Chasing the Sun (and dodging the rain!)

Authored by Mark Reynolds on 5th July 2021

 

Photo courtesy of Nick Druiff

 

Two of the club’s members, Nick Druiff and Chris West, took part on June 19th in this year’s “Chase the Sun” event. The 205-mile ride is held on the Saturday closest to the longest day each year, coast to coast, East to West. Starting at sunrise in the Thames estuary, the goal is to reach the Bristol Channel before sunset (i.e. chasing the sun, geddit?)

 

From Minster on the Isle of Sheppey, the route runs through South London, passes Richmond Park, bridges the Thames, on to Wiggin’s Olympic time trial route, through the West Country and lush Vale of Pewsey, Silchester village hall, the Mendip hills and breath taking Cheddar gorge, before arriving on the seafront finish at Burnham-on-Sea.‚Äč

 

We asked Nick and Chris about their experiences and this is what they had to say…

 

 

 

Q:  What first attracted you to the “Chase the Sun” event?

 

Nick: The event was proposed to me by a group of friends and it sounded like a fun adventure. It helped too that at the time it was still many months in the future so plenty of time to prepare.

 

Chris: It first came to my attention about 5 years ago when a cycling friend said it is one of their favourite ever rides, and what a fantastic day it is.  That sowed the seed and I had to give it a go as it sounded like a great challenge. They say it's a ride and not a race and the camaraderie amongst riders, support teams and the public is like few other rides I have taken part in. 

 

 

Q: Is this the first time you have taken part?

 

Chris: This was my third CTS. There are currently 3 versions of the event that all take place on the same Saturday nearest to the longest day of the year. The South of England is the original route. An Italian one was introduced some years ago and a North of England version was added in 2019. I have now completed two South in 2018 and 2021 and one North in 2019, so all I need now is the Italian Job for a full set, but that might take a bit more planning and persuading the wife. Perhaps we could combine it with a few days in Tuscany. 

 

Nick: For me it was a totally new experience.

 

 

Q: What event-specific training did you do?

 

Nick: The group had a training programme that built up to a number of 100 mile plus rides including for instance the Wessex Beast sportive. I didn't make all of the rides and became less confident of completing the full event distance than the others who did put the miles in. My revised target was to get to Devizes which meant a 155 mile ride instead of the more daunting 205 mile distance.

 

Chris: Not a huge amount to be fair. They say if you can do 140-150 then you will manage the extra 50-60 miles on pure adrenalin and the whole atmosphere of the day. I did a few 120-130 milers and felt ok so was happy with that. I think it helped having the experience of doing it before and knowing where I went wrong. Sunday club rides helped a lot, though I struggled with form in the spring and my confidence was a little low. I recently took up spinning classes which I have always thought were a bit silly but I have to say I quite enjoyed them and they gave a different aspect to my training, more like interval training which all helps. 

 

 

Q: What were the logistical considerations? (e.g. How did you get to the start point? How did you transport your bike? How did you get back from where you finished the ride? Did you have to stay overnight anywhere?)

 

Nick: The logistics were tricky. We travelled by train (many trains actually) the day before. Our original plan was to ride from Paddington to London Bridge but, due to the torrential rain, each rider ended up hailing a black cab for that section to avoid getting soaked. During the journey it transpired that our hotel located within riding distance of the start had been struck by lighting and closed. We were relocated to Maidstone which meant booking taxis at 3 a.m. to get to Minster on Sea. We booked two large 8-seater passenger vans but one van and a 4-seater saloon actually appeared. Somehow we managed to squeeze six bikes and their riders into the vehicles.

