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The One That Got Away - A Comic Tragedy over 106 miles          Back to Rides in 1993

Within 24 hours of my adventure on the Portsmouth Road, I was reassessing my chances of breaking Dave Pitt's London to Brighton and back tricycle record.  I had sub-consciously ruled out an attack on the Brighton record for two reasons.  Firstly, Dave can normally beat me at distances up to about 100 miles, and secondly this record has such a formidable reputation.

However, my Portsmouth ride was faster than Dave's Brighton record, and so I felt that it was maybe worth a crack.  After riding the Wessex 100, I drove to Brighton, and followed the route to London.

My OS map, printed in 1984, indicated that large parts of the road south of Crawley were single carriageway.  However, I soon discovered that the whole section had been upgraded and 'dualled - with the resultant increase in speed potential.  Although this would certainly give me an advantage, I was actually a little disappointed as any comparisons of Dave Pitt's record ride and a ride that I might do would be inevitably muddied. 

But still, I checked out the route and produced a schedule.  I flew in the face of tradition, and selected to start/finish at Coulsdon rather than Crawley.  This was intended to avoid a freezing ride past Gatwick, and would also allow me to take more advantage of any rising southerly winds which might appear.  Persons with more knowledge of local traffic conditions than me advised that my finish would be impossible if I attempted the record on a weekday.  Fortunately, therefore, my attempt took place on a Sunday.

Unfortunately, though, most of the possible marshalls or officials were either away at the North Road 24-hour, or away on holiday when I needed them. Luckily, Chris & John Watts, Pat Kenny and Tim Dadswell were able to help, as were a number of the Addiscombe CC,

The forecast for the early hours of 29th August was for quite calm conditions, with any wind coming from the Southwest.  Whilst the ideal conditions would have included a definite wind prediction, I decided to go. 

I travelled to Chris & John's house on the evening before, and Chris and I drove to Coulsdon to meet Tim and Pat at 0330.  Tim soon arrived, but as the 0400 start approached there was no sign of Pat the timekeeper.  He had said that he would park-up his car and ride his tricycle to the start, but we still expected to see him well in advance of four o'clock,

With less than 10 minutes to go, I was reluctant to go through the final preparations of oiling my legs etc, in case we had to abandon the attempt before it had started.  Tim tried phoning Pat's mobile number, but without success.  He then, without realising, caused his phone to automatically dial our parents' number.  He heard 'Hello, Hello, is there anybody there? I can't hear you ....', before realising that it was his telephone which was talking. 

He apologised profusely to mother, and told her to try to go to sleep again. He was intelligent enough to not mention that we were still waiting for the timekeeper!

Pat arrived, having driven from the Midlands to Hampstead, and tricycled over the course to the start (as you do!). His greetings were 'Sorry I'm late, eight Minutes to go'.

Suddenly, I had to get into race mode, and fast.  Luckily the trike was ready, and so l had just to strip down to my skinsuit and apply oil to my legs and arms.  The temperature seemed quite mild, I was actually tempted not to bother with oil.  However, I'm glad I resisted, as later on I am sure the insulating effect was valuable in the Gatwick mist.

With (quite literally) seconds to go, I jumped on the trike and rolled to the line.  I started my watch and computer, Pat said 'Go', and I went off into the dark .. quickly realising that I had forgotten to pick up any food.

The first direction change was after about 2 miles, and as I approached the junction, I hit a pothole.  It is impossible for my front light to fall off accidentally, which made it all the more disappointing when it did so.  A quick decision was required here, and I decided to stop while a fortuitously placed marshall collected the lamp and returned it to me. 

On my way again, I climbed out of Purley and on towards Thornton Heath. I was going quite well, and as Eddie Wingrave directed me left at Streatham Hill, I was quite enjoying myself.  Unfortunately, a few minutes later, my main front light began to rattle and flicker.  I tried to sort it out, but suddenly the top flew off, the lens and bulb fell out, and the batteries ejected themselves.  I didn't stop this time, just continued feeling quite relieved that I had a second front lamp on - even if it wasn't nearly as bright as the 'main' one.

There were no more mishaps as I made my way to Hyde Park Corner, and I was actually slightly ahead of schedule as Ron and Doreen Powney checked me around the turn.

