Essentials

Distances:       182 km / 90km
Participants:    1200 (Limited on the day entries)
Start:               Evans Cycles Gatwick
Cost:                £25
Transport:        Parking on-site
Gatwick airport station 2km
Feedstops:      3 / 1
Timed:             Yes (Ankle tag system)
Signs:              Clear Black Arrows on a pink background
Road:              A mixed bag, a few areas were recently resurfaced so a few lose chippings about, a lot of people seemed to puncture early on in the ride
My Ride:         http://www.strava.com/rides/evans-cycles-king-610263

Summary

A fun, well organised ride that’s a lot like a Downs greatest hits collection, it’s a veritable who’s who of the big climbs and takes in the woodland, hedge lined lanes, arable land and beautiful villages this region is all about. It’s a tough one though, really tough so prepare those legs well for distance and hills.

The ride

It was the 6:38 out of Clapham for me to get to Evan’s Cycles head office near Gatwick Airport for the start of the ride. I arrived to find the site already bustling with many already heading off. I signed off my name at the desks in a big marquee and collected the ankle timing tag and number for the bike. There were plenty on hand to easily handle the numbers passing through so queues weren’t an issue.

The start was similar to many of the Evan’s Rides though much like the route everything was a little larger somehow and there seemed to be an air of anticipation that this was something a little more serious. The KOTD is one of Evans’ “Super Sportives” with more miles and more climbs than any of the others. There are ten major climbs on the route identified by them and marked with signs at the bottom of each one so you could count them off. The kind folks at Evans had leant me a Garmin 800 Edge to play with for this ride, a fantastic piece of kit and I’ve been geeking out on the data I collected ever since, so as well as attempting to familiarise you with the ride and climbs I’m afraid you may need to strap yourself in for a statistical assault.

Just in case the hills and epic distance weren’t quite enough the weather had decided to treat us to one of the strongest winds I’ve encountered yet this year which quickly came apparent as we pedalled out on to the initial open, flatter sections of the ride near to the airport. Through familiar hedge lined fields and pretty villages we snaked our way West before meeting the first of our ten challenges. Leith Hill (2.1km long, 145m elevation gain, Average gradient 7.8%) boasts being the highest point in the south-east at 294m and as an opening shot it wasn’t to be sniffed at. It’s a climb that starts off quite innocuously but slowly sneaks up on you, getting steeper as you climb, it twists and turns through woodland so you can’t see what’s coming, I’m still undecided whether this is a good or bad thing.

The second climb Pitch Hill (2.6km long, 125m elevation gain, 4.8% average gradient) was much less sophisticated, a good old fashioned straight drag up a hill taking us up into pretty woodland which seemed to be a popular spot for mountain bikers. A long descent down narrow roads followed where I frustratingly got stuck behind a horse box for a long stretch.

Next up was Combe Bottom (1.4km long, 114m Elevation gain, 7.8% average gradient)

Started off fairly gradually then steadily increased in steepness. It peaked at around 20% very briefly on a sharp turn to the left. A testing section but mercifully, not long enough to really hurt.

Ranmore Common – West (0.7km long, 70m Elevation gain, 9.3% average gradient) was a very similar story a steep but short assault to the legs.

At Box Hill (2.5km long, 123m Elevation gain, 4.9% average gradient) I felt like I was on home turf. Over the winter I pedalled out here a lot to get some hill climbing in. I’m not alone here, it’s virtually obligatory for the local and London club rides so very fitting that it will also feature in next year’s London Olympic road ride. There are always a crowd of cyclist and today was no exception. The climb starts with a pretty steady drag through some trees. Rounding the first hairpin to the left put me full face into the wind where the road is open until it ducks back into the protection of the trees towards the second hairpin. At this point I knew I’d broken its back so could push on without too much fear. Passing the famous Café you reach what Box Hill is all about (aside from cake and coffee) the breath-taking views over the Surrey countryside.

Leaving the hills behind for a spell, there followed a really windy section on open flat roads. I started out in what was quite a large train of riders but one by one they seemed to drop by the wayside and I eventually looked back to find there was only one man left. To my shock he was riding a mountain bike. If you are reading this, you sir, are a legend. He not only held my wheel but somehow put a turn in on the front into the teeth a force nine for which I’m forever indebted. Nails.

