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Chase The Sun 2023

Reported by Dave B

Born out of one man’s challenge to see how far he could ride in a single day, Chase The Sun brings together a community of cyclists intent on challenging themselves to go further and deeper than they’ve gone before, embracing something well beyond most people’s comfort zones and trying to enjoying the experience despite the lingering mind demons.

For my part, I had heard about the epic from a friend who had completed it years back and our very own Mike G’s tales of how to get round convinced me it was possible as long as you could sort the logistics of transport and accommodation and follow the advice: no heroics - stay hydrated, in Z2, on a wheel and break it into a series of 50 mile rides!

And so to business. We all got up at silly o’ clock - huge kudos to Mark P for getting up well before 2 am to drive us to Isle of Sheppey (and to Matt for driving the car to Weston Super Mare). On arrival the atmosphere was calm and businesslike, it being 4 am and still dark. Autopilot kicked in - get registered, faff with bike and arrive at the start queue on the beachfront. The dusk was quickly and imperceptibly replaced by the hazy orange morning light – it wasn’t apparently a mad dream - we were off at 4.39am or thereabouts! The sun waits for no one, and we were chasing it.

Rolling through empty, darkened lanes in large groups, chatting with a guy from Melbourne who was here for the event and the Ashes on a hired bike, made the first 30kms pass quickly. Once on the mainland, it seemed like we were on the Kentish edges of London before we knew it, still relatively traffic free at that time in the morning.

That all soon changed. I’d guess we lost over an hour at red lights through south London, it seemed like every single one was red. It made it easy to keep up with the pelotons but by Crystal Palace we were craving much-needed first coffee where the organisers caught up with us for an interview! The delights of Colliers Wood, Streatham and Raynes Park followed before the familiar sight of Kingston Bridge and Ros waiting with bacon rolls on the dot of 9 am and 100km in the bag was really welcome together with a surprise appearance from StuART.

Some enjoyable miles on home turf followed through Sunbury, Chertsey and Chobham which quickly passed and eventually we found ourselves in the Newbury triangle (which it seemed we would never leave…). Hours seemed to elapse and we were still seeing signs to Newbury! A white van man showed himself in Camberley, standing in the road trying to fight a cyclist who had apparently offended him, but thankfully pretty much the only adverse encounter with a motorist on the entire route, largely thanks to the thoughtful mainly back road route planning of the organisers.

Lots more group chat - we took pride in answering the many ‘Where’s Waldy from?’ questions, our outstanding kit proving eye-catching in a gruppetto and something of an easy icebreaker before rolling into lunch at 100 miles. Respite from the saddle, although not from the sun. Sandwiches were gratefully consumed and flapjacks and cokes guzzled with relish. We knew then that 100 miles in our bodies could physically do the next 100, but keeping the mind in check was critical to a successful finish.

Somewhere in the deep dark 3rd quarter of the ride, Luke had our first puncture of the day which was quickly fixed. Cruising between grupettos to help maintain speed and tick off these tough post-lunch miles and push away our darker thoughts was key: conversations gradually slowed and stopped, brains in siege mode – how does everyone still look so fresh? How many more hedge-lined country lanes full of gravel can I take? Why is that guy in the GB skinsuit seemingly everywhere?

Thankfully the absolutely fabulous scenery and sunshine of Wiltshire and the White Horse provided the necessary solace, blue skies, cornfields and empty roads to keep us going. Majestically the red arrows on their way to an airshow suddenly appeared in diamond formation.

Some decent bumps in the road were occurring with more regularity, the second half being lumpier than the first. With these mostly conquered, we focussed on the welcome co-op stop at [178] miles … then suddenly 25 kms to go and the total elation of descending Cheddar Gorge not long before at sunset was magical, its perfect curves, cambers and dramatic cliffs rising both sides of the road got us whooping and giggling like kids, truly one of the most exhilarating descents in Europe - and coming at the particular point in the ride when most of the body was shutting down after a series of climbs.

It was at the very moment I turned to Matt and said how pleased I was that we had only one mechanical in 900kms ridden cumulatively that my front wheel flattened thanks to a drawing pin, 4kms from home. Even that could not deter us – we still had time in the bank and barring disaster, were going to make it.

By now you could almost smell the sea air a few kms out from Weston and dropping onto the front could see the Pier come into view and the lights of the town. Such a great end to the ride going along the Grand Pier and being congratulated by everyone including the town crier! In keeping with the low key nature of what is a supreme challenge, our goody bag consisted of a sticker as a finisher and a much needed (non alcoholic) beer, quickly topped up with a proper and truly delicious one in the hotel bar. Obligatory sunset shots and what was left of the evening was spent slightly delirious in the shower, the fish and chip shop (the considered choice of competitors) and in front of BBC Glastonbury.

In sum, excellent organization, brilliant volunteers, fellow cyclists and vocal support all the way along. Thanks to Luke and Matt for being great ride buddies to share some amazing memories – this is for sure a massive mental challenge as much as a physical one (notwithstanding the general soreness, all-over fatigue and numb feet 2 days later..) and having partners definitely kept me going. It will take a while for what we did to sink in, but compared to the stories of the rainsoaked 2022 version, I’d take 30 degrees and a headwind anyday.

The stats – 759 riders started, 649 finished, 510 (including us !) before sunset at 9.32pm. 3100m elevation and 205 miles.

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