Postponement due to the wintry conditions of January resulted in a course reduced to 70 kilometres on the wettest day of February.
ORIGINALLY planned for January 17, the Kentish Killer is the first sportive on the calendar. Committed types who had been slaves to the turbo all winter, or those with excellent circulation who rode outside, signed up for this early season sell-out event.
Unfortunately, freakish amounts of snow covered Kent in January, forcing organisers to postpone. Little did they know that their calculated decision was to become a bit of a faux pas.
January 17 was the first day out of grey skies in 2010, and the people of the south ventured outside to feel the sun on their faces for several hours and enjoyed a high of 8.3°C. February 28 was meant to be better weather, but it wasn’t to be.
The news was awash with weather warnings and stormy conditions. Rain fell on Kent all day to a depth of 19.3 millimetres, making it the wettest day of February by a staggering eight millimetres. The extra month to wait for the weather to warm up had backfired.
While the streets were empty as home fires burned, 100 of the original 300 riders turned up at Polhill Garden Centre to start the event. Organiser Chris Dines said: “When we arrived in near darkness and torrential rain at 7am, we wondered whether anyone would turn up at all!”
After getting drenched between the car and registration, there was no turning back. It was time to ride the rivers of Kent.
Slick to adapt yet again to weather adversities, organisers cut the route to 70 kilometres as it was blowing gale force and sleeting at the top of the Ashdown Forest. It was so bad that the marshals couldn’t stand in it, so no one objected to the decision.
True British attitude prevailed as everyone carried on. “What? A bit of rain? Oh, don’t worry about that dear!” Fingers and toes were checked in at registration as that was the last riders felt of them for the rest of the day.
Roads flooded and trees crashed to the ground under the strain of the wind. One fell across the route early on, making it even more of an obstacle course. After the first photographer at the 20-kilometre mark it became horribly steep too. Carte Hill was hard to climb in the dry, let alone the wet.
The rain continued to pour as riders rode on. Shifting gravel under mud-brown water made for tricky navigation and resulted in many punctures and broken chains. The GS Avanti team were providing roving mechanical support but couldn’t cope with all the incidents.
One rider called it a day after 25 kilometres and three punctures. The 50-minute wait for the taxi was her only complaint: “I only got cold waiting for the taxi, shame I had so many mechanicals as I was determined to not let the weather stop me.”
Some waited in the pub for a pick up, not minding if it took a while. But further down the course in Cheddington a couple were thrown back out into the rain for being there after pub lunch closing hours.
The feed station was well stocked with Clif Bars and with Hever Castle as the backdrop, it should have been an idyllic spot. Today, not daring to get cold, it was a quick pause and off again. A few riders wrung out their gloves, but then struggled to get them back on numb fingers.
After the Sevenoaks Weald the fields were so saturated they couldn’t hold the water any more; it flowed across the road. Levels were reported to be eight inches deep for several mile. One rider asked: “Can I have a paddle, please?”
The last climb, Star Hill, loomed. Most were tired and cold, but mental toughness prevailed and the hardiest riders made it up without walking. One rider said: “The weather turned an enjoyable sportive into a challenge of mind over matter, tackling foot-deep rivers that masked many potholes.” But then there were the crazy ones that came back to the garden centre and said they had enjoyed it!
Eighty riders, shivering and sodden, gobbled down soup, cake and hot drinks faster than the kettle could boil. Perhaps next year they might rename the event ‘the Kentish Rapids Ride’.
Sportive Sound Bites
Bruce Maguire (41)
Lives: Shirley, Surrey
70km in 3-45
Met Police Cycling Club
“THERE were a few pushing up Star Hill but I enrolled in a cycle not a walk so I pedalled in squares with very cold and tired legs until the gradient eased a bit, where I could sprint home. I will be enrolling again for next year. Am I mad? Probably.”
Gerald Morgan (46)
Lives: Orpington, Kent
70km in 3-09
“I TAKE my hat off to the organisers and particularly the marshals who stood out in the bitter cold and wet to ensure that we had a great day. The wet didn’t bother me as once you have become so wet, you can’t get any wetter. There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing!”
Lives: South Norwood, London
70km in 3-19
“AT one point I was actually cycling along in a river as it was no longer a road. Being honest, that was one of the best bits of the day. I found myself cycling along with a big grin on my face due to being in such a crazy situation and thinking if only my friends could see me now!”