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London to Brighton: Part Three - Countryside nr. Gatwick to Brighton Pier

Heading up Turners Hill

If we were in Uganda, with the sun at the angle it was by around 10am, we would be baking to a crisp. As it was, at 10am, we were crossing the county border into West Sussex and despite the sun beating down on us, it was still pretty cold. 

After a brief flirtation with an A road, we started a three mile decent towards the foot of Turner’s Hill. With the others tailing off into the distance slightly, I tried to build up some decent momentum with which to attack the climb.

The hill is a category 5 climb, but seemed very different to Marlpit Hill earlier on in the day. Maybe it was the fact that the blood was circulating more freely around my body now, but I seemed to make reasonably light work of the half-mile climb. Before I knew it, I was at the village green at the top of the hill and the ‘half-way jitters’ had not even had chance to appear. Maybe I am getting better at climbing.

The sign on the village green in Turners Hill.
Page followed up the hill about three minutes behind, with Jonesy around five minutes further back, creating a healthy traffic jam as he went. At this point, the peloton paused for a few minutes. Jonesy hit the corner shop, and evidently feeling that his luck was in, now that we were only 20 miles from the finish, decided to buy Lucozade, sweets and three lottery tickets.


Time for a Puncture

Back on the road for a few miles, riding through water from melting snow that was running down the road in icy rivers, and reflecting on the good health of our bikes seemed to bring about the inevitable. Just as we were about to begin the descent out of Ardingly, Page, who was at the head of the peloton, shouted and pulled over. He had the dubious honour of having the first puncture of the day.

Of course, any kind of mechanical procedure gives everybody the chance to die laughing at the number of sexual innuendoes that can arise. With Jonesy running around still singing the wrong words to ‘Clique’ and me stood there looking smug because my bike was doing well, Page set about fixing the puncture which, give or take a small issue with his pump, he did quite quickly.

Three miles later, outside Lindfield, Jonesy, who’d fallen to back of the peloton again, shouted. Admittedly, I thought maybe he’d forgotten how to use his pedals again, but he too had got a puncture. Cue five more minutes of bad singing, innuendo and disapproving looks from some elderly locals who were clearly concerned about the proximity of our bikes to a flowerbed.

Moving off once more, with some blatant attempts by Page to jinx my bike and only one incident involving Jonesy falling sideways off his bike in front of a car whilst stationary, we made good progress towards our final challenge; Ditchling Beacon.


Ditchling Beacon to Brighton

Around six miles from our intended finish line of Brighton Pier, Ditchling Beacon poses more than a challenge to most casual cyclists. It is considered a category 4 climb by Strava and MapMyRide and is a climb of around a 1.7 miles (including the road that leads to it), at an average grade of approximately 9%, a maximum grade of 16.4%, and a total elevation gain of around 450 ft.

We gathered at the start of the lead-up road. Our bikes were generally intact, although Sasha’s chain guard was dead so I snapped it off. We had a quick strategic chat about the mound of chalk shrouded in thick woods that sat mockingly in front of us. Taking in the sheer height of the hill momentarily made our hearts sink, but with a few words of mutual encouragement we set off.

Our basic rule: every man for himself, but however many times you had to stop, you must ride the whole hill. I went off ahead, wary of being caught on a narrow road behind slower cyclists. Page, cursing his gears slipped into second place, with Jonesy bouncing along at the back.

The effect of the gradient started to kick in after around 200 metres. There was a noticeable difference between this an previous hills we'd climbed and the tops of my quads started to burn like crazy. I turned to look behind me and I could no longer see the others. At this point I was still moving forward at a reasonable speed. 

Just when I was into a rhythm, the road hit a bit of a hairpin and switched back on itself. A few hundred metres later and my whole body felt like it was on fire. I had to stop for a minute to remove my woolly hat and bike helmet after which I dug-in and carried on.

Around 1200 metres in, the trees to the side of the road started to thin out and a view over the Sussex countryside unfolded into the distance. Unfortunately, I found that looking at the view caused me to wobble and I chose to keep my head down and carry on with the climb. Finally, I emerged from the trees and the top of the climb came into view. I stood on the pedals to finish and aimed for a small mound of chalk by the side of the road to sit and wait. 

My legs ache. My lungs hurt. I feel so hot that I fear I may combust. I wait for the others whilst taking in the view. Sure enough my iPhone 3GS decides to protest against my taking photos of the view, so I sit and wait. After a few minutes I move to a better vantage point and stand there, cheering like a madman, as first Page and then Jonesy come into view.

We now knew that it was pretty much all downhill from here. Setting off after a brief regroup, past the snow that still adorned the tops of the hills, the edges of Brighton came into view.

A little cold, but a whole lot more smug, on Brighton Pier.
Whizzing downhill, clocking 40 mph in the process, the countryside gave way to houses, buses and cars, and after a brief pause at a final few traffic lights, Brighton Pier came into view. Completely ignoring all road markings, we cut pretty much straight across the roundabout to be greeted by Page’s fiancé Siobhan. We had made it.

Our feat may not have been as epic as a Grand Tour race, but this was my Tour de France, Jonesy's Giro d’Italia and Page's Vuelta a España. We’d endured rain, sleet, icy head winds, a couple of punctures, some cases a distinct lack of preparation and in the process raised around £400 pounds for All Our Children (UK).

A final reason to be smug was that Sasha, by Specialized Allez 2013, had survived unscathed and without a puncture en route.

On a personal note, I’d like to thank: Vassilia, Tavia, Jenny, Fay, Naz, Celia, Reuben, Jana, Phil, Ebunola, Niamh, Tackela, Pia, Minie, Jas, Emma, Siobhan, Zahra, Diane, Page’s workmates and my family for their donations to the cause. Also thanks to the anonymous donors - you know who you are. Your money will make a difference not only to my students, but to children in southwestern Uganda too. In addition to this I’d obviously like to thank the Team Ayohcee members, Simon Page and Chris Jones, for their hard work on the day - there were times I didn't think we'd make it.

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