The Fools Errand Sportive

This weekend I headed back to Kent to visit my Mum and then ride a sportive on Sunday with a couple of friends. I grew up in Kent and with the route passing through a number of familiar places I hadn’t visited for over 15 years I was looking forward to a trip down memory lane. It also turned out to be a reminder of the bizarre pronunciations of many Kentish villages:

  • The race started in Wrotham (pronounced “Root-um”)
  • Went past Meopham (pronounced “Mep-um”)
  • Went through Ightham (pronounced “Eye-tum”)
  • And went near Trottiscliffe (which is inexplicably pronounced “Troz-lee”)

At least the route bypassed Badger’s Mount and Pratts Bottom which are both unfortunately pronounced as they look.

My partners for the Sportive were Gatesy and Paul – the last time I had seen them riding together was at the foot of Alpe d’Huez where they had disappeared from my sight before the first switchback. They had both conquered that mountain about 25 minutes quicker than me so I was slightly apprehensive about this hilly sportive.

In typical style the email banter the week before the event consisted of myself and Paul making excuses about feeling under the weather and Gatesy telling us both to get some nuts. And after a week of beautiful sunshine I found myself scraping ice off the windscreen of the car at 6am on Sunday morning. It was definitely tights weather, although in hindsight I probably should have put some tracksuit bottoms over the top before stopping to get fuel on the way to the event. From the looks of the other drivers, a man in tights isn’t a normal sight at a petrol station.

We set off at 8am and enjoyed a couple of hours of fast, rolling hills at a good pace. Taking it in turns to battle the wind we noticed that we had inherited a tail of wheel-sucking club riders who were happy to let us do the work. Almost all of my riding is done solo so it feels perfectly normal to ride into the wind, plus I am delighted to be able to finally manage a steady, competitive pace. Nontheless, after about 10 miles of gifting people a lift the three of us decided to ramp up the pace and lose them.

It wasn’t until well over halfway through the 120km (75 mile) ride that we finally met the hills. The notorious Toy’s Hill was followed by Row Dow, Michaels Lane and a couple of others that seemed to ramp up to about 12% and maintain that grade for a kilometre. However I was pleased to find that my winter training in hilly Bristol had paid dividends and was able to match Gatesy (but not without sweating copiously and seeing my heart rate hit 180 bpm). Unfortunately the effects of Paul’s man-flu seemed to get the better of him and he didn’t enjoy the hills.

The signage along the route wasn’t great, and added to the total absence of any marshals we ended up taking a couple of wrong turns. At one point Gatesy and I were waiting for Paul at the top of a hill and noticed this company sign which made us wonder whether we’d taken a complete wrong turn and ended up back at Alpe d’Huez!

It's official - Toy's Hill, Kent has been classified an honorary Alp

We completed the route in a time of 4 hours 48 minutes which included about half an hour of stops. At an average speed of 17mph this wasn’t too bad and certainly good training for the upcoming Tour of Wessex. After the event I headed back to my Mum’s for a sunny barbecue in the back garden before a long drive back to Bristol.

Gatesy, Paul and myself after a long morning in the saddle

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