This particular Sunday morning start was due to the 2012 Hell of the Ashdown ride - for many the start of the sportive 'season' (if such a thing exists). I have ridden this event for the past three years, and each time it has been memorable (even fun, on some occasions). At 110km it's not challenging in length, but it certainly packs in the hills - according to one report, the Catford CC planning team aimed to cover every lump, bump and hill in the area. In addition, being mid-February, the past few years has seen Hell freezing over, with snow, ice, rain and strong winds battering the course. On my first run at the event, Rich and I were duking it out towards the finish when I decided that I would stick it the 11-sprocket and go for a solo breakaway. At this point the snow was coming down, making the roads especially slippery and visibility close to nil. As I came past Rich, an uphill left-hander appeared out of nowhere, leaving me with little option but to lock on the brakes and hang on for dear life. I ended up swinging out the back wheel before heading down the hill in completely the wrong gear and with my heart rate hitting the 200s - to my credit I managed to stay upright, although the last few miles were taken at a bit more of a sedentary pace...
After an enormous bowl of porridge and persuading Selene to get out of bed, we loaded up the car and set off on a quiet 45 minute drive to Biggin Hill. Remarkably - given her previous record - Selene managed to stay awake until approximately Lewisham, where she departed to inspect the back of her eyelids leaving me alone with the steering wheel and some banging tunes on XFM.
|The hard route took it's toll|
|Clive gets his game face on|
|Gus 'the latecomer' McWhinney|
|Paul clearly prefers his profile view|
|Rich 'Forward Russia' Wood|
|Rob on his solo breakaway/sulk|
A quick stop at the first feed station brought much welcome Malt Loaf and jaffa cakes, along with welcome mechanical assistance from one of the volunteers. The guy didn’t speak much English, but whoever you were thank you very much in succeeding where my roadside mechanical skills had abandoned me! At the stop was a common sight amongst most sportive crowds: huge amounts of bike bling. One particular chap (aptly called ‘Rich Gearing’) had flown himself out to Australia for a fitting on his custom-made carbon Baum, complete with electronic gear shifters and Lightweight wheels (c. £2-3k for a set). Needless to say, after leaving the pit-stop, we didn’t see him again as he couldn’t climb for toffee.
Next up on the climb list was ‘The Wall’ (otherwise known as Kidds Hill – #19 on the list). This is a climb that keeps on giving, with an ever increasing gradient as you travel through the Ashdown Forest up the dead-straight road (seeing exactly what awaits you further ahead) before emerging out into the daylight and great views over the North Downs. Unfortunately out of the feed-stop we had managed to pick pace with a couple of guys in full Pro-Tour team kit (Radioshack and Sky – with the latter riding a matching decalled-up Dogma) who for some reason didn’t like to be passed. Often we’d come past, only for this pair of plonkers to indignantly sulk past – unluckily for them they couldn’t handle our pace on the climbs so this happened quite often…
|Selene managing a smile up Star Hill|
|Leadng team Sky and Radioshack|
After Star, it was just a matter of cruising through to the finish. It seemed by this point that all of the idiot drivers had woken up – deciding that they really must get from A to B without slowing down. Fortunately everybody stayed out of trouble and avoided any ‘altercations’ – not the case further up the course where it seems that someone deliberately left out part of a cow carcass causing one cyclist to come a cropper, which is probably one of the more bizarre sportive trauma reports.
|Selene crossing the finish line|
|Quite a haul of plastic-fantastic goodies|
Photos courtesy of http://www.sportivephoto.com/