Updated: Aug 1, 2021
The southern version of Chase The Sun (there’s also northern and Italian editions) is a 205-mile (330km) ride from the Isle of Sheppey on the east Kent coast to Burnham-on-Sea in Somerset which takes place on the Saturday in June nearest the longest day. It starts at sunset (04.38), and the idea is to get to the end in Somerset by the time the sun has set (21.31).
It’s fair to say the ride is not as well-known as most other significant sportives. The website says that it started in 2008 when three friends set out to see how far they could ride in a day, and now around 900 cyclists participate every year. It is still run by volunteers, is largely unsupported, and is cheap to enter (£28 this year for the basic deal).
Registration opens at some point in the autumn, and because there’s no fanfare or major announcements you need to keep checking the website if you want to register. Places were sold out this year so it pays to get in early.
Once you’re in, there are a few emails sent near the time, some with the usual ‘buy our gear’ messages, and some with details of the ride. There’s a recommended route (which goes through Kingston to Hampton Court and Shepperton) but no obligation to follow it (we did), and the only stipulation is a half-way check in – where the local WI also sold sandwiches and cakes. There’s usually a briefing the night before but this year it was all done by email, for obvious reasons.
We stayed near Sittingbourne on the Friday night, about 10 miles from the start (only because my brother-in-law, who I did the ride with, knew the hotel owner), and I doubt we would have made the 8pm briefing anyway as I wanted to be in bed as soon after 9pm as possible. As it happens, the England v Scotland match was a perfect way to go off to sleep.
Checking in on Saturday morning was easy and quick. We got a lift to Minster and arrived at around 03.45, collected our orange ribbons, loaded our pockets with supplies, and were in the queue at 04.15 waiting for the sun to rise. The chat among the riders reflected the daunting prospect ahead, but our plan was to break up the ride so we had short-term targets – coffee in Bromley, breakfast in Hampton etc.
We had arranged for family and friends to meet us with hot food at Hampton and at Wilton in Wiltshire, and with hindsight these were the highlights of the trip. Having people you know meet you en route is a real motivator, and we could afford to spend around half an hour each time refuelling and resting the legs.
We were checking the weather constantly, mainly I would say for wind direction. The prevailing winds are south westerly, but we were lucky to have a slight tailwind most of the way. Had the forecast been for howling headwinds, I considered sending a message to club members asking for volunteers to shelter us over to Bagshot or thereabouts! Anyone planning on doing this event next year should consider the same. We did manage to find groups of 6-8 to ride with for a fair bit of the time which helped hugely.
The half way check in was at Bramley in Hampshire then the family met us again in after 130 miles in Wilton with lunch, then Cheddar at 190 miles and on to Burnham. A bit of a shock was the series of challenging hills between miles 170 and 180 (including my very first puncture in four years on this bike – and a good advertisement for Continental 4 Seasons tyres) before hitting the steep descent of Cheddar Gorge, which was a bit precarious in the wet.
The final 20 miles or so were actually pretty quick, spurred on by the prospect of a curry and beer, and we were greeted by a reasonable welcoming committee, including the town mayor, at 8.30pm with an hour to spare before sunset !
Then a short walk to the seafront hotel, the grandly named Royal Clarence –which was anything but. I’m sure it was OK in the 1950s. However, it was clean and convenient, and in hindsight an excellent move as it was a much better option than packing up the bike and driving miles away to somewhere nicer.
Overall, it was a great experience and easily achievable with the right training. Given that the climbing is not too severe, it means it’s all about endurance, and over the two months prior I built the length of rides so that I did three or four over 100-milers, the longest being 135, interspersed with short, sharp turbo sessions.