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Chase the Sun (South) 2024

To mark Solstice and the longest day of the year, the annual Chase the Sun event challenges riders to ride 200 miles east to west from sunrise to sunset. There are now four different routes, North, South, Ireland and Italy. This year five Wheelers took on CTS South and Pete Clusky reports back from the experience.

“OK, let’s go in 5 minutes, it’ll keep us on track for 20:30 arrival”, Andy’s doing a brilliant job keeping us on the straight and narrow. The sun is beating down and we’ve just made a short climb through a village with people out on the pavement cheering on both sides of the road; one of us Wheelers just took a cold bottle of water on the go, grand tour style, from an excited family who had set up a stall with free drinks and refreshments for Chase The Sun’ers (CTS’ers). We’ve just made a quick last stop at the Co-op in Chilcompton before the biggest climb of the event up and over the Mendips. Were all pretty excited at this stage, we have well over three quarters of the 340km Chase The Sun event done and despite trepidation for what the Mendips will bring we can almost smell the salty Weston Super Mare air!

Andy and Tom have been an amazing asset for me, Pum and Michal with their more extensive Audax experience – most recently with a 600km event two weeks previous. The quick 10-minute Chilcompton pit stop is now in the rearview mirror as we climb on to the Mendips. A short and very steep climb lets us know we are entering the Mendips, I don’t know what gradient it was, but it feels well over 20 percent with us all in bottom gear and out the saddle grinding away. We’d seen another Wheeler earlier in the day having a soft drink in a beautiful pub garden and now we’ve adopted a nice bloke who’s name I can sadly no longer remember. He only started cycling last December, however he’s fit, a runner, and despite only starting cycling around the turn of this year has been doing 200-300km a week for the last couple of months! He’s good company and the quality of his riding belies his limited experience. Our new friend is one of the many great fellow competitors we enjoy sharing the CTS experience with and whom help make up the fantastic tapestry of memories from a very special day.

We’re on the Mendips proper now and the six of us are firing up the longer shallower climb in two groups, picking off plenty of fellow CTS’ers as we go. A minute or so up front in the first Wheelers group, Pum gets a puncture, it’s the first of the day (perception of time is skewed, the day feels more like a whole weekend already!). With Pum fixing his puncture, it gives the opportunity to regroup, relax for 10 minutes or so, chatting amongst ourselves and together with another friendly group of CTS’ers fixing a mechanical in the same roadside lay-by. With our forced 10-minute stop, plenty of people we’ve passed up the hill and others besides, head past us, onwards towards Weston’s pier.

Puncture fixed, we’re on the move again, buoyed up and keen to try to make up the lost time to see if we can hit the pier by 20:30. Despite being nearly 300km in by now, we get a big burst of energy and determination; some big pulls on the front doing 30-40km on the flat see us really motoring and sailing past some fellow participants again. It’s a real Jens Voigt moment, shut up legs, this is fun, let’s go! We keep this going up the last little bit of climbing and across the very gently undulating top section of the Mendips. The top of Cheddar Gorge is coming into sight, I’ve driven and ridden on a motorcycle this bit of road a few times – I’ve been really looking forward to throwing myself down through the gorge all day. Here it is, we’re all smoking along as we enter the first technical turns of the gorge. Modelling our very best Pidcock tribute, we’re slicing through this truly picturesque block of Cheddar. Wow, what a blast, before we know it, we’re down through the gorge having dodged some goats – it was 100% worth the ride to get here. Regrouping as we pass the tourist centre below the gorge, everyone’s buzzing with excitement and feeling rejuvenated. We are getting very close now. We pick up the pace again, all bought into giving it a go to make 20:30 despite the puncture.

There are a couple of relatively small climbs which sting the legs at this point in our day, but we’re all enjoying ourselves and giving it stacks. My caution in Wiltshire has paid dividends up and over the Mendips and now in the final 20 km. The run into Weston brings more satisfaction and enjoyment. Martin, the Wheeler who we saw enjoying a coke in the pub garden a few hours ago, saw us go past after Cheddar Gorge and has been on a mission with his pal to catch us up before the finish – he’s made it and brings further good vibes to the group. As we enter the last few kilometres immediately before and along the sea front in Weston, it’s 5 Wheelers and 3 friends lined out at the front of a train of 30 or more, buzzing and charging along to the finish with everything we’ve got left!