As I returned to the road junction at Victoria, I was distracted by flashing blue lights and police apprehending a motorist.  Momentarily, I lost track of where I was, and the next thing I knew was that I had turned left into Victoria Street.  This sounds fine, except I needed to be in Vauxhall Bridge Road instead.  I turned, retraced, and managed to get back onto the correct route.

Back over the river, I started to make heavy weather of the ascent to Streatham.  Things were a little easier as I approached Croydon; but when I passed my start point, I noticed that I had taken several minutes longer to return than I had on the outward leg.  I climbed to my checkpoint at the M23 junction, and was 2 minutes down on schedule (after 32 miles). 

I made quite an effort over the next 9 miles, and Alf Cook must have been a little impressed when I arrived at Gatwick precisely on schedule.  On that stretch though, I had my first meeting with some very chilly mist, which didn't do me much good.

After passing under the Gatwick Terminal building, I thought I was being overtaken by another cyclist who was using disk wheels.  My confusion was short-lived, as I realised that it was only a jet flying about 30 feet over my head.

My route took me to the east of Crawley town, and up the long climb towards Pease Pottage.  I was two minutes down and my legs ached but there was a downhill Stretch in front of me.  After passing Handcross, however, the mist was back and it was cold.  When the signs for the junction with A272 eventually materialised, I had managed to fight myself back on schedule, just.  Along here was the first sighting of Dave Pitt - well, I recognised his voice before I could see anyone.

My next checkpoint was the South Downs summit at Pyecombe, where I was two minutes down.  However, the resulting descent to Brighton actually placed me one minute up on schedule (which, incidentally, was to beat the record by a slender 7 seconds).  There was very little action in Brighton at 7am on a Sunday, which was a startling contrast with the mayhem which I had witnessed two weeks before.

With 37 miles left I figured that I really needed to step on the gas now.  I climbed well to Pyecombe, and was still very close to schedule as I concentrated on keeping the speed up.  Despite many 25mph stretches, I was still only level at A272 and my legs were sending signals to me.  On the way to Handcross I was suffering terribly on the climbs, and it seriously occurred to me that I should abandon.  Amazingly though, despite my creeping progress, I was less than 2 minutes down at Pease Pottage.

Once down the hill to Crawley, and across to Gatwick, I actually felt good again.  For the second time, I was bang-on schedule at Alf Cook's roundabout north of the airport.  Eleven miles to go, and 31 miles remained.  Dave Pitt was here, and his shouted message was 'Go on Ralph, you'll trash it!'. I tried my best to keep the speed up, although my legs were screaming at me.

Through Redhill it was touch-and-go, with 5.5 miles left and 15 minutes.  I tried to ignore the helpful shout which said 'Only 6 miles to go!', and concentrated on the almost continuous rise through Merstham.  After passing over M25 I knew I was nearly at the summit, but the road kept rising.  Everything seemed to be in slow motion (including my progress), as I desperately used all the energy I could muster, just to get to the top.  There was a shout of 'Just around the corner, and it's all downhill!' .... yes, but it's a long corner!!

Eventually eventually, the hill ended.  I then had only to cover 2.4 miles in 5.5 minutes.  I changed to a high gear, and prepared for a demonic descent through Hooley to Coulsdon.  After a miraculous passage through Hooley, I realised that I simply didn't have the strength to move the big gear.  As I changed down through the gears, I was only too well aware that Tim would have been (metaphorically) holding his head in his hands as he drove behind me in the car.

I had to rely on the remains of any of my agility to spin the pedals for the last mile.  I had 20 seconds left as I passed under the railway bridge, and I had a horrible feeling that the finish was more than 'just around the corner'.

Unfortunately I was right, and despite being totally drained, I was still 0.007 mph too slow.  My time was 4-51-13, against Dave's 1979 ride of 4-51-7.  His first words to me when I finished were 'Why the hell did you stop to pick up a light??".

As it happens I don't think I would have been particularly happy with beating Dave by just a few seconds, as the Southern end of the course has definitely been improved since his ride.  However, looking on the bright side, I don't currently have that particular moral issue to worry about. Next year, I'll have another go, and things will have to be different (faster).


RD 1993

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