Time trialling event at Firle Beacon represents cruel examination of cyclists’ resolve

Doug and Dan Gardner climb Firle Beacon. Picture by Lawrence Watts.
Doug and Dan Gardner climb Firle Beacon. Picture by Lawrence Watts.

Sunday marked the last race in the ESCA time trialling season, a cruel examination of resolve on the hill climb at Firle Beacon.

The dank miserable October morning set a bleak backdrop for riders as they nervously waited at the start line to be pushed off. There is no gentle easing into the event, for some hundred metres up the road the gradient kicks up to 20 percent.

Pacing is important in a hill climb event. Push off too hard and your body will red line, pushed beyond its capabilities, making recovery impossible. Conversely, if the rider sets off too conservatively, their names are unlikely to feature on the honours board. Experience and talent is key to success.

After the initial rise the climb eases off slightly, but relief is a mere illusion as riders turn the bend to see the nightmare long ascent in front of them. At this stage the large crowd surround the riders with a wall of sound to pull the competitors up the agonising last metres of the climb. The finishing line scenes illustrated the sheer agony of the ride, with cyclists slumped over their bikes unable to speak, in the circumstances probably for the best.

Victory went to seasoned hill climber Pete Tadros of In-Gear team with a time of 3:49.0. The big news for the Lewes squad was the stunning ride of Dan Gardner, who became one of only a handful of riders in the long history of the event to dip under four minutes, recording a time of 3:57.0. Tadros was generous in his praise for Dan and predicted that within a few years Dan would be breaking his record for the event.

Pete Morris had a fine ride (4:11.3) and teamed up with Dan and Jamie Lowden (4:26.7) to claim the team prize. Jamie, one of the pre race favourites, struck disaster when his wheel slipped sideways at the start of the race, meaning he had to battle against the hill with the wheel rubbing on his frame for the whole of the climb. Other Lewes times were Neil Midgley 4:59.4 (PB), Tom Glandfield 5:04.8, Mark Paton 5:09.1 and Dan’s biggest supporter, father Doug, who proved genetics cannot explain everything in a time of 7:02.6.

Tom Glandfield’s successful ride meant that, subject to official confirmation, he is the winner of the ESCA point’s completion, which aggregates positioning of all ESCA races over the season. This is a fantastic achievement for Tom and rewards his commitment over a long and arduous season.

With the time trialling season drawing to end, riders turn to alternative activities to get their cycling fix. A traditional outlet for cyclists over the winter months is Audax events. These organised rides cover between 60 and a hundred miles, usually over quiet backwaters, and more often than not involve considerably climbing en route. The rides test the navigational skills of the riders and are not races; riders simply have to complete their rides within an allocated time frame to qualify. Three Lewes riders: Chris Martin, Sam Ramsey and James Ryan, dipped their toes into the Audax waters to participate in the grandly titled Mid Sussex Olympic ride.

The event started from Chailey and took in some stiff climbs, notably the feared Cob Lane near Ardingly, before climbing past the reservoirs. For Chris Martin the most memorable section of the route was plummeting down Rocks Lane over a road so riddled with potholes that Chris observed it looked as though the RAF had subjected it to carpet-bombing!

The sting in the tail was the climb up Ditchling Beacon, which pushed the total ascent above two thousand metres.

More details of rides and club activities can be found www.leweswanderers.co.uk