Picking the first three in the Grand National an easier task than predicting this race

PICKING the top three in this week’s Grand National was probably an easier task than predicting the podium places for last Sunday’s Lewes Wanderers club event, he Circuit of Danehill.

A beautiful serene day with only the merest whisper of a wind set the backdrop for this exciting but technically challenging ride.

Starting at Chelwood Gate, the riders are swept down a glorious descent along fast roads to Sheffield Park. There follows a stiff tester of a climb up to Chailey, which gives an ominous pretaste of the agony that awaits.

The course heads through Newick, with the undulations becoming exponentially steeper as the miles progress. By now the speed of the ride is starting to take its toll, heart rate monitors are rising faster than inflation and the pounding in heads tells competitors that oxygen is in short supply. The next section of the course separates the winners from the rest.

To extend the Grand National analogy, the climb up to Nutley is the Becher’s Brook of the ride, with many riders falling off the pace. However, it is the next climb up into the forest, which inspires the dread associated with Aintree’s infamous Chair, that really tells. This seemingly benign climb confronts riders at their lowest ebb, and even the stronger competitors are struggling up this climb.

The return to Chelwood Gate is a glorious mad sprint for home, with the last scintilla of energy expended as the finishing line is crossed. The tortured wrecks at the end of the race would have clearly benefited from the oxygen boost National winner Balabriggs was given at the end of his epic race on Saturday.

On the day pre-race favourite Tom Glandfield lived up to expectations and stormed around the course in an impressive time of 45.11, very close to Jim Cheek’s long-standing course record. Second spot went to the fast improving Matt Coombs, who bettered his previous year’s time by an astounding four minutes and stopped the clock in an amazing time of 45:44.

Coming home third was the novice and dark horse Callum Middleton. Sixteen-year-old Callum made the going seem easy and recorded an impressive time of 46:53, which also earns him second position on handicap. To record such a fast time at such a tender age suggests that Callum has great potential and if he continues in this rich vein of form he will have the Junior club records in his pocket come the end of the season.

Mark Frost had probably his best ride as a Wanderer, with a time of 47:03 securing fourth spot and third Handicap position.

The ever dependable Peter Baker, in recording a time of 47:21, was first on Handicap and second Vet home, with the third Vet position going to Stuart Kirkham in a time of 49:23.

Your correspondent managed to sneak first Vet place with a time of 49:41, a close three seconds ahead of Peter Baker. The Vets competition is basically a handicap system based on age, so old “carthorses” like yours truly are given a generous allowance of time over the younger riders in the field.

Natasha Fuller was the first woman home in a rapid time of 54:42. In a strong indicator of the strength of the club it is astounding to note that 11 of the field of 48 managed to break the fast 50-minute barrier for the circuit. A few years back a sub 50 time would be pretty rare, and would have in most years see the rider finish in the top five, and in some years one of the top three spots.

The club would like to extend their thanks to Ollie Tuckley and the band of ever-willing helpers for a well-organised and enjoyable event.

The previous day four Lewes riders rode in the Catford 10 event, which attracted a high quality field. The 10-mile circuit starts with a terrifying ski slope descent which certainly has the riders on their toes from the off. Big news of the day was the stunning ride of Nick Dwyer. His time of 19:57 was outside Rob Pelham’s club record by a mere one second. To record such a stunningly fast ride so early in the season suggests that the record book might require some drastic editing this year. Duncan Fuller had a splendid day out, and his fast 23:18 was a new PB. Paul Hanratty was pleased with his 25:19 ride and Natasha Fuller warmed up nicely for the following day’s ride with a 25:19. The winner on the day was In Gear’s Pete Tadros who notched up an impressive time of 19:38.

Next week sees a double header, with the running of the ESCA 10 and 25. The ten event is being promoted by the Wanderers’ Mark Winton, so fingers crossed that the strong Lewes team can notch up more team victories over the intensive weekend of racing.