, a record-breaking distance on probably the toughest 24-hour course to host the National Championships.
Those of you that have ridden the London to Brighton ride will know how you felt the next day... now imagine riding the event ten times consecutively, with perhaps a 20-minute break in between! Bronwen Ewing, of Rye and District Wheelers was crowned ladies champion, having recorded a provisional 405.72 distances.
Of the nine Lewes starters, eight of them heroically completed the course. The roll of honour, which will forever be etched deep into the Wanderers collective psyche, reads as follows: Horry Hemsley, aged 77, notched up an incredible 275 miles, Andy Denyer, who rode himself to near exhaustion with a distance of 371 miles, and the metronomic John Miller who broke through the magical 400-mile mark by five miles.Meanwhile, Paul Gibbons covered a magnificent 425 miles.
Results came in just as we were going to press. They were as follows (name and total mileage): Adrian Hills, DNF; John Miller, 405.25; Andy Denyer, 371.22; Horry Hemsley, 275.29; Paul Gibbons, 425.19; Chris Martin, 419.55; Tom Glandfield, 434.07; Simon Yates, 313.20; Peter Baker, 379.99. Yates completed his third 24 event, a club record which will be hard to beat. To complete the event is an accolade in itself, but for these riders to have covered these incredible distances is both thrilling and humbling in equal measures.
BACK PAGE PIC: the nine Lewes riders minus Andy.