With this event’s location on the edge of the South Downs, you would expect it to be a tough slog around the area’s notable climbs. It’s actually quite the opposite. For the seasoned sportive rider the South Downs Spring is, for the most part, as serene as the name suggests. Pulling riders away from the escarpment and plunging them into East Sussex’s network of quiet lanes, it’s a fast run for most of the course. With no truly tough gradients to contend with, the climbing is clocked up on nice steady ascents that shouldn’t see you tipping into the red.
The first 30 miles, heading east, set the tone for much of the day — a whizz around quaint, deserted and very well-surfaced (even in January) lanes. We careered by fields that rolled to touch the foot of the Downs, some flooded due to the excessive rainfall we saw through December. Water levels were still high and streams of water flowed by the sides of some roads. Hopefully, come May, the landscape will be dry and rainfall will be a distant memory.
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As the route leads northwards you’re getting ever closer to the High Weald and the climb up into Waldron village could be a shock to the system when all of a sudden you have to leave the comfort of the big chainring.
But with the climbing muscles now warmed up you’ll feel a little more prepared for the out-of the-saddle action required by the next 15 miles through the High Weald proper. This loop at the northernmost point is like a rollercoaster. Tall trees line the road, a nod to the proximity of the Ashdown Forest, amid a tangle of deep green ivy. You’ll be pushing up some nice long, steady climbs before swooping down the other side. Make the most of these downhill sections — there are great wide sweeping bends and the couple of junctions that you do come to are clearly visible.
Back to the lanes
Heading west now, just south of Uckfield, you can sprint round the lanes once more. Oast houses and, come May, lush fields will fill the horizon as you get your average speed up.
A right turn at the village of Isfield will send you over the closed crossing of the Lavender Line, a preserved section of railway that runs both diesel and steam engines on a two-mile track.
Turning left opposite the pond at Piltdown, the views open over the wooded Downs once more as you descend back towards the racecourse. But if you’ve chosen to take on the 85-mile route you’ll need to power on for an extra 10 miles as you take the gentle slopes of Beresford Lane. This ride finishes with a few more uphill pulls through Ditchling as you make your way back up the ridge of the South Downs.
With some solid winter training in the bank you should finish this event feeling well set up for those more testing summer cycling events that are just around the corner.
Where is it?
Plumpton Racecourse is nestled at the foot of the South Downs and while it traverses the edge of the ridge for a few miles at the beginning and end, the route makes use of a network of fast-flowing and peaceful lanes. A quick jaunt in the High Weald helps clock up the metres of ascent.
Why Ride it?
If you’re not quite ready to test your springtime form on a tough route, the South Downs Spring will give you a fast run to get those legs spinning. The addition of mainly steady pulls will wake up the climbing muscles and give you a feel for your fitness without tipping you over the edge.
Part of Cycling Weekly’s sportive series of 10 cycling events, 2016 will see the fourth outing of the South Downs Spring Sportive. Set in the UK’s youngest National Park, the event is a firm fixture on the calendar and each year attracts nearly 1,000 riders to each edition.
How to Enter?
Enter online here. Entries cost £35, with on the day entry possible if not sold out.
Situated 12 miles north of Brighton, Plumpton can be accessed from both the A26 and A23. From the A23 follow the B2116, from the A26 head into Lewes to pick up the A275. Plumpton train station is under one mile away.
Where to Stay
The Crown Inn and White Hart Hotel are both six miles from the racecourse start line. The Shelleys has a range of luxury rooms, making it perfect if you like the finer things in life. There is a Travelodge at Hickstead, 10 miles away.
Where to eat
The Jolly Sportsman is a lovely country gastro pub, ideal if you’re looking for a treat. The Half Moon pub is 200 years old, set at the foot of the Downs. The Five Bells in Chailey does a good Sunday lunch. Mr Magnolia’s is a coffee shop open until 5pm.
Local Bike shop
Head to Lewes Cycle Shack on Cliffe High Street if you’ve left your helmet back home.
1 Warren Lane, towards Waldron
The first proper rise of the day could be a shock to the legs although it’s not too steep. At 1km long it’s the perfect warm-up for the lumpier sections to come.
2 Five ashes Road (Castle Hill)
With an average of five per cent there is nothing daunting about this climb. So find a good rhythm on this 1.5km drag.
3 Hundred Acre Lane
Only three per cent but it’s the last rise before your run in to the finish line. Most should be feeling fine but if energy levels are dwindling you can push, safe in the knowledge that the finish line is in sight.
4 Hadlow down Road
For the most part this long road is fast and flat so maintain as much speed as you can, especially on those cherished downhills, as it’s about to get interesting. As you pass the right turn for Crowborough, the road swings around a left-hand bend. It’s here you want to think about your gearing as, where there is a small section of white fencing, the road suddenly ramps up. Averaging seven per cent and peaking at 12, this is a true test of your fitness and a benchmark for those tougher summer cycling events to come.