The Spring Classics are all about hard riders, riding challenging courses, in tough conditions. I chose to pre-ride the Velopace Spring Classic on a crisp late winter’s day, with the sun warming my back, daffodils and snowdrops cheerily ‘lighting’ my way – anything to distract me from the blustery wind and puddles left after a night of heavy rain.
The Velopace Spring Classic sportive is a new event from Velopace, who are also the organisers of the Eastbourne Cycling Festival. The idea was to create an event that would reflect the kind of early season races that the Pro peloton would be riding at this time of the year. Now don’t think I mean the kind of race that takes place in far-flung, sunny climes. No, here we are talking the kind of riding that involves rain, mud, narrow lanes, steep climbs and aggressive riding
Rolling out of the start, which is in the grounds of the Observatory Science Centre at Herstmonceux – all green copper domes and Quatermass – the route almost immediately plunges you into a world of twisty lanes, potholes and mud. Sudden steep climbs are followed by equally steep descents, which will have you on the brakes unsure of what is around the next blind corner – usually another steep climb!
The first half of the route will wear you down; the narrow, bumpy roads mean there is very little chance to relax or enjoy the view. You’ll be tested mentally as well as physically and chances to ride as a group will be few. Keeping the momentum going over this roller coaster of a route will be hard. Add in some typical North European spring weather and you will be chewing on the Sussex version of Belgian toothpaste!
But don’t think it’s all short, knee breaking climbs, there are plenty of longer slopes to get your teeth into on the way to the half way feed. The feed station is the Mark Cross Inn, but don’t get tempted by the alternative ‘protein recovery drinks’ on offer, as you’ll be needing your wits about you if you want to turn in a good time. Alternatively you could turn in and have a good time while waiting for the taxi home!
Having resisted the temptation to linger at the feed the route winds over to the Ashdown Forest climbing Black Hill, before a too brief descent sees you hauling on the brakes to dive back into the lanes, crossing a ford before climbing Oldlands Hill and Sharlands Lane. This part of the route was used in last year’s Tour of Britain, so I played at being in the break, before finally rolling the final miles back to Herstmonceaux.
By journey’s end I must admit I was more than a little tired. I had set off way too fast, enjoying the crazy run through the lanes, but the Velopace Spring Classic is a hard day in the saddle for this time of the year and you’ll need to leave something in the tank if you want to get a good time. Ride distance is 64 miles (103k) and Velopace have managed to cram in 5525 ft (1684m) of climbing. All finishers will receive a medal and keeping with the Belgian theme, a pint from event sponsors 360°.
It’s not only you that will be tested on this ride, your bike will be put through it’s paces as well. I would thoroughly recommend giving your bike a good check over before the event. With the constant braking, plus all the water and grit on the roads, your brake pads will be taking a lot of wear; check and replace if necessary. The back lanes around Sussex, like many places in the UK aren’t always the best maintained, so I would suggest riding with a heavier, fatter tyre. The Schwalbe Durano Plus I tested previously would be a good bet.
For this recce ride however, I used our new Handsling Racing CXC cross bike, shod with 28mm Clement’s Strada LGG tyres. These have been a revelation to me, as I’ve always ridden on 23mm tyres and have been pleasantly surprised to find that 28mm comfort doesn’t have to mean slow. The Strada’s have handled some high mileage over pretty tough roads and I’ve only had one puncture so far.
The CXC was fitted with SRAM’s CX1 groupset, running a single 40-tooth chainring and monster 11-36 cassette, so I was able to haul myself up all the Sussex bergs with ease, but your gear choice will be an important consideration. The CXC was perfect for this event, the frame is stiff and light, with no flex when powering up the steep ramps of the Velopace Spring Classic. Hurtling down the other side was handled with aplomb, making mid corner changes with ease and bunny hopping over obstacles was a breeze.
Velopace are a trio of Sussex riders that have added sportives to their portfolio after running the Eastbourne Cycling Festival for four years. In addition to the Spring Classic they will also be running the Tri-Store Sportive at the Eastbourne Cycling Festival in June. The Warrior Sportive is July’s event and will head east taking in Herstmonceux, Bodiam, Pevensey, Camber, Battle Abbey and Winchelsea, for a historically themed route. The final road event for the year is the Big Dipper, taking in even more of the local climbs, and once again starting and finishing at the Observatory in Herstmonceaux. With a huge fund of local knowledge when it comes to route choice, their sportives are always challenging as well a being picturesque!
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