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Oh no! Not (Brighton) Again!          Back to Rides in 1999

In early 1999, Liz Milne had (at a weak moment, probably) said that she was quite happy to ride the tandem tricycle for a few more races.  So I checked that this included (in principle at least) an RRA record attempt or two.  I guess she must have said yes to shut me up.

So, in preparation for her return from a holiday in May, I submitted schedules to the RRA for us to attempt the “London to Brighton and back” record and the “London to Portsmouth and back” record.  In each case, there was no existing record, but a “lowest standard” to beat.

The first opportunity we had was soon after she returned from the two weeks of Mediterranean touring.  Despite my enthusiasm, and the fact that we were at an acknowledged “gap” in her plans for the summer, she didn’t want to do the ride.  There then followed about six weeks featuring several National Championships and other important races, leaving us at the start of August.

We were both getting quite good results.  For me, this was great news because it increased the likelihood of setting tight records.  For Liz, it meant that she took a greater interest than usual in the Best All-Rounder competition.  For me, this was a downer, as it meant that she wasn’t as keen to go record breaking!

In early August, we had a serious discussion in a café in Chelmsford (!), and identified two possible “windows” in her schedule.  The first was between 8th and 10th August, with the second a few weeks later.  So, it was left for me to check the weather, and Liz to ensure she could get time off work if we went on 9th or 10th. 

The weather expected for 8th or 9th started to look “possible” for a go at the Brighton record.  Then Liz said that it would be very difficult to get Monday 9th as holiday, and that she wanted to ride a 25 on Sunday 8th.  As what I thought was just a gesture towards me, she said that she would try to get Monday morning off.

Gloomily, I checked the forecast, and concluded that Monday wasn’t suitable.  When I phoned her, I said that we should drop the plan, and try again later in the month.

Imagine my disbelief, when I heard “Oh no, and I was really psyched up for Monday.  Are you sure it’s no good?”.  So I looked again at the charts, and we agreed that I would get expert advice and speak to her again on the following evening.

Suddenly I had moved from being the persuader to the persuaded.  Monday had looked likely to be very wet, and a bit unpredictable.  Happily, though, any winds wouldn’t be very strong.

I notified the RRA that we would ride the Brighton Road on the 9th, and then began arranging the necessary back-up.  Eddie Mundy and Dave Stalker were in the car, with Don Glover timing the start.  Keith Robins was dealing with the London turn, and with Mick Kilby and Frank Blake at Brighton, all I needed was someone to time the finish.  Don would be at work, as would most other timekeepers.  After much anguish, I rang Owen Drake, who was happy to help.  But there was a complication ….. on a morning likely to include some highly dodgy weather, he didn’t fancy the ride from Crawley, and he doesn’t drive.  So now we needed another driver!  Happily, Frank Brighty stepped forward to complete the team.  Now, all we had to do was the ride.

While the above organising was being done, I fitted in a fast 10 on the tandem on the Saturday afternoon, and Liz, as mentioned above, rode a 25 on the Sunday.  I “rested” on the Sunday, missing what turned out to be a fast 25.

The published schedule suggested that we would aim for a time only just faster than the slowest acceptable speed.  However, I believed that we would probably be able to beat that by at least 30 minutes, and so prepared an alternative schedule for a time of 4h 40m.

So, we arrived at the start in dry darkness.  What a relief not to have the irritation of drizzle, or worse.  Most of Sunday had been rather wet, and only a real optimist would have put money on Monday being dry.

We set off into the black, pedalling comfortably.  But you would, as the first section is all downwards.  At Purley, we had the first climb. I felt that we struggled a bit, but we got to the first check inside the schedule.

We had a good run through to Hyde Park Corner, including nervously crossing a couple of major junctions where the traffic lights were “out”.  At the turn, we got a shout from Keith, and as we cut across the middle of the roundabout, I spotted that Eddie and Dave were still with us.  In fact, I was quite surprised to see a car on the roundabout, until I realised that it was “us”.

