2014 White Horse Challenge Sportive

By Ron Smith. Sunday 13th April 2014

It’s just before 8am under a clear blue sky, with a light westerly wind, and still quite chilly with the early morning dew only just starting to clear, and 11 DPCC members – the two Simons (McG and E); Ron; Harri; Iain; Tim D; Bryan; “Stan”; Tony K; Kev S; and Frank – are lined up outside Shrivenham Village Hall ready for the start of the 2014 White Horse Challenge, a 90 mile sportive, mostly along very quiet roads and taking in 4 white horses carved in to the local chalk downs.

After hovering over my PC late into the evening three months previously, I had been one of the first entrants to register, so had a smile as broad as the magnificent moustache Nick Druce was sporting in our “old school” time trial when I signed on at the HQ and discovered I had blagged the much sought-after “007” rider number. Licensed. To. Kill!

Resplendent in the new DPCC kit (and with Bryan sporting a fashionable red pair of his wife’s arm warmers) we posed for the customary team photographs before Simon McG, keen to set out, was the first DPCC rider through the starting gate as the rest of us jostled for position (a decision he would regret just under 4 and half hours later…).

After 10-15 miles of rolling countryside the mass of riders had started to coalesce into discrete groups, and 4 of us (Simon M, Iain, Stan and I) found ourselves in a bunch of about 25 bowling along comfortably at a good 20+mph, with the DPCC contingent sharing much of the pacemaking with 3 riders from Devizes Town CC. A bit of a rise through Purton and the first climb of the day out of Broad Town (site of the first White Horse) dropped some of the hangers on off the back, but we continued to make good progress reaching the first food stop at Compton Bassett, after ~35 miles, in about 1h40m. Here Iain pulled in for un besoin naturel and some refuelling, but Si, Stan and I – still well stocked with food and drink and empty of bladder – carried on without stopping.

Shortly afterwards we reached the A4 and the ~4 mile eastward drag uphill through Cherhill and towards the turn for Avebury. Still, we had a slight tailwind to aid us, allowing us to admire the second White Horse and watch the steady stream of riders racing in the opposite direction in a time trial (a quick browse of the CTT website suggests the U59 circuit…).

By the time we passed through Avebury the group was now down to about half its original size as the 3 DPCC and 3 Devizes riders continued to set a steady pace, with us still averaging over 20mph. Turning off towards Marlborough we were greeted with the sight of our third White Horse, carved in to the steep side of Hackpen Hill – which we were now about to tackle. Leading the group over the summit, Simon Stan and I were in perfect formation for the Sportivephoto cameraman staking out the top of the climb.

From here we now had a 6 mile blast, slightly downhill, to Marlborough, and with the wind still on our backs we were cruising along at over 30mph at times. And it was here that I experienced the first twinges of cramp that would haunt me in another 30 miles or so. After negotiating Marlborough town centre, where a very obliging BMW driver waited to let us all ride through the square together, we turned off along the bizarrely named Chopping Knife Lane – a single track road so narrow and quiet that it has grass and weeds growing down its middle. A few undulating miles later we were in Ramsbury, where we turned south towards Froxfield and the second food stop. On making the turn we were greeted by a signpost warning of ducks. Oh, and also a 17% gradient (uphill, naturally) – but at least it wasn’t suitable for heavy goods vehicles, so we’d be safe from lunatic skip lorry drivers!

Reaching Froxfield our food and drink supplies were still not depleted and our bladders still not full so once more we rode through without stopping. It was now a long 15 mile generally uphill ride back towards the Wantage-Ashbury road with the breeze now in our faces, although it was punctuated by the nice drop down in to Lambourn. On the way out, Simon took a cheeky tow for a mile or so in the slipstream of a horsebox, before rejoining the group with barely any sense of embarassment. Reaching Blowingstone Hill – thankfully going down it – and only 10 miles from the finish, we just had one last climb, the “King of the Hill” timed ascent of Dragon Hill Road past the 4th and final White Horse at Uffington (and also the location for the filming of Kate Bush’s video for Cloudbusting, pop-pickers!). And it was just before this that one of the Devizes riders suffered a blow-out, leaving (I think) just 6 of us in the group.

Conscious of the twinges of cramp I’d had earlier in the ride, I had decided I was going to take it relatively easy on the climb. Feeling comfortable I’d managed to pull slightly ahead of Simon and Stan, but about a quarter of the way up disaster struck as my right quads and hamstring cramped together, leaving me with no option but to step off the bike to massage the knots out of my leg and losing me about a minute. Setting off once more I made good progress up the remainder of the hill, passing a couple of riders in the process. This just left the steep descent off the top and the final few miles towards Ashbury and back to Shrivenham, where I crossed the finish line with a chip time of 4h 26m 26s – the 8th fastest time of the day and taking almost 40 minutes off my previous best time set last year (where I stopped at both feeding stations, and did most of the route after the first stop on my own…).

A couple of minutes ahead of me Simon had led Stan across the line – but remember Simon’s eagerness to get started several hours earlier…? Well those 15 or so seconds were crucial as they meant Stan’s chip time was 11 seconds better than Simon’s, earning him the 6th best time of the day and Simon the 7th.

A cup of tea later and I was ready to walk across the sports field to my car, from where I retreived the cake which I had baked as a finish line reward for Team DPCC.

Camped out on the grass with Simon and Stan, it wasn’t long before Iain and Simon E came in (4h 43min), followed 10 minutes later by Harri (4h 53min), and quarter of an hour later Tony and Bryan rode in together (5h 07min). Frank (5h 20 min) was next to earn his slice of cake, followed soon after by Kevin (5h 40min), with Tim D the final DPCC rider to finish with an impressively symmetric 5h 55min 55s (and made even more impressive when you consider he’d spent the previous weekend lugging boxes and furniture into a new house and then endured 29 hours in economy seats on flights in the 5 days before the event – so, Tim, your challenge for next year is to persuade your company that they need to pay for you to fly business in order to get your times down…).

So, all in all, a pretty respectable DPCC performance: 3 riders in the top 10 and 6 in the top 40 finishers (OK, I know it’s not a race…).