Spring is here again.
April Fools has come and gone, the clocks have gone forward (logically, though, they go forward all the time) and the shop I work in is rammed with metaphorical sleepy bears rediscovering cycling after their winter's hibernation.
There are, of course, many hardy souls that have tuffed it out over the darker months, snatching at whatever scraps they can to survive. Some have turned their man- and woman-caves into indoor refuges, trying to relieve the ennui with turbo-charged calorie massacres, yet they still come blinking into the light like the rest of us to sample fresh and fetid air, potholes, angry buzzing roads and the morning chill of forgotten arm warmers and shoe covers.
And here I was again at the start of one of my favourite sportive events, Plumpton Race Course near Lewes for the Cycling Weekly South Downs Spring Sportive. Thankfully, I used up all of my horsey analogies last year and they've all been sent off to the glue factory. What was obvious at the start is that this kind of thing is still immensely popular, with all shapes, sizes and abilities of riders. Just like the Ups & Downs a few short weeks ago, the place was absolutely rammed, everyone champing at the bit (sorry) to get going.
The queues for registration were thankfully short, unlike the queue for the gents. I wondered if I could hold out until the feed station to drop any unnecessary ballast. There's something about clipping your feet into pedals that tells some of your bodily functions to start 'taxiing for takeoff' - even my Garmin squawked 'Movement detected'.
Still, that aside, my group blasted off southbound to the escarpment of the South Downs and, after a brief sortie inland out of the constant buffeting southerly headwind, careered due east along some of the finest, smoothest and quietest lanes that East Sussex has to offer. The big-ring fun didn't really stop, as in previous years, until the feed station in Waldron and the short, trundling climb that precedes it - the first occasion that many on the Standard and Epic routes had probably thought about, let alone used, their left hand shifter in 50-odd kilometres.
The ecstasy of this high-cadence rouling was soon replaced by that of refuelling (or defuelling if you were lucky) and the prospect of the homeward half. Those brave enough to take on the 'short' epic extension after Waldron were rewarded, after a dozen kilometres of lumpy misery, with blinding hindsight so strong you could hear legs wobble like blancmange.
Sticking to my Etape training plan religiously - No Epics Until May - I caught up with my friend Damo just after he'd completed his hilly spanking, confirming my suspicions about this small diversion. We rode the remainder of the route together, the comparatively gentle humps causing poor D all sorts of motivational issues.
I might have missed him altogether, though, if he hadn't called out about my shiny ovalised rings which are, sadly these days, about the most interesting thing about me. I had already had a complete stranger compliment me on my 'fabulous ring' while climbing out of the saddle (insert own joke here) - cannot stress enough how much I'm enjoying the AbsoluteBlacks, and definitely not missing the fatigue I used to feel after power-climbing.
Not only were the lumps coming thick and fast, so were the potholes. CW's route scouts had charitably highlighted dangerous patches with spray paint, but some intense sections had so many amoebic outlines on them it looked like a crime scene involving the demise of Barbapapa and his entire family.
The closer we got back to Plumpton, the less the wavelength on the roads, and the final few km were also pretty devoid of tarma-chasms. The standard route varied from previous incarnations by avoiding the village of Plumpton Green and the potentially risky railway crossing - no Paris-Roubaix style barrier skipping here - to speed back along the same route we went out on in reverse; a much safer option, thoughtfully heaping less disruption on the residents north of the rail line.
However tired I was, I couldn't resist burning my remaining matches along that straight, the momentum giving many the option of a sprint finish for yet another different colour sock and buff swag combination.
So one more Spring ritual has been honoured - up next is a canter around the New Forest. Hoping the weather won't be 'pony'.
Visit www.ukcyclingevents.co.uk to see upcoming UKCE sportives across the UK.