This was my third year of taking part in the Evans Cycles RideIt! King of the Downs, their showcase event. Despite my plan to only ride the first loop, this was the best edition yet.
A combination of the testing course and the sudden up-turn in the weather ensured a huge attendance at Evans Cycles HQ. With an early start on offer for those doing the full route, the place was a buzz by the time my riding companions and I arrived at 7am. In our defence we rode the 14 miles to the start. Their were hundreds of riders milling around, registering or queuing up ready for the off. The other option was to partake in the breakfast that was on offer once you registered with your free ticket.
There was one other significant difference this year other than distance over previous rides, I was aboard a Pinnacle Evaporite Three. This top of the range road bike, described as a carbon fibre, mile muncher. All this sounded perfect for my needs even on the abbreviated route. The over-sized downtube gives the Evaporite a beefy appearance.
The frame is slightly larger than I normally ride, by a centimetre. I was hoping the slightly longer wheelbase and taller head tube would make for a comfortable ride. Given that I’ll be riding over the famed cobbles of Paris-Roubaix in less than three weeks, I need all the help I can get! For Sunday’s ride I had swapped the Pinnacle’s supplied saddle for my trusted Fizik Arione. The remainder was the standard kit, FSA and Ultegra components with a C24 wheelset. My brief familiarisation ride earlier in the week had hinted at decent handling and smooth performance.
With nothing left to delay the off, we got in line, received our safety brief and hit the road. In previous years there is always a sense of trepidation at this point. After all it’s serious mileage but even more serious is the climbing involved. The KoTD is arranged in two loops with five significant climbs on each loop. If I had to name a preference it would be the northern loop that incorporates the North Downs with all its iconic climbs.
Rolling out through Charlwood towards Newdigate was a pleasant warm-up. The sun was already making any significant effort feel warm. In what seemed a relatively short time we took the right turn that signified the day’s first proper ascent, Leith Hill. For anyone who doesn’t know the climb; it’s almost 1.5Km in length but it narrows quite considerably, the closer you get to the final left hand bend in the road.
Cresting the top you skirt the southern extremes of the North Downs, riding through some picturesque and quintessential Surrey villages. Next up on the climbing agenda is Pitch Hill. It is a little longer, but on a wider road.
There was a little respite on offer at Albury with the day’s first feed station. Water topped up and it was off towards Shere to cross the A25 and head into the northern reaches of the North Downs. Next up were the climbs of Coombe Bottom and Ranmore Common; the latter deposits you on the run in to perhaps the most famous of the climbs in the area, Box Hill.
The drop down from Ranmore Common is a sharp right with a brief descent into a hairpin then a long fairly straight downhill. The Evaporite handled really positively. There was no twitch, the large headtube provided plenty of stability on the very fast descent. The wheelset was also a significant plus, rolling well and absorbing all the roads could throw at the bike.
The zig-zag hill will become the focus of attention on the opening weekend of the Olympics as it plays a key part in both the men’s and women’s road races.
The climb has benefited from a recent re-surfacing of the tired tarmac, to present a smooth topside which was a pleasure to ride. Coupled with the view on the way up and once you ride over the top the view south, on such a clear day was, simply stunning.
At this point you’d be forgiven for thinking your work was done on this loop but there was still a fair chunk to ride before hitting race HQ once more. The pleasure as with the rest of the ride, was the great choice of roads. Tough climbs rewarded with swooping descents or rolling roads, a perfect combination – you’ll have to ride it next year to find out for yourselves, but today it felt pretty close.