For all the decent citizens you’ve enraged, you can go to Hell, Alice Cooper suggested. So I did.
The Hell of the Ashdown, held in the Kent countryside on a route which doesn’t pass far from Tunbridge Wells, home of morally-upstanding citizens, is a firm fixture on the sportive calendar, the legitimate offspring of the old Catford Reliability Trial. Past years have seen winter blizzards hit the event, but for 2012, bright spring sunshine warmed the backs of the 1,500 participants.
I was one of the unfortunate riders in the famous 2009 event, held during a cold snap as Hell froze over. I’d been too busy shivering and gazing miserably at the wheel in front of me to look up and notice the countryside. This time around, as the early-morning mist burned off, I noticed what a beautiful corner of England the Kent countryside is. The route meandered along country lanes with a bare minimum of main road, every now and again hitting a tougher climb, but always offering idyllic views of farmed and forested hills.
In terms of toughness, it’s pitched at about the right level – it’s not as outrageously relentless as some of the northern midsummer sportives, which search out steep hill after steep hill. But the Kent countryside is no soft touch – for this time of the year, the hills still wear out the legs. The ‘Wall’ in Ashdown Forest, and the final climb of Star Hill are still significant challenges.
Total ascent: 50km – 659m | 100km — 776m
Terrain: Rolling and hilly, several major climbs
Best: beautiful scenery, testing route