Sportive Plan­ner – Hell of the Ash­down

A hugely pop­u­lar early sea­son chal­lenge through Kent and East Sus­sex

Bikes Etc - - CONTENTS -

A crack­ing early sea­son chal­lenge in Kent and Sus­sex.

What is the Hell of the Ash­down?

The ven­er­a­ble Cat­ford CC is proud to be one of the UK’S old­est cy­cling clubs and claims own­er­ship of the world’s old­est con­tin­u­ously run­ning bike race, with its an­nual hill climb that’s been go­ing since 1887. It’s a thriv­ing club with an ac­tive youth de­vel­op­ment team pro­duc­ing a promis­ing crop of young rac­ers, as well as or­gan­is­ing a num­ber of pop­u­lar events. Among these is the Hell of the Ash­down, which may not have been go­ing quite as long as the hill climb race, but is cer­tainly one of the long­est-run­ning sportives in the cal­en­dar and a very pop­u­lar fix­ture for any­one look­ing to give them­selves a proper early sea­son chal­lenge. Claim­ing to be Kent’s big­gest sportive (although the route strad­dles the Kent-sus­sex bor­der), it proudly bills it­self as ‘107km of your worst night­mare on a bike’. Be­cause the ride takes place in the depths of Fe­bru­ary, the win­try con­di­tions you’re likely to en­counter is sure to make it a proper test of char­ac­ter – and that’s be­fore you even fac­tor in the hills…

What’s the route?

Start­ing at Charles Dar­win school in Big­gin Hill, Kent, the route heads south and the hills start al­most im­me­di­ately, with the as­cent of the no­to­ri­ous Toys Hill – al­beit from the slightly eas­ier north side. Af­ter a thrilling high-speed de­scent down the other side, the road con­tin­ues south­wards to­wards the Ash­down For­est – a pop­u­lar deer-hunt­ing ground in Nor­man times, it’s now a pop­u­lar spot for hunt­ing Strava KOM ti­tles. Set at the heart of the High Weald Area of Out­stand­ing Nat­u­ral Beauty, this re­gion of el­e­vated heath­land of­fers spec­tac­u­lar views over the Sus­sex coun­try­side – not that you’ll be hang­ing around to en­joy them with sev­eral more chal­leng­ing hills to tackle as you fol­low the con­stantly un­du­lat­ing roads through the for­est. In fact, the route packs in a IT PROUDLY BILLS IT­SELF AS ‘107KM OF YOUR WORST NIGHT­MARE ON A BIKE!’ to­tal of 11 climbs (as well as a num­ber of other smaller rises and dips in the road), adding up to a to­tal of nearly 2,000m of climb­ing over­all. Per­haps the tough­est of them all is Kidd’s Hill, aka ‘The Wall’, a dead straight road that rises at an av­er­age of 12% for nearly 800m, hit­ting 20% at its steep­est. Head­ing back north­wards to­wards Sevenoaks, the climb­ing doesn’t re­lent, and just when you think the fin­ish line is in sight, you’ll hit Hogtrough Hill, which is shorter than Kidd’s but vi­ciously steep. The south­east of Eng­land may lack the long, sus­tained as­cents and high al­ti­tudes of the Scot­tish High­lands but it’s cer­tainly not flat!

What’s in­cluded in the en­try fee?

There are two in­door feed sta­tions on the route, at Ash­down For­est and Sevenoaks Weald, with free nutri­tion prod­ucts sup­plied by OTE. Rov­ing mo­tor­cy­cle mar­shals and mo­bile me­chan­ics pa­trol the route, pro­vid­ing

as­sis­tance where re­quired, and will en­sure you get back to base if you’re un­able to com­plete the ride. Chip tim­ing pro­vides an ac­cu­rate record of your ride, and although the roads are not closed for the event, the route is fully sign­posted and mar­shalled, and comes with the prom­ise of Cat­ford CC’S leg­endary hos­pi­tal­ity at the start and fin­ish.

When can I sign up?

The 2018 edi­tion is open for en­tries now at – but get in quick be­cause places are lim­ited to 1,500 and it al­ways sells out. You can sign up as an in­di­vid­ual, or as a group if you want to ride with friends – and there are dis­counts for groups of six or more. If you need any more rea­sons to sign up, the en­try fee also goes in part to lo­cal char­i­ties in­clud­ing Pepen­bury, which pro­vides help and sup­port for peo­ple with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties, and Chartwell Can­cer Trust.

Look at those faces. Yes, that’s what you’d be let­ting your­self in for!

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