Wiggle South Downs Sting CX
Wiggle South Downs Sting CX
What do you do with a ‘cross bike once the cyclocross season is over? The Wiggle South Downs Sting CX sportive maybe..?
“It’s probably not escaped your attention that cyclocross bikes are hot right now. The quantity of these supposedly, off-road specific bikes is already eclipsing fixies on the regular cross-town commute – and it’s a trend that is not showing any signs of slowing down soon.
This fast growing sector of the bike market has seen record numbers entering cyclo-cross events, but these “cross” events are still a rather niche and obscure part of the cycle-sport pantheon, and the new found popularity of these machines probably owes more to their all-round practicality and versatility, than their ability to tear rapidly around a small muddy field…
But haven’t we been here before? Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s the commuting bike of choice was also a niche off-road bicycle, that was co-opted for city use thanks to it’s ability to deal with not only the atrocious road surfaces we suffer from in the UK, but do so with a sublime frame geometry that balanced stability with low speed manoeuverability, provided the practicality of rack and mudguard mounting points for winter use or touring, had a market range of tyres that was easily available and versatile enough to cope with everything from fast tarmac to soft sand or deep mud. As the saying goes “what goes around comes around”.
All of which brings me around to why I’m standing in a grassy field on a bright, cold morning in March in the small West Sussex village of Duncton, talking to bike event Organiser Martin Harrison who has a theory;
1. Modern cyclocross bikes with disc brakes, integrated gear systems and composite fibre technology are far more capable than their 20th century MTB ancestors
2. Current mountain bikes with 2.3 tyres and advanced suspension, are so accomplished off-road that they demand custom mountain bike tracks in order produce the requisite rush of adrenaline
3. Many of these newly acquired cross bikes are under utilised and there is a potential for a new type of green-lane sportif or ultracross
The CX Sportive that I’m about to ride is called the “South Downs Sting” and is one of a number of events with courses designed to cover a variety of terrains, typically to the following percentages:
60% Road (mostly back lanes)
25% fast tracks (fire road/farm track)
5% singletrack (semi-technical off road)
I rode the 76 kilometre CX Sportive route, but there were also options of 60Km (CX60), or 52Km (CX Sprinter) route. The three routes loosely follow a route known as “The Rother Valley Trail”, the longer route has an additional circuit that climbs up past Goodwood horse racing track (scene of the 1982 road cycling world road-race championships). The sprinter route nicely avoids a technical section with a steep and narrow descent down an increasingly heavily eroded and muddy surface, but I’m getting ahead of myself…
Starting off at the event HQ in Duncton we turned left off onto the A285 over a small rise and then left into Dye House Lane and the short 10% gradient kick past Duncton Mill trout fishery. Then it’s on to Folly lane and on towards Crouch farm. The right turn off of this bridleway leads onto the first off-road technical section, which is comprised of very deep soft-sand paths. I tore along this path of towards Badlands Wood with images of the Belgian sand dune races of Koksijde in my head. I was thankful that I had fitted knobbly tyres, unlike the two guys on slick tyred hard-tails that I saw at the start!
These technnical sections were, in fairness, all relatively short and could be hiked without too much trouble. Dumped un-ceremonially from the woods, back onto the tarmac lane that leads past Bignor Roman Villa and it’s on to the days’ first big climb, the tarmac trail of Bignor Hill. This 2.7km monster starts at an eye-watering 20% before levelling off to about 6% and opening up to the chalk-lands of the South Downs Way and spectacular views across Britain’s newest National Park.
The reward for all this climbing, apart from the view, is the descent into St Marys Farm. Crossing the A285 again and it’s on to a cheeky little loop around East Dean with another technical treat, the short steep 30% descent through the woods into Newhouse Lane. The checkpoint in Charlton provides a welcome feed and watering, as well as a chance to fix any small mechanical issues. Here we divide into Full/60 or CXSprinter routes. Not sure why anyone would chose to do the Sprinter route on a lovely day like this…
So it’s onwards up that aforementioned climb to Goodwood Racecourse and descent into West Dean, cross the A286 heading north and another road climb up to Hylters Lane, left into Westdean woods and back along the A286 to complete the loop to the checkpoint and the start of the next biggest obstacle of the day, the long 5 km off-road dual-track climb through Charlton forest. This proved to be a bit too much in one sitting for those that attacked it with a bit too much gusto. I admit I was a bit relieved when I hit the left hand bend at the summit of this 200 meter high climb.
Next it was the fast steep off-road descent of the South Downs Way ending just before the village of Cocking and swinging back towards along some fast single-track towards Heyshott and Hoyle.
Crossing Mill Lane and some fast road work give a chance to really open-up “in the drops” towards South Ambersham, then it’s right to Selham, loop around gravel pit wood, cross the road into a short technical wooded section and then down into Graffham and the small picturesque lanes of the South Downs National Park.
Zipping briefly back across the now surprisingly busy A285 and instead of turning right to get back to the event HQ – which is now only a few hundred meters away – I zig and zag into Burton Country Park and the imposing backdrop of Barlavington Manor House, complete with the obligatory deer hunting grounds, providing an ideal photo-opportunity for the event photographer.
There is just a final short steep muddy single-track hill to test my mettle, and I’ve completed the small finishing loop around the HQ, ready to grab some food and hit the jet-wash.
“Great, lets do it again…”
Pete was riding his Handsling CXC with a single 41t chainring matched to an 11-32 cassette. Tyres were Continental’s Mountain King running at 50psi, hard for a ‘cross race but normal pressures would be too low for the tarmac sections. When I quizzed him on the event organisation he gave it 8 out of 10, “they would have got 10 if they had free cakes at the finish!”
Fastest ride on the day was Mathilde Pauls, with a time of 3 hours 34 minutes and was the only Gold ride of the day, well done Mathilde! The next round in the series is the Surrey Hills Gravelcross CX. With a 3km closed start/finish lap, the organisers and Lezyne products have put up prizes for the fastest start, finish and combined laps. So that will give you a little incentive to push hard when you hit the start. Lezyne will also be supplying prizes to be awarded at random. When you cross the line, if your name is highlighted on the finish screen, you’re a winner. A nice little touch. We’ll be riding again and will report back on how it goes, so if you see us say “Hi!”
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