 

Chris: CTS is not a supported event, no feed stations or signage but a mechanic service was provided at designated points for emergencies. Apart from a suggested route you are left to your own devices. Other than having to sign in at the start, a halfway meeting point and the finish, it's up to you how you cover the distance though I'd say that 95% stick to same route. There was a mixture of groups - large and small, and solo riders, some with their own support vehicles. I was riding solo with no support other than meeting my parents at the halfway point in Bramley.  I travelled into London by train on the Friday, followed by a short ride across town to Victoria to get another train to Sittingbourne with a final leg to the Isle of Sheppey where the start was. That was all fine other than getting drenched in London. The majority will stay locally the night before as the official start time is at sunrise (4.41 a.m.)  Approximately 900 riders took part this year, up by 50% on 2019. Many B&Bs and local hotels were still closed so it was a challenge to find a bed for the night. Luckily somebody posted on FB they had space in an Airbnb two miles from the start which I jumped at and got a place.

 

The return journey home from Burnham on Sea was more straightforward as my wife had offered to pick me up and drive home the same evening.

 

Q: How did you manage with the navigation - especially through London?

 

Chris: I had downloaded the suggested route onto my Garmin, it was just a case of keeping enough battery life in it for the whole day. There are few moments when you aren't riding with other CTSers but you can always identify them by the iconic orange ribbon everyone attaches to their bikes so that reassured me I was on the right route. It's a bit sad but I like to visualise my routes by going on Google maps and memorising key way points, it's just a thing I like to do. Other than having to boost the Garmin during my lunch stop with a battery pack, it coped perfectly well. I'd say 60-70 miles were on familiar roads too which helped.

 

 

Q: What was your overall experience of the ride itself? How much did the adverse weather conditions play a part?

 

Chris: As in previous years, it was an amazing experience. Not being a newbie helps though the nerves were still there in the lead up to the day. The weather the day before was pretty shocking across the whole south of England which meant quite a few flooded roads and lots of gravel and mud on the country roads. The day itself was cool with a fortunate gentle SSE wind. Only the last half hour saw a bit of rain but luckily I had already descended Cheddar Gorge which I wouldn't have fancied in the wet.

 

Nick: The heavy rain the day before meant the roads were still wet and very dirty. There were so many punctures. While the rain held off during the event day, it started again at 6 p.m. just as I stopped riding at Devizes. I'm told that the rain and cold made the final 50 miles very tough and took much of the fun out of the Cheddar Gorge descent.

 

 

 

Q: What advice would you give to someone considering taking part in 2022?

 

Nick: Minimise the stops as much as possible.  The stops add up and make a long day in the saddle even longer and lessen the chances of beating the sun. 

 

Chris: Don't forget to pack your bib shorts! Seriously, I was that person. So the first 50 miles were ridden in football shorts until I got to the Cadence Giant store in Crystal Palace. Unfortunately, by then, the damage had been done but at least I got a nice new pair of shorts!

 

The biggest thing is limiting faff time (and unplanned shopping!) Plan your nutrition and any stops very carefully. Don't get sucked in to going off too quickly, stick to your plan and you'll be fine.

 

I'd recommend it to anyone, you don't need to be Bradley Wiggins to take part, there is always a mixture of capabilities, though not doing any training would be ill advised. One guy did it on a Penny Farthing and another couple on a tandem.

 

 

 

Q: Any other thoughts, comments or advice?

 

Nick: Kudos to the riders who, despite their determination and perseverance, were not able to finish before sunset and battled on late into the night in that unseasonably cold and wet weather.

 

Chris: I did the North route with two other riders and a support vehicle. It makes quite a difference having some company so it would be great to do a route again with other MDCC members.  In fact, this year at around the 20-mile mark, on the first hill, it was so encouraging when a rider cruised up alongside me and said, “Hello Chris!” - it was one of our newest members, Nick, who was riding with a group from Burghfield Common, near Reading.  So…meet you all in Cesenatico on June 18th 2022?

 

 

                         

 

 

 

 

Further details of the various Chase the Sun routes and logistics can be found at: https://www.chasethesun.org/uk-south/

 

 

 

With grateful acknowledgements to Chase the Sun for permission to reproduce the above images from their website