White Chalk Hills Ultracross
White Chalk Hills UCX was born on the South Downs of England: thoughts and ideas forming on long distance off-road rides on cyclocross bikes, but we didn't have a word for it - like a breeze on a hot sunny day, a blog link appeared in an email to an event in the USA: Boulder Ultracross. 'Ultracross', a new word in the lexicon, we don’t do that sort of thing here - let’s do that then. Uncanny like some continuous loop, Boulder Ultracross was crediting the UK’s 3 Peaks race, so apparently we do.
Other influences; Almanzo 100, Iron CX – all dusty, mountainous, long distance racing on CX bikes, or the new breed of Gravel racer – it’s a thing now, it’s unstoppable, it’s very cool and very American. We have what we have, grass, short sharp hills – lots of them – slippy chalk and mud, but you can squeeze out one hell of a route, almost all of it away from roads too – stick it in the calendar for the last week of December and then you’ve got something really hard.
Cyclocross roots are firmly planted in this kind of thing -
“The origins of cyclo-cross are a matter of much debate. One theory we like is that in the early 1900s, French cyclists would race each other from one town to the next by whichever route they thought would be the fastest.” (UCI YouTube Channel)
There are no formalities – making a commitment starts with someone putting in the effort to send a postcard – a piece of card, or a beer mat, with hand written scribble on it, passed between human hands shows intent.
Some of the entry postcards from 2015.
There’s nothing so vulgar as talk about entry money, this is unsanctioned nonsense, just an understanding that if you’ve committed then you’re on your own, you’re expected to be self-sufficient. The White Chalk Hills Ultracross is organised just enough - with a start point, an end point and a route in between, sometimes there’s even a sign on sheet and some crudely hand-printed ‘race’ numbers on bits of off-cut material. There’s a brevet card and en route there’s some child’s self-inking stamps for you to find and to stamp your card with, sort of part Audax and part orienteering, there’s no way markers.
2015 was year 4. 47 miles, a route etched out on the bottom half of OS Landranger Map 199; different coloured felt tips representing different years with tweaks and changes and improvements. The wind may scratch at cheekbones, the rain and hail may fall, the UCX represents a harsh mid-winter landscape, a dance to kick out the year and push against the darkness of winter, a day to spend with people, laughing with mates, rather than alone with your phone. The route will take you up and over many hills, grassy downland, ploughed up turnip fields, fire roads, chalky rutted byways… you’ll feel yourself making progress only to completely come back on yourself – utterly pointless. The final stretch is always the hardest challenge, and a place where many salty tears are shed, snaking up and down the north scarp of the Downs the last 10km is where it becomes every man and woman for themselves – the relief of the final tarmac descent. The best of us finish in the dark.
First one back gets some beer, Best Crash and Most Futile receive some swag – the special prize, the Lantern Rouge, gets the soft toy rabbit complete with tie and bent spoke tie clip. There’s no ceremony, definitely no medal…maybe you’ll win a cardboard trophy if you’re lucky. Some take it seriously, and race off never to be seen and heard of again until the end, some not so much – those who take it really seriously stop for a pint of local ale at a half way pub, this is positively encouraged, two beers would be applauded and a full roast dinner, plus beer, would get you a cheer.
This is a ride on Cyclocross bikes; a nod to The Three Peaks but with the attitude of Boulder Ultracross and, well, more English – there’s extra kudos for turning up on a single speed. The ride ends in the pub – a place where all good rides should end – beer and food and prize giving, tales and exaggerated tales and wonky perspectives. It’ll be back this December; year 5 will be something special. You should come, it’ll be fun.
Details of the next UCX will be here: velomorpha.cc