Positivity is definitely contagious and everything seems more manageable if you know you will have the support and company of others! As a member of KVG we have access to the Club’s closed Facebook group, where we post routes for our rides. On many occasions, the enthusiasm of one member can result in several others signing up for an event which otherwise they would have written off as “too difficult”.
My entry into the 2022 ‘Hell of the Ashdown’ Sportive, fell into this category; a 100km/ 62 mile event held in the potentially freezing month of February with 1,800m/ 6,000ft of climbing and placing the trickiest climb (Brasted Hill) at mile 60. It marks the first big cycling event of the year, with the added challenge of going into it with a winter, rather than a summer, level of fitness.
The event had gone on sale the previous November and with the 1,500 places likely to sell out fast, there was a post in the KVG Facebook group one morning alerting us that entry was open and a small group of KVG quickly secured their places. We all quietly hoped it would not be one of those ‘horizontal rain’ kind of February days that the event was famous for!
After a few preceding weeks of awful weather involving a number of named storms, the weather was on our side and 27 February 2022 was a solid blue-sky day, if a little chilly at first.
The event started at the Westerham Brewery and benefitted from a warm café and a swiftly operating start line. The atmosphere was one of excitement; for many this would be the first big cycling event for a number of years after all the Covid cancellations.
The 10 hills on the route were familiar to us as all are relatively local to Hildenborough, where we start our club rides. We had been able to recce much of the route in the weeks beforehand (albeit not in one go!) but it was good to share the roads with other riders. As with most sportives we were very much in the minority as female riders and there was probably a smaller percentage of women in this event than usual.
There was not a cloud in the sky all day and it was hard to imagine a more perfect February day for a long ride with friends. A 5-mile section in the Ashdown Forest near Twyford had suffered from recent heavy rainfall and involved more water, mud and debris than was comfortable but it was surmountable with care. We started to tick off the hills at a steady pace.
The Ashdown Forest was particularly beautiful on such a sunny day, and even Kids Hall, aka ‘The Wall’ (so-called because it really does appear wall-like as you approach the steepest part!) looked a bit less daunting than usual as the number of cyclists on it meant the effect was slightly lost! We couldn’t resist stopping for a photo at the top.
The two feed stations were very cleverly placed – the first just before Kidds Hill and the second in Sevenoaks Weald before climbing Hubbards Hill. They were definitely a highlight of the day – stocked with (largely homemade) sweet and savoury options and hot drinks. There was plenty of food available when we arrived and one of the main advantages of being a woman at a sportive is it’s about the only time you don’t have the queue for the toilet at a busy event!
The second feed station one of our riders described as her idea of heaven – cyclists, sunshine and free pizza! There were also delicious looking waffles being made to order. It was more than any of us could manage to cycle away before trying a slice of freshly cooked pizza or reaching for one more variation of brownie.
The sustenance was very welcome before the final 2 hills of the day. Hubbards Hill is more than familiar to us and at the top were complimented on our pacing of it, which did make us smile a little as some of our riders tackle it 2 or 3 times a week on their way home from a club ride!
Brasted Hill is kind of hill that makes an appearance in our annual ‘hills day’ ride but not on many club rides. At well over 15% at its steepest part, it’s a real quad burner! Located just 2 miles from the end of the route, it was the finisher we had all been slightly dreading. As we approached, we saw signs pointing straight on for those who wanted to skip it entirely. Did we go for that option?Of course not! We took the right hand turn and went for the final push.
Lots of people were getting off their bikes and walking up, making it quite hard to get past at times. It was definitely a case of once you were off you were not getting back on again, and tempting as that was we pushed through that 4 or 5 minutes of pain and made it to the top. What a great sense of achievement!
It was downhill to the finish from this point and there was a brilliant atmosphere back at the Westerham Brewery, with a DJ playing some tunes, and every finisher received either a soft drink or a pint of beer. Smiles all round and the weather was still warm enough for everyone to be outside chatting about their great day in the saddle.
Apart from that few minutes up Brasted Hill, it really hadn’t been hellish at all!