At the pier, it’s all smiles and an amazing atmosphere with CTS’ers friends and family, members of the public and the Town Crier cheering and clapping as we come off the road and ride down the wooden board walk along Weston Pier. We’ve done it, it’s 20:30, we’ve made it with over an hour and a quarter to spare till sunset. It was a brilliant team effort, what a ride! Time for some photos in beautiful sunshine, a pint and fish and chips.

For Pum, Michal and I the day had started with an alarm call at 02:55 in our rented chalet in Leysdown on sea. We set off at 03:40 to gently ride the 12km to the start in Minter on Sea. Bag dropped, contact made with Andy and Tom who’d stayed in Sittingbourne and driven to Minster, we head up and over the hill to the beach start line. It’s now just about 04:30 and we can see a slither of light out to sea on the horizon. The nerves settle a bit as the excitement builds with the sight of a bright orange sun forcing itself into view on the far horizon.

The start is a little frustrating; we’re each given a 1990s brick mobile phone sized GPS unit we need to carry and there are only two officials at the start line who need to manually enter every one of the over 900 riders’ start numbers before they can pass through the start line and get going. Needless to say, there is a delay, it’s 05:05 before we are underway in some light drizzle, but nonetheless it’s great to be moving.

We pace ourselves well at the start, avoiding getting dragged into too faster a pace or too hard a surge up a ramp, out of a corner or roundabout or away from the lights. It’s great to be under way after all the nerves and anticipation, cycling along with loads of other kindred spirits on the quiet early morning roads is a real treat. We’re soon in Rochester and across the river into the lovely north Kent countryside and villages. We pass the Crystal Palace rest halt without stopping. What we hadn’t realised beforehand was how long it was going to take to get through the many, many traffic lights which punctuate the southern suburbs of Greater London – over 25 minutes in total. It means we are behind our expected schedule for arriving in Kingston. It was surreal to be back on familiar roads. Fearing The Terrace Cafe in Kingston would be busy with early shoppers, we opt to stop in a quiet looking Starbucks in Raynes Park meeting some friendly faces who’d been out for an early local ride.

More familiar roads out of Hampton, Shepperton and Chertsey see us wheeling across Surrey and into Berkshire towards the compulsory lunch stop. The last 20 minutes before lunch in Bramley sees us in textbook country lanes bathed in beautiful sunshine, happy days! We check in with the organisers at Bramley village hall and continue as planned to the lunch queue. Unfortunately, the lunch stop isn’t well managed, so we’re queuing for well over 20 minutes. We later hear from a group who do the ride every year that it’s always the same, it’s never improved. Lesson learnt if we or you do it again, don’t stop at the official lunch stop other than the 30 second compulsory check in in the car park.

Sun’s out and we are all feeling good, the lunch chaos is quickly forgotten as we glide through some classic English countryside, see-sawing with different groups of CTS’ers as we go. We are approaching the furthest distance I’ve ever ridden as we are into the wide expanses of chalk grassland in the Vale of Pewsey. I’m cautious about not burning any matches as we pass the surprisingly hilly valley near the giant White Horse. Michal and I are 30 seconds behind the others as we roll into Devizes and Andy’s expertly planned 20-minute pit stop at Morrisons. Three quarters done, toilet, drink and some much-needed calories. Last quarter to go! We’re all up for this and motor along into the countryside and the headwind, rotating at the front. We get through the miles a little quicker than expected and the Mendips are getting close – this is where we picked up the ride at the top of this story.

Chase The Sun South was a brilliant ride and great experience and I can sincerely say that doing it with some great fellow Wheelers really made it for me. Awesome team effort fellas……

For anyone interested, here is a little bit more on logistics; Pum, Michal and I stayed in an Air BnB in Weston Town Centre. We really enjoyed a blast on our bikes on Sunday morning up to Bristol to collect a hire van to get the three of us home, satisfied and still buzzing. Andy got the organisers coach with bike trailer back to Minster on Sunday morning. Unfortunately, it was another chapter in the somewhat sub-par event management of the CTS organisers, the coach driver takes two separate wrong turns on motorway junctions before having to take a further unscheduled break as the detours mean his tachometer time is breached.