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Once more, to the Brighton Road        RD 1997       Back to Rides 1997

The idea had been to make a Brighton & back attempt during June.  However, in the usual way, either I wasn't organised or the weather didn't work out right.

By the time we reached mid-July, the nights were getting longer and I decided to do the ride as soon as a half-chance presented itself.  I had recorded a 4-23 in a 100 mile TT on 13th July, and decided that I had the speed to make another outing to the Brighton Road.

Older readers will recall that I missed the record by an amusing 6 seconds in August 1993, and naturally I didn't want to repeat that particular feat.

So it was that I decided that Wednesday 16th July 1997 was the day to take the tricycle onto the A23.  I booked Eddie Mundy and Stan Brown to be in the car, and Don Glover to do the timekeeping.

When I woke at 2am, I could already hear the wind in the nearby trees - not a welcome sound.  The classic weather conditions for a Brighton & back is to have a calm start (for the section taking the rider from his start point, into London and back out again), followed by a rising Southerly wind.  This would allow a modestly adverse ride to Brighton to be followed by a wind assisted return leg to the start point.  With this in mind, I had selected a start point as far North as I dared, to maximise any tailwind.

Unfortunately, as I was forcing the pace somewhat by deciding to go inside a certain window of days, I ended up with expected weather being a rising west-south-west wind.

As we waited at the start, it was noticeable that there was already a breeze to blow me towards London.  The ride down to the coast was going to be a challenge.

I set off at 4am; I zoomed away from the Hooley Little Chef, and into the dark.  Progress was, predictably, good through Purley, to Streatham, Clapham, Vauxhall, over the Thames, and along to Hyde Park Corner.  Keith and Brenda Robins witnessed my visit to the turn point, as I switched across the centre of the roundabout, and started the southbound trek.

Avoiding my mistake of 1993, I joined the Vauxhall Bridge Road at Victoria, and was soon over the river again.  Daylight was appearing, and a definite head wind was impeding my progress.  Having been marginally ahead of my schedule at HPC, I was slightly down at Thornton Heath, and was 3 minutes behind when I was opposite my start point.  My schedule was to beat the record by just a few seconds, so this was certainly a problem.

I decided to try to eradicate my deficit before my next check point, near Gatwick.  I made good speed through Redhill and Horley, but was still 2 minutes adrift when making my way past the airport.

Onwards, to Crawley and a number of roundabouts before the grind up towards Pease Pottage.  The gap was now up to 4 minutes, and was starting to become worrying.  If I had been battling against a strong wind, then I would have been happier, as the return leg would have been assisted.  The snag was that the wind which had nagged at me earlier, seemeed to have eased off.  I didn't know what to think, and seriously considered abandoning the ride. 

I negotiated the potholes and bad cambers on the descent of Handcross Hill, and made my best effort to hold the speed up the other side.  When I reached the A272 at Bolney, I was only 2 minutes adrift.  This was predictable, though, as I'd done quite a lot of descending to get there.  What should I do?

I pressed on to Pyecombe, and had slipped to 4 minutes down at the summit.  My schedule had made no allowance for terrain, and so maybe that also could have been predicted.  I decided to continue, as Brighton was only a few miles away.

Brighton at 7am was quiet, but when the coast was finally reached, I had to wait while a seemingly endless stream of cars crossed my turn point, the Aquarium roundabout.   (Many thanks to Barbara and Ken Atkins for witnessing me)

70 miles covered, only 35 to go; 2 minutes down on the record.

I guess it was a sea breeze which helped me up the slope to Pyecombe once more.  I was feeling quite happy with the way I was travelling now, and even the news that I was 3 minutes down at the summit failed to dampen my spirits.  There was, however, still work to be done.

The road was getting busier, which was expected, as it was a weekday.  I made good progress for the next few miles, and claimed a mere 1 minute deficit at the A272 junction.  However, this point is followed by a long slope upwards, and I could sense that I was losing time.  The only consolation was that I seemed to be moving better than I had done 4 years before.  I made as much as I could of the descent leading to Handcross Hill, knowing that I needed a competent ascent, if I were to have any chance of being near to schedule at Pease Pottage. 

