Distance: 63 miles. Climbing: 6150ft. Difficulty: 8/10.
Billed as “The Best Sportive in the South of England”, The Hell of the Ashdown is a stiff early-season test with the weather and the lumpy Kent & Sussex hills conspiring to produce one tough day on the bike.
Just 64 miles (104km) long, it’s not the length that makes this a challenge, but the 6,150ft of climbing with no real flat sections to recover, not to mention the weather.
There’s six major climbs interspersed with a number of smaller ramps and rises. It’s tough from the gun with Star Hill just a couple of miles from the start before a descent down under the M25 and up to the long slog up Toy’s Hill from the north.
The much feared but in reality not-that-scary “Wall” came just after the halfway food-stop and seemed to feature a number of riders who had potentially sat down for too long eating Soreen and Jelly Babies, with cold muscles not ideal for the 8(ish) minute climb. The sight of a rider stuck in a hedge complaining of cramp around the 40 mile mark was equal parts reassuring and alarming, hope he got through ok.
Arguably the most memorable part of the ride was the climb up to Boars Back after the final check point, which was more cyclocross than road sportive, featuring plenty of mud, sand and potholes leading to a decent climb up to a farm at the top. Doubtless a road I’d never have discovered without being guided down it on the route. Purists may worry about the health of their tyres and shiny frames, needless to say there seemed to be far more puncture issues on the other 63 miles of the course than this off-road section.
A couple more ramps clocked the elevation over 6000ft for the day and it very much felt like time for a recovery beer and a bath by the end.
The event was the best marshalled sportive I’ve ridden in England, with hi-viz wearing, Catford CC flag waving marshalls on nearly all the junctions on the route allowing you to ride without stopping nearly all the way round. There were also some NEG motorbikes flying round although having seen them at a couple of events I still have no idea what they do other than stop and eat cake with the riders. There were a couple of T-Junctions without signs which required some guesswork to find the right way, but other than that the organisation was excellent. Food stops laden with OTE gels & drinks as well as plenty of cake, sweets and jaffa cakes were also strong.
With fitness, weight and weather all some way behind where they will ideally be in a couple of months time, it’s a really good day out on the bike to see where your form currently is. Whilst the murky conditions block out some of what are stunning views in the sunshine, the quiet roads and top organisation make this a top class sportive.