At this point, we noticed a few raindrops.  Within minutes, we were properly wet, and feeling a bit vulnerable.  Although we had lights, we were quite cautious for a while, as visibility was poor.  Having been 3 minutes up at the turn, we had given all of that back by the next check.

As we approached Purley again, the roads were dry and daylight was almost upon us.  Opposite the start, with one-third of the ride completed, we were 3 minutes behind the schedule.  A fairly swift run through to Gatwick saw us just one minute behind.

Tony Killick witnessed us on our way through Tinsley Green, to avoid much of the centre of Crawley.  When we had hauled ourselves up to Pease Pottage, we were two minutes down.

But the next bit is quite fast, and with two long descents in the 6 mile segment, we were back on schedule.  Even an over-geared climb (sorry Liz!) to Pyecombe only left us one minute off, and we were on our way into Brighton. 

We were starting to see some traffic, and were delayed a bit.  This resulted in our arrival at the coast with a two minute deficit.  After an elegant sweep around the turn, we were on our way back to the North.

It’s a strange thing, but the climb to Pyecombe from the south is really fast.  At one point, we were going uphill at 29 mph.  Who would complain, but I don’t understand how we were still two minutes down at the summit.

We then ripped it up for a few miles, and found ourselves ahead of schedule again.  However, after Hickstead there is a hideous drag, and once you’re over that you can soon see the huge rise to Handcross.  I was really dreading this second climb, and had built it up as being a nightmare.  Bizarrely, it wasn’t all that naughty in the end – just 5 minutes of excruciation, ending with Liz saying “Well, that wasn’t too bad, was it?”.

We were scant seconds behind schedule at Pease Pottage, and a good run through Crawley would have put us in a fine position to finish comfortably inside my target of 4h 40m.

Unfortunately, as I had expected, there were some delays.  We were only forced to actually stop once, but when we saw Tony Killick for the second time, we were a minute down again.

We rode efficiently past Gatwick, and when we reached the last check we had absorbed the deficit.  So intense was my concentration that we were riding away from the junction before I realised that the “checker” shouting at us was my own brother!

With eight miles to go, we were into “ride yourself into the ground” mode.  Five weeks earlier, Dave Johnson and I had been in the same position.  We had given it everything, and Dave had “cracked” with a few miles left to go.  The situation was eerily similar this time, with a twist.

We went through the 100 mile point in 4h 23m 45s, which seemed quite good.  And then, for the second time in two consecutive “Brighton-and-back” tandem rides, my partner caved in.  Or did she?  No, it was my turn this time.  In a sickening way, I suddenly had no strength.

And so we rode the undulations to Redhill in an unconvincing manner, not helped by tailbacks of traffic.  It was a tremendous relief to coast down to the centre of the town, and try to be nimble as we made our way through the traffic.  With three miles left, the chance of beating 4h 40m was remote.

The next couple of miles seemed to take an age, but eventually we were out of Merstham and into the last, uphill, mile.  In my condition, I found it a slog.  Tandem-tricycles are a load of fun when you’re fit and feeling good.  I can’t speak for Liz, but I’d like to forget that last mile.

As the finish came into sight, I shouted “there it is!” and I was soon gracelessly collapsing across the line.  When we returned to the finish point, Owen Drake confirmed that we had recorded 4h 41m 9s, which was almost 30 minutes inside the Standard which we had to beat.

Stan Brown was pleased to tell me that I looked to be in a much worse state than “last time”.  He was alarmed at how fresh I had seemed to be after the ride with Dave, and was bringing into question how hard I’d tried.

After thanking those who had helped with the ride, we set off for home.  It was a while before I felt ready for the drive, but at least I only had a half-hour trip.  Liz had somehow got to get to Cambridge, in the rain and misery that we had somehow avoided during the ride.  And then she had to do an afternoon’s work.  It’s a tough life.

Ralph Dadswell   Aug 1999

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