Wiggle Surrey Hills Gravelcross CX
There were a lot of lovely, long sweeping descents, a few rocky chutes; one that even included a fallen tree obstacle that required a bit of portage, before turning into a stream. Organisers, the Cycle Events Organisation had put signs on two sections warning riders, “Rough stuff. Hold on or get off”! Thankfully my bike handling and bike were up to the challenge. Everything was rideable on the ‘cross bike and it was great zooming past herds of mountain bikers crawling up hill!
Once past the feed station and onto the eastern side of the course, there were some tough road climbs up local favourites such as Leith and Pitch Hill, these tough little climbs had the lungs burning and me praising the little ring!
After the climb of Pitch Hill it was a short road blast back to the finish, which caught me by surprise. I was having so much fun I hadn’t kept an eye on the distance or time and it looked like I was going to miss my gold time. With only the three kilometre loop of the Showground to complete I wasn’t going to be able to do it. That just left me trying to catch the rider in front as an end of ride boost, but even that I missed by a few metres (although they did cut the course a bit…)
Bike choice for the day was my Handsling CXC – stiff, light and responsive – with a little help from Canyon’s VCLS seatpost to smooth out those trails. Wheels were loaned from a friend to try out tubeless. They were shod with Schwalbe’s Smart Sam tyres in a 40mm width, which are not strictly tubeless compatible, but nonetheless worked perfectly. I set out with 50psi, but could probably have got away with 40psi on the road sections with the Smart Sam’s bigger volume.
So there you have it, my first proper CX sportive. What did I think? A great route, through a beautiful part of the country. Some challenging trails, but nothing that was too hard for a ‘cross bike. These CX sportives can be ridden on any type of bike – in fact they make a point of showing each riders choice of bike in the results – however, I would say if you actually want a challenge then a cyclo-cross bike may be the best choice.
As organiser Martin Harrison said previously, modern mtbs are so good that you really need to take them to proper, built bike parks to get the most out of them. The Surrey Hills Gravelcross route would have been very mild on a mtb, with full suspension and massive tyres, but on a rigid ‘cross bike with cantilevers and forty millimetre tyres it was a blast. So if you’ve got a cyclo-cross bike at home – maybe it’s your commuting/winter bike – then try a CX sportive; you won’t regret it.
The support before and during the event is spot on, with plenty of pre-event information, excellent route signage – very important on this tricky, twisty route – and the extra timed challenge was a nice touch for us wannabe racers. Would I add anything else? Well Paris-Roubaix was on the same day and the Surrey Hills Gravelcross does have a similar feel (ok maybe that was some romantic daydreaming on my part) but how about some countdown numbers on the off-road sections? Other than that it was a great day out and I’ll be back again to get that elusive gold.
Next up in the Wiggle CX series is an even bigger challenge, the CX Century. One hundred miles from Winchester to Eastbourne along the South Downs Way. Unlike previous events this one has a few machine restrictions, the organisers want to create a unique CX event. To this end you will have to ride on a bike that has no suspension, a maximum tyre width of 40mm and drop handlebars, although flat bars will be “tolerated”. I’ll be riding this event so look out for articles as I wade through equipment choices and prepare my body for a hammering!
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