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Sportive Blog: Oisin: Gold fever in the South Downs

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Published: 14 June 2013
Blogger: Oisin Sands

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Oisin rides an actual sportive, almost eats his house keys and succumbs to the mind-bending power of fatigue and sugary drinks. Over to you Oisin...

So, I finally tried one of these sportives that everyone’s been banging on about. I rode every last epic bit of it, and, to summarise in biblical terms, ‘it was good’. But not all good.

The South Downs Spring Sportive is a 74-mile course in the convenient and familiar environs of Sussex, a little north of Brighton. I’d been expecting a frenzied melee of mano a mamil combat, requiring every ounce of guile and wit to survive. But in fact, it was more like a long but civilised club ride, with two key differences: 1) the presence of photographers and food along the way, and 2) a timing chip attached to my helmet, which would detonate if my speed dropped below an average of 15.5 mph.

As someone whose previous experience of timing chips was limited to impatient waits in kebab shops, this was very exciting. Strictly speaking, the chip was not explosive – however, the ride was timed; 15.5 mph was the speed required to gain a gold time, and obviously it was imperative that I gained a gold time, as failure meant the other sportive bloggers would beat me to a pulp with track pumps for besmirching their reps.

"I’d been expecting a frenzied melee of mano a mamil combat, requiring every ounce of guile and wit to survive. But in fact, it was more like a long but civilised club ride"

Oisin is pleasantly surprised by his sportive inauguration

As if wearing a helmet wired with imaginary explosives was not exciting enough, the organisers also spiced things up by providing barrels of hallucinogenic drinks at the feed stations. Although labelled as a well known energy drink it was quite obvious that the kegs had been spiked with a psychoactive compound. There is no other explanation for my deteriorating mental state on the final 20 miles of the ride. OK, so I had missed breakfast – but I often skip breakfast, and this doesn’t usually lead to me attempting to eat my own front door keys, which is exactly what happened 50 miles into the ride.

I was clinging desperately to Robbie’s back wheel at this point, and experiencing blurred vision and feelings of profound futility. From somewhere in the reptilian depths of my mind, a weak voice floated to the surface: ‘eat…eat…’ it said. In my trance-like state, I pulled a handful of crushed jelly beans from my back pocket. I was about to initiate oral insertion when, thankfully, I noticed my keys poking out from the gelatinous, sugary mess.

Now, I’m not saying it’s definitely the energy drink supplier’s fault in a legal sense, but I will say that if you’re planning to ride a sportive supplied by a certain popular drinks brand, I would strongly recommend incorporating peyote into your training plans. That way, you’ll at least be prepared on the day of your ride when the scenery suddenly starts melting into a Dali-esquepurgatory of blurry trees, flashing pedals and birdsong that sounds like the incessant squeaking of un-oiled jockey wheels.

Apart from the poisoning, near-death and hallucinations, my first sportive was very enjoyable. The company was excellent: alongside myself and Robbie were Mitre clubmates Ian, Rob and Mohan, and Ian’s friend from the north, Andy. We didn’t quite manage to stick together throughout the course, but we did all survive and that’s the main thing.

At this point, I feel I should apologise for the lack of pictures accompanying this report. I was carrying a camera, but didn’t manage to use it once in the entire ride (for reasons that should now be apparent). Elusive and wily as I am, the event photographers did manage to capture a couple of images of me, but they are a little confusing as I appear to be riding a tandem with a random bearded gentleman. I can safely say I have no recollection of seeing this man, but would like to thank him for letting me draft him/share his tandem, as the case may be.

"the event photographers did manage to capture a couple of images of me, but they are a little confusing as I appear to be riding a tandem with a random bearded gentleman."

Oisin's memory of the ride appears hazy in parts

But anyway, who needs photos.The big news is that – at last! – my film star qualities have been officially recognised. It is with great pride, therefore, that I announce my lead role in South Downs Spring Sportive: The Movie. (I’m at 1’57” on the white bike; Ian, in red, is giving the camera a cheeky thumbs up.)

Now, after all that drama, you may be wondering whether I managed to finish the ride fast enough to spare myself a blogger beat-down.

I was wondering that myself as I rolled up, exhausted, to the finishing line at Plumpton Racecourse alongside Robbie. Our Garmins showed a healthy average speed of 17.2 mph; but that didn’t take into account our time spent luxuriating at the first feed station (we’d skipped the second in a bid to catch up).

The fact that my helmet hadn’t exploded was a positive sign, but there was still a certain amount of suspense as I scrolled down the official timings on the event website. This was quickly replaced with a wave of disbelief and giddy joy, as I realised we’d made gold time…by less than 38 seconds.

So, technically, I survived my first sportive. And if the experience has taught me one thing, it’s that I never learn from experience: because I’ve just signed up for Wiggle’s ‘Long One’ sportive at the end of June.

At 124 miles in length, I’m not sure that crocodile-flavoured potions alone will do the trick. Mystery bearded tandem man, if you’re reading this, please get in touch: I have a proposition for you.

Felix update: My adopted pro, Felix English,is flourishing and recently won the Milk Race in Nottingham. He’s currently popping up around the UK on the Tour Series; I went to cheer him on at London’s Canary Wharf stage, where he generously allowed his team mate (and Olympic gold medallist) Ed Clancy to finish second. Next time remember the ‘exploding helmet’ trick Felix.

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