Prepare to do battle with coastal gusts in this late autumn challenge the Hellfire Corner sportive

Photo: Dan Gould

Photo: Dan Gould

Key event information

When is it?

Sunday November 6

How to enter:

To enter, go to ukcyclingevents.co.uk. Cost is £35. Online entries close on Wednesday November 2

Distances

24, 55 or 82 miles

WHERE IS IT?
Spanning the Kent coast and countryside and also venturing into East Sussex, the Hellfire Corner sportive starts and finishes at Folkestone Racecourse. The day will see you ride through areas of Second World War infamy that came under heavy German bombardment and give this sportive its name.

WHY RIDE IT?
It is one of few sportives held in Kent and presents a combination of challenges for cyclists, with the coastal winds and short, sharp hills providing the main tests. Local riders may be more used to the former but wherever you are from you are sure to have your winter riding mettle tested.

HQ DETAILS
There are a number of rail and motorway links connecting you to the ride’s base. Folkestone Racecourse couldn’t be much easier to get to; junction 11 exit of the M20 is only a five-minute drive away. The ride’s HQ is also served by Westenhanger railway station.

HISTORY
The sportive’s name alludes to this part of Kent’s involvement in the Second World War by dint of its proximity to mainland Europe. The event, now in its third year, recently made the switch to Folkestone Racecourse, having started life up the M20 near Maidstone. The change introduces quieter country lanes and easy access to coastal roads.

Photo: Dan Gould

Photo: Dan Gould

The Sportive

For its historical connections and ties to Kent’s admirable contribution to the Allied efforts in the Second World War, the Hellfire Corner could rank among the most intriguing riding events, if only for its location. Throw in a handful of hills, a punishing coastal section together with November’s least accommodating weather and you’ve got a wholesome end-of-season sportive test.

Set exactly a week before Remembrance Sunday, it’s fitting that this ride should encapsulate so many wartime artefacts and areas of interest as the course rips through the Kent coast and countryside. Many of the wartime relics of legend might not be visible from road level but it’s easy to imagine the historic hostile setting as you take on roads around army barracks and barren marshes.

A mostly flat course forms the best part of this sportive challenge. Minor drags are scattered throughout, and there are some modest but testing late ascents, but it’s the high winds from the sea roads that present the biggest threat.

For a course that, on paper, looks eminently manageable, it could be easy to approach the 15.5mph gold target time with misplaced confidence. However, between the vicious coastal winds and the strength sapping hills in the later miles, you might find it harder than you expect.

As the miles progress on this route and you get closer to the sea, a desire to zip your jersey up will come first, followed by your jacket, and then waterproofs, for those with the foresight to bring them, as it gets colder and colder as you near the uncompromising English Channel.

Hellfire Corner sportive

Hellfire Corner sportive course map

Soon enough, after skirting around the small roads leading to the pebble beaches, you’ll turn onto a road that hugs the coast from New Romney out towards Dungeness. For this part of the course, you can do little more than grin and bear it as the wind taunts your best efforts to maintain a target pace.

It’s worth remembering that this coastal stretch is torrid throughout the year, and this newfound tussle with the elements is not exclusively due to the autumn date of the Hellfire Corner.

Don’t be surprised how much the early high winds and flat roads sap your energy. Those unsuspecting hills in the final few miles can seem like mountains for tired legs.

There is a network of roads inland, towards the town of Lydd, that bring some relief. After an exposed nature reserve, passing isolated army barracks, sea walls built as tidal defences will be your only shelter from the wind here.

Riding away from the quaint town of Rye, just across the county border in East Sussex, is a joy, with a guaranteed tailwind helping you along the way on smooth-surfaced roads. You’ll enter the picturesque Kent Weald on your final push for the finish line. You can say with some justification that the battle is over and the war has been won.

When you can (on the sheltered back roads) you’ll want to make up for lost time and start hammering through the miles. That could be easier said than done though. While the first half of the ride is distinctly flat, a smattering of small-profile hills separates you and the finish line.


The Challenges

1 Lympne

There’s a steep hill coming out of Lympne and you’ll need to keep your speed under control. The free-flowing descent lasts a mile and you’ll gain considerable speed before being confronted with a blind T-junction.

2 Appledore
For Epic course riders, the final split at Appledore is good and bad: good for the forthcoming maze of quaint country lanes, bad because these can be tight, technical and tricky to maintain speed on.

3 The Final Straight
This sportive is flatter than most as you might not encounter a hill for 20 miles in places. Therein lies the problem — they’re all saved until the end. Keep some energy in
the tank.

4 Coast Road to Dungeness
The exposed stretch of coast road from New Romney out to Dungeness takes some beating, if only because of the natural elements you will encounter. Fortunately, it’s more towards the beginning of the ride, so you can take fresh legs into this windy stretch that lasts for around five miles. The raw power of the onshore winds is your main assailant in this struggle. Even on a clear day this part of Kent is gusty and, seemingly, whatever direction you face, it will hamper you. Try to get into a group and work to help each other out; alternatively, get into your best aero tuck and grind the miles out before heading inland.