DISTANCE 29 miles (46.5km)
MAIN CLIMB Box Hill
TOTAL CLIMB 450 metres
ACHTUNG! Some main roads are busy
Jo Rowsell is just 20 and her brother Erick is 18 but they’ve been rocking the cycling world a lot recently. Jo became a world champion in the women’s team pursuit in Manchester early on in 2008 and is winning World Cup events at the end of it. She is a well established part of the British Cycling system, and now Erick is on the programme too.
Erick has been playing catch up with Jo since he began cycling, as he explains: “I followed her into it and I’ve been following her ever since. She got a national title before me, and now Jo is a world champion I’m a bit jealous of it. She milks it a bit, too. When I’m watching TV she’ll just walk in, switch onto what she wants to see and if I argue she says, ‘I’m world champion.’ You can’t argue with it really can you?”
But rather than be put out, Erick Rowsell has embraced the competition. “It’s a good thing. She’s always been a step ahead so she’s made me up my game. I’ll catch her one day though,” he promises. There are other advantages. “She’s been through the system I’m going through so I can always ring her for advice, and when we are both in Manchester she’ll be even closer,” he says.
Erick is riding today with a local friend, Toby Meadows. Meadows’s date of birth falls awkwardly and he’s lagged behind Rowsell slightly in age-group racing, but he is a promising rider who shares his friend’s ambitions. “We’ve raced a lot together in Belgium.
First as part of groups taken over there by Ian Whitehead and John Barclay, and recently Toby has guested with the GB team. I’ve done a lot of inter-club races in Belgium, ridden the junior Paris-Roubaix and we’ve had someone on the podium in every race the GB junior team has done together this year. The best was when Andy Fenn won the junior Paris-Roubaix,” says Rowsell.
He’s got a good track pedigree but the road is where Rowsell sees his future. “I’m good at time trials and climbing, maybe not the best sprinter but the harder and longer a race is then the better I go,” he says. Having said that though, the track features large in his preparation this winter. “I’ve just done the Amsterdam under-25 six-day. It was good experience but faster than I expected. My normal partner is Andy Fenn but I rode with Luke Rowe. The first Madison on the first night was the first time we’d ridden together. It was very tough but we got better.”
Rowsell will ride the six-days at Zurich and Alkmaar, and he’s doing the Copenhagen World Cup. “I’ll do some Revolutions too, but next is the boot camp in Manchester. I’m apprehensive because it’s going to be hard. Peter Kennaugh told me that on a full track day you ride there, do sessions in the morning, lessons in the afternoon and a track league in the evening, then ride back to the flat and never see daylight.”
There’s plenty of daylight for Rowsell’s ride today. The sun shines brightly through the autumn tints of Surrey’s leafy lanes, as the pair dance over the North Downs after calling at their local bike shop, Corridori Cycle Sport in Banstead. The shop has been good to Rowsell, supplying him with bikes and a job since he left school. He knows his stuff though, and he sorts out a couple of customer queries while he’s there.
After the North Downs a gentle run down to Newdigate faces Rowsell and Meadows. It’s a village in the heart of the Surrey Weald that’s only 24 miles from London, but you wouldn’t know it. From Newdigate the route turns north to skirt Dorking and arrive at the jewel in this ride’s crown, Box Hill.
It’s an area of chalk downland and woods that is owned by the National Trust but Box Hill is famous in cycling for ‘the Zig-Zag’ — the road climb that goes up it from the Dorking side. Rowsell and Meadows have done this one before, many times, and they make light work of the slopes, where there are lots of cyclists out training in the sunshine. Some of them are getting some last-minute preparation for next day’s Ballbuster duathlon, an annual event that has its competitors running and riding up the slope several times in each discipline.
We stop at a cafe at the top of the climb. There’s a choice of two but the National Trust one is Rowsell‘s favourite, and as he chews on a brick-sized piece of flapjack he chats about where he’s at in his training.
“Since the road season I’ve done the six-day and now I’ve just come off a hard block of work for the Manchester World Cup, so this is an easier week and I start the boot camp next week,” he says.
His immediate future is mapped out inside the British Cycling system. Meadows’s future is less certain, but he’s still determined to see through their shared ambition to become road pros in Europe. “I’ve applied for Dave Rayner funding to go to a Belgian team next year. I’ve raced there a lot and it suits me,” he explains.
Rowsell is one of the first riders to come through Go-Ride testing and go all the way to the Olympic Academy, but it hasn’t been plain sailing: “I did it all. The tests where you ride a 100-metre sprint across a sports field and they see how many laps you can do in three minutes. Then I did the stage two tests on a turbo with SRMs. You do two sprints and a three-minute max test. Then stage three where you get a big interview and go for a day’s mountain biking in Epping Forest. But I got turned down the first time I applied for the Olympic Academy. I got selected later through race results,” he says.
It’s going to be hard for Meadows, but the Academy way isn’t easy by any means, as Rowsell has found out. They’ll both be tested further in the coming months and years as they make their separate journeys towards their ambitions. It will be interesting to see who makes it. Maybe both will. Let’s hope so.
YOUR GUIDE: ERICK ROWSELL
* Age 18, single, splits his time between Surrey, Manchester and Quarrata
* A full-time athlete with the BC under-23 Olympic Academy
* Junior national time trial champion in 2007, junior road race champion in 2008
* Won a silver medal in the team pursuit at the 2008 European junior championship
* Early influences/coaches were Stuart Blunt, Peter Fordham and Steve Wright
From Tattenham Corner station near Epsom race course head south on B290. Turn right (TR) on B2032. Cross A25 and follow unclassified road (UC) south, turn left (TL) and take 1st TR on UC. TR on UC in Dawesgreen. TL on UC to Newdigate. TR on UC towards Dorking. TR on UC in Stonebridge. TR on A25 and 1st TL on undesignated B road. TR on A24 and TR on UC at 1st roundabout to climb Box Hill. TL on B2033 and go straight on UC under M25. TR on UC to Epsom race course and TR on B290 back to start.