Somehow, I managed to keep myself moving at comfortably over 10 mph, and was just one minute late as I left the A23 and began the run down to Crawley.

Traffic was now getting slower, and I soon left my following vehicle behind.  On the bright side, though, the wind (such as it was) was helpful, and I was moving faster than I needed to as I wriggled my way towards Gatwick.

I had a "moment" on a roundabout, when a car seemed determined to push me onto the grass; but the driver eventually heard me shouting, and held her line.

As I approached the A23 again, my mind was already planning the right turn which was coming up.  Unfortunately, when my body performed that right turn, it did so at the wrong roundabout, and I only just avoided a trip to Tinsley Green!  If I had missed the record by 2 seconds, then I would have known where I lost it.

Anyway, I managed to get onto the A23 eventually, and was delighted to arrive at my last checkpoint with a credit over my schedule (and hence over the record).  It might have been a mere 25 seconds, but it was better than I'd had for the previous 4 hours, and so I was happy.

So, I had 9 miles to go, and 25 minutes.  A formality perhaps ... except for the problems of slow traffic in Horley, delays in Salfords, and queues at the outskirts of Redhill.  Luckily, though, Redhill itself was quite free (possibly because all the traffic was waiting to come in!), and so I got through quite smoothly.

Now, all I had left was a fairly straightforward 3 mile dash.  Oh, did I mention that it was almost all uphill?

I set my computer to display the time, ensuring that I knew exactly how much remained.  I let go all the energy I had, and tried desperately to keep the speed over 22 mph.  Surprisingly, this was possible for several lengthy sections.  However, after Merstham, you are definitely going upwards.  It's no mountain, but it's enough, in the circumstances. 

I had checked on my map beforehand, and I knew that when the dual carriageway starts, there is one mile left.  The dual carriageway started, when I had five minutes left.  No problem; I can't fail.

Then the damn stuff stopped.  I couldn't believe it; the road was single carriageway again.  Fortunately, around the next bend, the dualling began again, and I now had 3.5 minutes left.  I was going to have to keep the speed up.

It was frantic stuff, as I was almost certain that I would have standing traffic to deal with at the end.  As if on queue (ha!), there it was.

So with 400 yards left, I was racing up the inside of slow moving traffic.  As I knew it would, the space on the left ran out as the road narrowed.  I had to slow slightly, then flick myself across in front of a car, and into the gap between the two columns of vehicles.  No time to get to the outside, so sprint up the middle.  The gap was fine as I passed under the bridge.  The next landmarks in the closing stages are the chevron signs, and I could see them.  But I was approaching the point where the two lanes merge into one, and the gaps were narrowing.  Ahead, there was a lorry on my left, and I could tell that the car on my right was intending to move in behind it.  There was just enough gap for me to squeeze through, but it was going to be tight!  Miraculously, I escaped with both rear wheels intact, and then I could see the final landmark, the Little Chef sign.  I glanced at my computer, and saw less than a minute remained.  All or nothing, I took the outside line, around some street furniture, and shouted as loudly as I could when I passed the small crowd waiting at the finish. 

Fortunately, my approach had been spotted, and Don Glover timed me in at just before 8:50:44 am, giving an elapsed time of 4.50.44 and a 23 second improvement on Dave Pitt's previous record.

To be honest, I would have preferred something a little more substantial than that.  But who wouldn't?  In 18 years, the roads have changed, and cycle technology has changed.  I was just grateful to have avoided another embarrassing miss. 

A postscript to the story is to say that I was back in the office for an afternoon's work.  I felt this was necessary, not because of the tremendous pressure of work under which I exist.  The reason was simply because Dave Pitt has bragged ever since I first met him that he was "back on the building site for 12 o'clock".  If that's the required action after a Brighton & back, then that's what you'll get from me.

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