The CX Century, I love it. A hundred mile strip of fast flowing chalk known to many Southern off-road riders. It’s lack of technical riding makes it perfect for ‘cross bikes. However, it’s rock hard, corrugated surface makes for a fatiguing ride that requires mental as well as physical toughness. This year’s official CX Century will kick off from Winchester on Saturday 8th July, I’ll be there, what about you?
While the South Downs Way(SDW) trail has been a long time favourite for MTB riders, modern MTBs have slightly lessened the challenge. With full-suspension, 29er wheels and hydraulic brakes, the damage the South Downs Way hands out can be lessened. It’s still tough, just more manageable. With the growth of Gravel and Adventure riding, ‘cross riders started to look at trails they could ride on away from the winter leagues. Being almost completely off-road and rideable on a cyclo-cross bike, the SDW was an obvious choice.
The guys at CX Sportive decided to run the first official CX Century back in 2015 and have slowly been building up the event. It’s now one of the ‘must-do’ rides for Gravel/CX riders. Starting in Winchester and finishing in Eastbourne, the route has a gentle start that gets tougher as the day progresses. You’ll have outstanding views over the Sussex countryside, which change to sparkling views of the Channel as you ride.
As the view changes, so does the terrain. The climbs increase in size the closer you get to the finish, just as your reserves are dwindling, this is where the mental toughness comes in! And it’s not only the terrain you’ve got to contend with. This part of the world gets a lot of sun during the summer and the SDW is very exposed. While there is some tree coverage in the first part, you are soon riding along the top of the Downs, with nothing between you and the sky.
Being battered by a hot July sun beaming down on your neck is made worse as it bounces off the chalk and hits your front as well! You’ll need to keep well hydrated, I suffered a bad case of heat exhaustion one year and learnt my lesson. Thankfully there will be eight feed stations on the route to keep you topped up. Last year the feed at seventy-five kilometres had life saving cheese and pickle sandwiches; a man can only take so much gel!
So what will you use on the CX Century? While it is classed as a CX (cyclo-cross) event MTBs are allowed. If you do choose to the CX route what kind of set-up will you run? My two runnings have been on my Handsling CXC. This is a full carbon racing beast, usually only let out for an hour at a time during the winter. My move down to East Sussex has enabled me to realise how good ‘cross bikes are when let loose on the countryside. Bridleways, dirty back lanes and road are all tackled with ease.
My only change after my first CX Century was to change to a set of TRP CX8.4 mini-V brakes. These offered a massive improvement in braking power and control. No more out of control descents and forearms screaming for release, now I could stop! Ok, you could use discs, but that’s not an option for me, yet…
Tyre choice is simple, fit the fattest rubber you can and run it tubeless. I will be running 38mm Schwalbe G-Ones this year, as long as there’s no mud. Clearance is pretty tight on my frame, but as long as it’s dry – it has been on all but one of my 10+ attempts – they fit. The ride is fantastic, pumped up to 30psi they offer some respite from the constant battering your rear end goes through.
Running tubeless will also mean less chance of picking up pinch punctures while running your tyres at lower pressures. I’d recommend you pack something to repair any cuts to your sidewall as well. The Downs are littered with flint, just waiting to cut your tyres. I’ve only suffered once in the years I’ve been riding here, but once is enough.
Other little comfort options are double wrapping your bar tape and choosing good gloves, I use GripGrab’s Racing gloves. Another comfort option I might use is Canyon’s VCLS seat-post. The VCLS flexes and offers some respite for a battered backside.
If the full hundred mile CX Century seems a bit much, there is also a hundred kilometre option. This has ‘only’ 2286 metres of climbing, as opposed to 3555 in the full fat version. Starting alongside it’s big brother in Winchester, the 100 kilometre route stops on top of Truleigh Hill above Shoreham; ideal for an easy pick up off the A27, or downhill all the way to the station to begin your journey home!
The CX Century is fully supported by the CX Sportive organisation. Eight feed stations will have water, energy drinks, first aid and mechanical support. Three major support points will also provide food, snacks, fruit, hot drinks and toilets. Being a point-to-point event the organisers offer a bag carry service to all riders. You get a decent sized drawstring bag (nice souvenir!) that you can dump unwanted kit in. This is carried to the 100k finish for those that are finishing there, or if you need to top up supplies. So no need to carry a cumbersome back pack.
Talking of supplies and bags, I’ve ridden my CX Centuries without any bags. I find them uncomfortable when in the drops and the event is so well supported that you don’t really need one. Two large bottles will keep you going between feed stations; there are also water taps on the route. A tool roll under the saddle for spares and maybe one of your jersey pockets should be enough for emergencies. And then stuff all your other pockets with food!
The CX Century’s route is well marked, the South Downs Way is a national trail and as such is easy to follow. CX Sportive do offer a GPX route for you to follow and when you’re really suffering it’s nice to know you definitely are on the right trail. You could also equip yourself with a paper copy of the route like the Harveys one, which also has the water taps marked. There’s something about a ‘proper’ paper map, I still look at mine a few times a year, even though I know the route so well.
My preparation for this year’s event has gone a bit awry, too many crashes have left me missing a bit of training and not able to do any upper body exercise. You’ll need a bit of upper body strength on the CX Century, no suspension means you’ll be providing most of the damping and that gets wearing. I had hoped to beat my time of 9′ 46″, but I’m getting a little nervous. Hopefully it won’t be as hot as it currently is – touching 30 centigrade – and the wind is out of the west, for a bit of a boost.
If you fancy having a go at the CX Century then take a look at some of my previous articles; preparing the body, preparing the bike and my 2015 attempt. I know I said it before, but this is a must-do event for all gravel riders. Get yourself over the CX Sportive website and put your name down, go on! You know you want to!
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