Heading back to the airport we passed straight past the start again to begin the Eastern loop.

The first of the bigger Eastern climbs was Tulley’s Farm (2.7km long, 72m elevation gain, 2.7% average gradient) I’ve got to admit I missed this one, I mean I must have ridden up it but I don’t remember clocking it as an Evan’s “categorised” climb. I’d love to tell you that’s because I was riding so strong at this point that hills were unimportant but really it’s more like there were so many uncategorised climbs I was finding tricky it probably just got lost in the noise. According to the Garmin it was pretty steady in comparison to most of the other nine, topping out briefly around 8%.

The descent was much more memorable with a very picturesque view onto Weir Wood Reservoir, looking beautiful over to the left of the road. These weeks of Sportive riding have made me very cynical of such things though and any long descents and large bodies of water generally make me suspicious of one thing, and sure enough the next climb was just around the corner. Weir Wood Reservoir (4.4km long, 122m elevation gain, 2.8% average gradient) was much more of a gradual climb than many of the others but long and quite sapping on the legs.

The next assault was a little more serious. When approaching a climb which is referred to as The Wall (Kidd’s Hill) (1.5km long, 136m elevation gain, average gradient 9.1%) you aren’t really expecting an easy ride. However having first been hit by a rather steep opening section I could see it levelling off pretty quickly ahead and was just about to write it off as another slice of cycling bravado when it wheels into view. A straight, dead straight, tunnel of trees covering a steep section of tarmac, which you can see every millimetre of all the way to the top.

The climb brought us out on the moors for a nice fresh and fast stretch of tarmac which included a great descent. There was a little bit of respite from climbing for a while and it was a good job because next up was York’s Hill (1.5km long, 136m elevation gain, average gradient 9.1%). This was a beast. Another climb that starts off as nothing of much note and gets steeper and steeper. The last section, which is also very dark because the narrow lane with thick tree cover right up to its edges, was by far the toughest of the ride for me and touching 20%. It had me stood right out of the saddle and weaving to keep going. There were quite a few of us dodging each others’ wheels and all trying to make it to the light at the end of the tunnel.

On making it through we were rewarded with what must be the finest placed feed stop of any Sportive. I took a good break here as I was really feeling the strain and filled up on the cakes, SiS and a much needed gel available for each rider.

There followed more climbing before we even reached the next big hill. The really tricky section was pulling out onto Titsey Hill from the lane as it was a steep hill start. The real climb was on White Lane (parallel to Titsey Hill) (1.5km long, 136m elevation gain, average gradient 9.1%) a curving lane of increasing gradient and if the rest of the ride wasn’t enough to convince me of the sadistic streak in those Evans Cycles guys, then this confirmed it. On the steepest section of the last climb they had stationed a cameraman, needless to say he caught me at my very best.

In fact what would have been more embarrassing photo was if they had shot me about ten minutes later. On what looks in hindsight to be by far the easiest section of the ride my legs finally fell apart and I really limped home over the last 15km. I made it though and what a satisfying feeling, it definitely ranked as one of the toughest challenges I’ve met so far.

Learning

Participating in a full season of Sportives is a steep learning curve for me, at each event I hope to write a little about what I’ve picked up, or more likely still need to pick up. Perhaps I’ll help someone avoid the same mistakes or at least give a good opportunity to point and laugh.

  • My pacing was quite poor for this ride (i.e. it was a bit tough for me!) I should have taken the opening section a little slower as I was really falling apart for the last 15km. I find it very difficult to judge whe you are constantly changing  ride length and elevation but I think this comes with experience.

Kit


Jamis Xenith Pro with Continental GrandPrix 4 seasons tyres

Garmin 800 Edge

Topeak Aero Wedge pack, Topeak TriBag, Camelbak Podium waterbottles

Blackburn Air Stick III pump, Topeak Mini18+, Bontrager Air Rush regulator

Specialized BG Comp Road shoes, Cyclosport Endura shorts and jersey, Gore Bike Wear Oxygen Gore-tex shell, Specialized Propero helmet, Gore bike wear Power mitts