sportive photo Phil O'Connor

Entries have already closed for the Hell of the Ashdown Forest sportive, with a full field of 450 riders, stark contrast to just a few years back, when a couple of dozen hardy souls would roll up at a village hall in Kent for what was then known as the Catford Reliability Ride.

The re-branding exercise has been a phenomenal success for the ride that takes place this weekend (Sunday, January 27) and all done without the need to bring in a firm of image consultants. The organiser?s masterstroke was to throw the word ?Hell? into the title. This is the sort of word that a sportive rider will Google in their endless quest to find the ultimate unpleasant day on a bike, along with ?beast? and ?mountain?.

They might even put speech marks round all three words in a bid to find an event so inhumanely revolting that any sane human being would not even consider looking at the website, let alone entering the darned thing.

Organiser of the Hell of the Ashdown Forest, Bryan Stout, explained the thinking behind the re-branding: ?Some reliability rides are little more than glorified club runs. We decided to change to a sportive format last year, with route cards and checkpoints, and changed the name of the ride, and it was an instant hit.?

Trying to find parking spaces for the cars of 450 cyclists in the small village of Knockholt should prove to be interesting. ? We have use of the field next to the village hall,? said Stout, ?but if there is more rain this week, it may be waterlogged. We have asked people to park elsewhere and ride the last couple of miles.?

Another event with a name to live up to is the Hell of the North Cotswolds, a cracking day in the saddle, covering some of the most beautiful scenery this country can offer. Sure, it?s slightly uncomfortable after a few hours on a ?cross bike and there is a fair bit of climbing to be done, but the views are stunning and the terrain is eminently ridable. Grinding the last few miles into a horizontal hailstorm was pretty revolting last year, but (I was reliably informed) it was a freak occurrence.

Co-organiser John Taylor denied any bandwagon jumping regarding the event?s moniker: ?The HONC has run for 24 years. The name was chosen to reflect that it is held on the same day as Paris?Roubaix.? This year?s event was declared full within a month of opening for entries. ?This is the first time we have had online entering and all 1100 places were taken very quickly.?

There are exceptions to the using of hardcore titles. The Marmotte is a monster, cunningly disguised as a fluffy little Alpine creature, which almost caught me out when invited to participate this year. A quick check of the parcours cured me of any notions of taking on that particular beastie.

The Paris ? Roubaix sportive, however, proved too tempting to turn down. The original Hell of the North will, I suspect, prove to be an aptly-named, deeply unpleasant, bone-jarring day of riding. Unlike the race, the sportive takes place in the summer, so heat and dust are more likely to take the place of mud, but ample cobbles are a given.

So roll on June. It had better be horrible. I suspect it will be?


Cyclo-sportive review: Hell of the Ashdown Forest 2007

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