Friday night and we got to Winchester but plans were changed when we arrived. Torrential rain and high winds meant that Camping was out so a trip to the local travel lodge and we were in bed for a goods nights rest. 5 am and we got to the start and Tandem assembled in beautiful weather but high winds. 6 am and we were off. Not so many riders but seemed to be a lot of hammerheads going for it right from the start. First part is a long climb up to our first meeting point about 3 miles in where we cross a road and we felt good. Considering the amount of rain that had fallen in the last week, and in particular the night before, The trail was good but a lot of branches down on the trail. Which meant that we had caught a lot of the hammerheads.
Then it started. After the 3 miles you are on proper offroad and not good paths. The first 20 miles to the 1st checkpoint were covered uneventfully, and found ourselves coming in only about 5 minutes behind the leaders, Quick loo stop here, and a bite to eat and we were off. You now start the South Downs Way proper and we were warned that there was a bit of flooding and plenty of Trees down for the next 80 miles. Our time was on par with the previous years so no worries yet. The next 5 miles or so were on good trails but we started to find MUD. Still, there was plenty of standing water to clean the drive chain, but I did get worried when I noticed that not only were my feet under water in some of the puddles but so was the rear cassette. 15” of standing water and you can’t see any rocks or holes in the trail. Then we started to find out what the weather can unleash. The high wind that had been behind us veered through 90 deg. and gave us a side wind in places at about 35 mph. Not bad in the wooded sections- except those trees down were a pain when you had to fight your war way through the branches, but on the open sections that wind was something to be careful of.
Only other problem we had was Chain suck in granny gear. The whole drivechain was covered in mud and at one point we got to the back up and washed off the whole system and cleaned and relubed the chain. 1 mile later we met the back up again and had to do exactly the same again. That chain suck locked up the cranks completely and we became worried about using the small chainring on the front so some hills were taken with a great deal of effort and very slow cadence in middle ring. The conditions were getting worse but we had not lost much time by the 50-mile mark. Only about 40 minutes so plug away.
The trail had dried out a bit but a problem we had found right from the start started to get worse and that was grip. Some of the hills were long and steep but we had always ridden them before. It was not energy that stopped us climbing them but lack of grip. On one particular hill we lost grip – wheels spinning like crazy but the tandem going backwards. Ok, This was on a 20% slope but it was getting that any hill over 10% and we were not able to cycle and walking. Then one big 15% hill and we loved it. Good surface and it is about 1 mile long and twist’s and turns in a little gully so no wind. Then just at the top we turned a corner and caught the wind full on. It stopped us dead. The wind had changed again and was coming from the right front quarter. Things got hard from here on and some gust's were up to about 50 mph. A bit further on and we got to some tall Radar pylons, and we started to think about the ride. The wind going through the pylons was deafening. Stuart and me talked a bit and we were going to stop at the 65-mile mark. Got there and they decided it for us. People further on were being blown off the bikes, the wind was going up to full gale force in a couple of hours and Rain was Expected.. From here we would have at least 4 hours on a good day, but we were now pushing 2 hours late and we would not get in before the light failed. We stopped.
Don’t want to say we failed which is what we did, but those conditions were too bad for us. Once again we were the Only Tandem to attempt the ride, and actually met several Tandem riders out there doing the ride on solos, and they thought we were Nutters for doing the ride. We had done the ride in 2003 and 04 but that was in far better conditions than yesterday.
Pictures will follow on of the ride- When I get the camera from my backup crew, but in the mean time. A couple from the Bit after we dropped out as my wife went out walking the dog. The big puddle on one of the shots by the way was not there 30 minutes earlier. One rain storm and that appeared