Distances: 54 miles / 71 miles
Climbs: 6 / 8
Total ascent (ft): 2,975 / 4,117
Finishers: 665 (57 women)
Best bit: The stunning countryside / getting into a warm car after the ride
Worst bit: The final climb to Godalming and the uncertainty of whether you could stay upright on such a busy but narrow road
Being held in November, it is perhaps not surprising that the Devil’s Punch had all of the elements thrown at it. Depending where you were on the route at any given time, you would experience cold winds, heavy rain, or bright (but not particularly warm) sunshine.
Nonetheless, 665 riders set off in staggered starts from Godalming College, on top of the hill just above the Surrey town. Instantly you were hit by the bitterly cold wind, which was a factor throughout the day and was particularly noticeable on the fast descents.
The route links the North and South Downs along the Surrey and Hampshire border via the stunning Devil’s Punch Bowl. Using quiet leafy roads largely free from traffic, the route could best be described as ‘rolling’. However, parts of the route had sections of uneven surfaces and descents which could be treacherous due to the covering of wet leaves.
Despite the surrounding woodland providing some shelter, there was a relentless headwind which persisted until the first feed station at 25 miles and, while none of the climbs before the first feed station was particularly severe, the four-mile grind up towards Headley Down into the roaring wind was a real energy sapper.
After the first feed station the route divided, with the ‘standard’ 54-mile route meandering towards the finish while the ‘epic’ 71-mile route continued south – into the wind.
The hard yards
As the standard route continued along rolling country roads until the next feed station 10 miles further on, the epic route took in two of the day’s biggest climbs. The climb approaching Rogate, still into the wind, had 10 per cent gradients, as did the second, although thankfully by now there was a tailwind, which made the sections with double figure gradients only marginally easier.
As with all Wiggle Super Series events, the feed stations are well stocked and also have Wiggle mechanics on hand to help with mechanical issues. This was just as well as the numerous steep descents had finally finished off my dad’s brake pads. Mechanics replaced these for free.
From the second feed station the final 19 miles featured yet more rolling roads. For the first time all day, the route saw sections of flat road. However, it was inevitable on such a saw-tooth profile that there would be a sting in the tail. This proved to be the case with two short but very steep climbs in the final five miles. While neither was much more than half a mile in length, both had gradients of well over 10 per cent and were a real struggle so late in the day.
The final climb even caused some participants to walk, which led to some sketchy moments: the road at stages was down to a single track with people pushing bikes up, cars coming down and those of us still on our bikes struggling to stay upright at such low speeds. Fortunately for all, once over the brow the finish was just around the corner.
Being so late in the season, this event could be Britain’s very own ‘Race of the Falling Leaves’. It was a difficult ride and one that should not be taken on lightly. Suitable winter clothing is advised, regardless of distance. I have never been so happy to finish a ride, but the satisfaction of doing so made it all worthwhile.
Missed it? Try this…
Wiggle Ups and Down Sportive, Dorking, April 27 2014
This article was first published in the November 28 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!